A late-period signee, freshman outfielder Pat Porter is batting .311 for Ohio State. | (Photo courtesy of Kentson HS)
Let's go back one year.
In the first season under the guidance of Greg Beals, the Ohio State baseball program was closing in on a berth to the Big Ten Tournament. Following a 2010 absence, one that halted a streak of 13 consecutive appearances, a spot in the six team field would signify a return to Ohio State baseball form.
While Beals and his staff were getting the most out of their current Buckeyes, the wave of new Buckeyes appeared to be one that would solidify OSU's return as conference standard bearers. Headlining the first recruiting class for Beals would be shortstop Cavan Cohoes, catcher Eric Haase and right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler. At three key positions, Ohio State was set to turn the corner with a standout at each.
On June 7, within two hours, the foundation of Ohio State's rebuilding took a severe hit.
With the seventh pick of the seventh round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the Cleveland Indians selected Haase the backstop from Michigan's Divine Child High School. Sixteen picks later, the San Diego Padres selected the product of Bryan, Ohio, Wisler. The top prep baseball player from Michigan and Ohio had their respective names called by a professional organization within a half-hour, little more than one hour before the Seattle Mariners nabbed Cohoes with the second pick of the ninth round.
At various times in various ways, one-by-one a would-be-Buckeye signed a professional contract to begin life as a professional athlete as opposed to one as student athlete. The final blow occurred on August 9 when it became known Haase would sign with the Indians.
As I reported the Haase news, the headline was shared that Ohio State would bring in a right-handed pitcher by the name of Jaron Long. Though headline sharing, at the time, Long was merely a side story of the day's biggest news in Haase.
Sitting now, May 12, 2012, every coach in the country would welcome such a minor blip.
In non-conference action last night at Bill Davis Stadium, Ohio State defeated Seattle University 4-1. Improving to 6-2, Long allowed one run off seven hits in seven innings, walking none, and striking out two. The son of New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long went seven innings where he allowed two or fewer earned runs for the tenth time in 11 starts, his ERA was lowered to a Big Ten leading 1.85 among starts, his BB/9 dipped below 1, 0.97 to be exact, on the strength of just 10 walks in 92.1 innings pitched.
That Long is the Ohio State ace and a front-runner for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, a sense of irony falls on last summer, but that is not to outshine the recruiting efforts of Beals and his staff.
The Friday starter for Ohio State this season was supposed to be Wisler. A pitcher that can reach 91, has above-average command, and can throw three pitches for strikes, Wisler was as polished of any Ohio high school pitcher in recent years. Coaches at Ohio State and rivals alike viewed Wisler as a weekend guy from the start.
Those same qualities perfectly describe Long and what has made him as effective as any Ohio State pitcher the last decade, a group that includes first-round picks Cory Luebke and Alex Wimmers. but Long most likely would not be in a position to join those two as respective conference pitcher of the year winners if it were not for Wisler signing and the late available scholarship monies.
The same is true of Wednesday night's starter Trace Dempsey.
While Ohio State did not have to go as far for Dempsey, a product of Huntington, West Virginia, as they did for Long (who was attending Arizona JUCO Chandler-Gilbert), they did have to go as long without being able to have his services on board.
A late addition to the 2011 recruiting class, Dempsey has had the up-and-down season that comes with being a freshman. With a 2-1 record, Dempsey has a 5.92 ERA in 24.1 innings on 17 games. But in his first career start, Dempsey provided a glimpse into his potential. On the road at Oklahoma State, the number-25 team in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball, Dempsey went 5.2 innings of shut-out baseball, allowing just three hits.
In back-to-back games, two pitchers that nobody a year ago could have forecast donning the Scarlet and Gray would lift Ohio State to victories.
Ohio State was able to foresee outfielder Patrick Porter as part of the 35-member team, but would the success be sustained? Sheepishly the coaches would admit Porter, the regular left fielder now second on the team in batting with a .311 clip, has exceeded their expectations.
Porter enrolled in Columbus with the pedigree to be an All-Big Ten player. A four-year letterwinner at Kenston High, the Chagrin Falls native batted .561 with 13 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs, 21 stolen bases, and 43 RBI as a senior on his way to being named the Ohio High School Athletic Association Division II Player of the Year and Cleveland Plain-Dealer Player of the Year. The All-Ohio performer twice was named Chagrin Valley Conference MVP and arrived with the tools to match his gaudy prep stats and accolades.
Porter, who went three-for-four with a RBI and "web gem" on Friday, like Dempsey and Long, was an addition to a recruiting class well beyond the November early signing period.
There is no doubt the early signing period is a special time. For both the student athlete and school, it signifies a coming together that deserves celebration. The standout player makes his collegiate decision official. The binding fax received solidifies continued growth for a program.
But with the players highlighted above, it is not the be-all and end-all.
As Midview left-handed pitcher Eric Lauer joins Defiance right-handed pitcher Robbie Ziegler in committing to Kentucky, the Wildcats have the word of two of Ohio's top class of 2013 players. As a result, Buckeye fans may wonder when Ohio State will land its first big 2013 commitment.
With most certainty, Ohio State will land its share of top 2013 talent in the near future.
But as shown yesterday with recruits on campus, the Buckeyes aren't quite yet done with 2012 recruiting. And recent results show that may not be a bad thing.