Ohio State baseball 2014 preview: Infielders

Sophomore third baseman Jacob Bosiokovic will be counted on to solidify the Buckeye lineup - Ohio State Athletics

Ohio State fell shy of its goals of a Big Ten championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013. Faltering down the stretch and failing to score more than three runs in each of their final 15 contests, can the Bucks turn the bats around with four sophomores in the infield?

A year after finishing in a tie for second in the Big Ten, Ohio State will count on a quartet of sophomores to man the infield. The team needs a big jump from all four, both at the plate and with their gloves, as new faces emerge as the everyday starters at first, second and shortstop.

The good news is that flashes were shown late last season, and with a full off-season under their belts, key contributions are expected. Here is a look at the Buckeyes' projected starters around the diamond, as well as bench players who could contribute.

First Base: Zach Ratcliff

Ratcliff came on strong at the end of the season for head coach Greg Beals, swinging a hot bat in seven starts as designated hitter. He finished his freshman campaign hitting .323, with a home run, a double, and three RBIs. The 6'5", 210-pound sophomore did damage against Penn State in two critical late-April contests, going 2-for-3, with a home run, a double, and an RBI, and in the final Big Ten regular season series against conference champion Indiana, with a 3-for-7 line and an RBI. Ratcliff provides premium pop, and may be the power bat Ohio State has missed since 2010 when Michael Stephens was the last Ohio State player to notch double-digit home runs.

Second Base: Troy Kuhn

Kuhn also finished last season strong, and proved his versatility with the glove, splitting his time between second base and third base. He hit .272, with 12 RBIs, and 12 runs scored. The Zionsville, Ind. native had six multi-hit games, and also stole four bases. Kuhn was the Big Ten's Freshman of the Week in late February, after a 3-for-4 day at the plate against Mount Saint Mary's that included three RBIs and a run scored. Beals recruited Kuhn out of the Hoosier State as an offensive infielder and will be asked to step right in and fill the shoes of departed three-year starter Ryan Cypret. Kuhn will also display a slick glove and good arm that should make him one of the Big Ten's premier second basemen in time.

Third Base: Jacob Bosiokovic

Bosiokovic established himself as an everyday player for Greg Beals as a freshman, starting 56 games, including 49 at third base. A talent Beals felt was important to get 200 at-bats under his belt in year one, Bosiokovic saw a little time in left field, but the hot corner will be his permanent home going forward. He was solid at the plate, tying for the team lead with four home runs and 33 RBIs, while hitting .273 and adding seven doubles and 28 runs scored. He had 14 multi-hit games, and one monster performance against Harvard in March in which he went 4-for-5, with two home runs and six RBIs. With a year under his belt, it is hoped he can cut down on his team-high 58 strike outs, as well as his team-worst 14 errors.

Shortstop: Craig Nennig

Nennig is a player looking to rebound at the plate after a tough debut season. He hit just .125, with a double and four RBIs in eleven starts at shortstop and two at third base. Nennig may not be a .300-hitter, but why he was recruited to Ohio State was his glove. Nennig is a craftsman in the field, exhibiting elite range to both his glove and backhand side, able to make plays deep in the whole. It is expected Nennig will bat above his playing weight. But any slight of production at the plate is expected to be made up for with his work in the field.

Bench

Two redshirt sophomores are the likeliest reserves on the infield, providing depth off of the bench. Ryan Leffel made 39 appearances as a freshman in 2012, often serving as a late-inning defensive replacement. A steady fielder at third base, he made three starts at the hot corner, in intra-squad games and practices has played all four infield positions. Leffel, who redshirted the 2013 season due to a wrist injury, provides a bat with a bit of pop, and if any infielder struggles to get going may find time as a starter. Fellow redshirt sophomore Nick Sergakis is a transfer from South Carolina-Lancaster, after redshirting in 2012 at Coastal Carolina. If Ratcliff would need a day off, Curtiss Irving is a freshman that could step in for a spot start at first.

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