Feb. 10, 2016
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sixth-year head coach Greg Beals is ready to lead an Ohio State baseball team that has the most talent he’s had since he arrived to Columbus in 2011. Not only are the 2016 Buckeyes talented, the Scarlet and Gray will be one of the most experienced teams in the Big Ten conference. With opening day just nine days out, Coach Beals has an optimistic outlook for the 2016 season.
“The maturity, the experience and the culture within our program are going to be the strengths for this ball club,” Beals said. “It’s great for our coaching staff to have a group that is older with some experience from top to bottom in the lineup offensively and defensively. There’s leadership everywhere.”
The team will be led by one of the largest senior classes in recent history, 10 players, with the majority of them starters or key reserves on the 2015 team that posted a 35-20 overall record and a 13-11 mark in Big Ten play. Overall, the Buckeyes return 20 letterwinners, including six starting position players and two starting pitchers. Senior second baseman Nick Sergakis and junior catcher Jalen Washington were both voted by their teammates as captains last fall and coach Beals is pleased with what he has seen from them.
“We have guys returning with multiple years of starting experience in the lineup except behind the plate,” Beals said. “Jalen Washington had an incredible summer and fall and will man the catching position. To give him credit, here is a guy that hasn’t been a regular player yet, he is not a senior, but was voted team captain. Sergakis is a fighter and a scrappy ball player and both guys exemplify this team and things we are looking to accomplish.”
On the mound, junior left-hander Tanner Tully, the 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, returns as the team’s Friday night starter after going 4-4 with a 4.32 ERA. Tully fanned 44 batters, while allowing just 15 walks, the fifth-lowest mark in the league in 2015. Redshirt sophomore right-hander Adam Niemeyer also will be a weekend starter after posting a 2-0 mark with a 2.16 ERA to earn All-Freshman honors a year ago. Last season, the OSU pitching staff finished sixth in the Big Ten with a 3.53 ERA and allowed the fewest walks in the league.
The Buckeyes have a dangerous group of veteran position players returning, as well. Junior left fielder Ronnie Dawson is back along with junior center fielder Troy Montgomery, who was a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2015. Rounding out the outfield is redshirt junior Jacob Bosiokovic and senior transfer Daulton Mosbarger who will share time in right. The Buckeye infield returns a group that has combined for 388 career starts, including Sergakis, senior shortstop Craig Nennig, senior third baseman Troy Kuhn, senior first baseman Zach Ratcliff and senior second baseman L Grant Davis.
Last season, the Buckeyes were in the Top 5 in multiple batting statistics in the Big Ten, including first in stolen bases (89), third in doubles (111), fourth in batting average (.281), slugging percentage (.416), on-base percentage (.367), triples (17) and home runs (35) and fifth in walks (211).
Beals thinks the Buckeyes have all the strengths and tools they need to battle for a Big Ten title and a regional berth, especially with the depth and maturity within the roster. If they can stay focus and control what they can control, the Buckeyes could be looking at a race for a Big Ten championship and first NCAA appearance since the 2009 season.
Any coach would dream to have an entire infield core return for a season, and to top it off, coach Beals will have the option to move guys around this spring if needed.
Kuhn is set to start at third base after making 32 of his 42 starts at the hot corner, while Nennig is the staple at shortstop where he stated in all 55 games. Kuhn batted .256 with 22 extra base hits, including 14 doubles, while Nennig doubled his season-high hits total with 50 last year. Sergakis will get the nod at second base, making 28 of his 51 starts at the position. Sergakis batted .250 with 11 doubles and 30 runs scored in 2015. Davis will see significant playing time at second as well. Ratcliff is a leading candidate at first base coach Beals at first base after notching a .286 average in 22 games during his junior campaign. The versatility of Sergakis and Kuhn will allow different looks in the infield lineup throughout the season.
Fifth-year Senior Ryan Leffel will supply depth in the infield and as a designated hitter. Backing up the infield will be freshmen Brady Cherry and Casey Demko, who will provide talented depth at third base and up the middle, respectively.
“All the way around the diamond we are one of the strongest in the Big Ten, certainly in the outfield,” Beals said. “I can’t imagine we are going to face a team in the conference with a better outfield than what we have.”
Starting in left, Dawson will look to have a big season for the Scarlet and Gray after batting .279 with 15 doubles, seven home runs, 34 RBI along with 16 stolen bases as a sophomore. Over the summer, Dawson was named an All-Star in the talented Cape Cod league and was named MVP of the Scarlet and Gray series this past fall.
“Ronnie continues to get better as a baseball player,” Beals said. “Those experiences from last spring and the challenging pitching he faced over the summer improved his quality of at-bats. The other thing I’m excited about is last year was the first time he played every day in left field. His defense continues to improve at that position.”
In center, Montgomery, the MVP of the fall season, returns after a breakout sophomore year. The “catalyst” of the lineup, the OSU lead-off hitter batted .317 with 22 extra base hits and led the Big Ten with 35 stolen bases, which tied the OSU single-season record.
“Troy probably had as good of a fall as I’ve ever coached,” Beals said. “Coming off a tremendous spring, he took the summer off and put on 12 pounds in the weight room so there is going to be some punch in his bat. He’s also a superb defensive player and can really throw and go get the ball.”
In right field, the Buckeyes have to replace first team All-Big Ten selection Pat Porter. The leading candidates are Bosiokovic and Mosbarger, who transferred from the University of Akron this past season. Senior Jake Brobst and sophomore Tre’ Gantt will provide depth at all three outfield positions.
“Pat Porter was our rock last year,” Beals said. “You don’t really replace a guy like Pat. We are going to need contributions from everybody to make up his offensive numbers. We have a lot of guys that are ready to step up when their time is called.”
Junior outfielder Ronnie Dawson
BEHIND THE PLATE
One of the biggest question marks during the offseason was at the catcher position. Who would fill the shoes of graduating senior captains Aaron Gretz and Connor Sabanosh? By the end of fall, that question was answered for coach Beals as Jalen Washington earned the starting job and was named the most improved player and showed some real pop.
“The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about Jalen Washington is his athleticism,” Beals said. “He’s an athlete and has great baseball IQ, which has helped him learn the position better. He’s transitioned to our No. 1 catcher very well.”
Providing depth behind Washington will be freshman Jacob Barnwell who proved over his first fall practice that he is ready to play and is strong defensively. Sophomore designated hitter Jordan McDonough will also provide depth from behind the plate.
The idea is “next man up” for the OSU pitching staff as the group will need to replace two weekend starters with Ryan Riga and Travis Lakins both selected in the 2015 MLB Draft. The Buckeyes are prepared for it and have plenty of depth to support behind starters Tanner Tully and Adam Niemeyer.
“With graduation and the draft, it’s a natural part of college baseball to have to replace guys on the mound and we are ready to do just that,” Beals said. “We are continuing to compete for the third spot in the rotation.”
“All these guys are going to pitch and play key roles in our pitching staff. We just need to determine what roles best for them and best for the team.”
It will be a bullpen by committee for the Scarlet and Gray in 2016. Sophomore right-hander Seth Kinker and redshirt junior right-hander Shea Murray will be the guys on the backend, while three lefties – senior Michael Horejsei , redshirt junior Joe Stoll and freshman Connor Curlis will also have opportunities to pitch in the backend of the bullpen. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Michalik also returns for the Buckeyes in relief. The Buckeyes also have three athletes in Mosbarger, Bosiokovic and Cherry who are all also getting some time on the mound.
“We have the depth and we just need guys to step up and man their role,” Beals said. “We have a bunch of guys that are capable to help this ball club on the mound this year.”
Redshirt sophomore pitcher Adam Niemeyer
Ohio State welcomed 10 new members to the roster this past fall and all but two are freshmen. Senior outfielder/pitcher Daulton Mosbarger, from Bellefontaine, Ohio, transferred from Akron, while redshirt sophomore pitcher Austin Woodby, from Springboro, Ohio, transferred from Cincinnati. The two are joined by freshmen pitchers Ryan Feltner (Hudson, Ohio; Walsh Jesuit) and Connor Curlis (Findlay, Ohio; Findlay), freshmen infielders Brady Cherry (Pendleton, Ind.; Lapel), Casey Demko (Xenia, Ohio; Bellbrook) and Matt Carpenter (Aurora, Ohio; Aurora), freshmen catchers Jacob Barnwell (Catlettsburg, Ky.; Boyd County) and Andrew Fishel (Charlotte, N.C.; Providence Catholic) and freshman outfielder Jacob Vander Wal (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Catholic Central).