Notes from practice as Ohio State baseball preps for opener

Yet another snowstorm passed through Central Ohio forcing the diamond Buckeyes to find refuge in their indoor batting cages and the spacious Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

Ohio State will be young in 2014, extremely young. On the roster of 35, 12 are true freshman, three are redshirt freshman and seven are true sophomores. The Buckeyes should be talented, with the exception of the three lone fourth-year players in captains Josh Dezse, Greg Greve and Tim Wetzel, the remaining 32 players have been recruited by Beals and his assistant coaches, where an emphasis in recruiting has stocked the program with players of great athleticism, of speed and raw power. Those attributes should be easy for followers of the program to pick up. But the product is still a work in progress as a peak inside two Ohio State practices over the weekend revealed. Here are some notes.

Year two

The Ohio State infield will be comprised of sophomore starters around the horn. While it is natural to expect a jump in productivity from year one to year two with a season's worth of at-bats and games under the belt, there isn't always the natural progression. Colored me surprised if there isn't an across-the-board jump with this quartet.

The first thing that is noticeable of the Sophomore Four are their bodies. From 6'6 third baseman Jacob Bosiokovic to 5'10 second baseman Troy Kuhn, a full year and offseason with strength and conditioning coaches are reflected. Bosiokovic has added lean muscle. Kuhn and shortstop Craig Nennig have filled out. First baseman Zach Ratcliff, who entered as the most physically developed of his class, has toned up. The added and refined mass is favorable for what should be expected at the plate, the ability to drive the ball into the gap for Kuhn, an ability for Ratcliff to build upon the above-average raw power he possessed, for Nennig to not be overpowered at the plate and for Bosiokovic to add bat speed, quicker hands through stronger wrists, and pop to an already potent bat when he has full extension.

What was not sacrificed with the bulking was agility, in fact it appears to have improved. Assistant coach Chris Holick deserves praise for introducing a dozen or so players to yoga. The exercise in flexibility most stands out in Bosiokovic who does shows a greater ability to drop his hips, allow his chest to play closer to the ground and pick grounders cleaner. There was no doubting Nennig's ability to pick it, where he an Kuhn will be hard to top as the best double play duo in the Big Ten, Kuhn quick hands in relaying the throw outstanding.

Freshman outfielders stand out

A lot was expected of center fielder Troy Montgomery. The expectation to be the center fielder from day one and bat near the top of the lineup can be tough to deliver upon, but so far so good with Montgomery. The Fortville, Ind. native brings a no-nonsense demeanor to practice the coaching staff loves. The coaching staff is hard on Montgomery, wanting him to maximize every ounce of potential, but he keeps delivering.

When in game action, Montgomery is in and out of cuts lightning quick. On top of showing great instinct and taking great routes to track balls, with little wasted energy Montgomery's would grade highly from a scout's eye. At the plate the speed is eye-opening. Though it was on a bunt, and it was against a pitching machine, Montgomery flew up the first baseline in 3.68 seconds. That was register as above-average for a Major League player.

Montgomery is not the only freshman outfielder the coaches speak highly on. Ronnie Dawson has all of the tools to be a star. While he may not be refined as Montgomery, it's hard to miss the promise. Dawson has been hitting the cover off of the ball throughout preseason practice according to coaches and runs like a maniac. He too is a left-handed hitter, one with elite bat speed that can put a charge into the ball. Dawson still needs progression in his footwork, but his speed affords him the opportunity to have a misstep.

The defense

The offense is where a jump is expected with the bevy of sophomores looking to bust out, a table-setter in Montgomery and the return of DH Josh Dezse to the lineup. But one should not overlook the defense. The coaches feel confident the 2014 outfit will be the best defensive club of their four in Columbus. All three outfielders, as junior Pat Porter and senior Tim Wetzel blanket Montgomery in center, possess good speed and range and Porter has the arm desired out of a right fielder.

The infielder is the most athletic it has been, with Bosiokovic, Nennig and Kuhn each possessing strong arms and the middle to exhibiting great range. Ratcliff is a good athlete that will handle his own at first and moves off the line well.

Junior catcher Aaron Gretz has always showed the ability to be a rock behind the wall, a great blocker, with transfer Connor Sabanosh excelling as a receiver with a strong arm.

There isn't a spot on the field Ohio State should not expect strong defense out of as Ohio State builds off of a year of fielding at a .976 percentage,

A few quick hits

– Senior right-hander Greg Greve has taken a big step in the development of his offspeed pitches. Where his arm would slow down, give away what was coming, Ohio State has worked on speeding his arm up and gaining more rotation, to efforts that have been fruitful in practice.

– It is almost night-and-day comparing Beals' fourth and current team to his first. The depth and quality of athletes has significantly increased. There are a half-dozen players one could peg as true base-stealing threats, another five that it wouldn't shock to see 10 home runs from. Even the pitchers are better athletes and figure to field their position better. The back-third of the roster has as much athleticism as the top-third did just three years ago.

– Beals feels this club is miles ahead in their mentality and stepping to the plate with a plan, the first of reasons on why there will be a jump in offensive output.

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