In pursuit of a Big Ten championship and NCAA Tournament berth, the club Greg Beals rolled out in 2013 performed at a championship level on the mound and in the field. Unfortunately, the Buckeye bats were stuck in neutral all season, an inability to score runs crippling Ohio State's aspirations down the stretch. Heading into the 2014 season, Ohio State is expected to have a major contributor back in its lineup that will help with power and production at the plate, hopes to see the emergence of any key cog.
Junior Designated Hitter Josh Dezse
Days before Ohio State's 2013 season began, the Buckeyes announced that junior pitcher/designated hitter Josh Dezse would be out for the first two months of the season to a stress reaction from a bulging disc in his lower back. In April, it was determined Dezse would need surgery, forcing a redshirt upon the third-year player. Beals scrambled to find an offensive replacement for the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but a rotation of catchers Greg Solomon and Aaron Gretz, outfielder Mike Carroll, and sophomore third baseman Jacob Bosiokovic left a major power void in the center of the lineup.
If Dezse can stay healthy, he has a track record of producing and being a threat in the heart of the Buckeye lineup. His is freshman year, Dezse led the team in batting average (.332), runners batted in (42), and slugging percentage (.472), as well as on-base percentage (.427). While his numbers slightly dipped during his sophomore campaign, a triple slash of .306/.423/.426, Dezse was still the anchor in the heart of the lineup, driving in 33 runs behind five home runs and nine doubles.
Freshman Ronnie Dawson
If the Buckeyes want to make a run at the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA Tournament, a healthy Dezse will go a long way in reaching those goals. Ohio State plans to use Dezse on the mound, as well, but if he begins to show signs of fatigue, or emerges into a dominant force on the mound, the coaching staff rather he focus his attention there. This leaves true freshman Ronnie Dawson as the likeliest replacement for Dezse. The former two-sport athlete from Grove City has the potential to become a serious power threat in the middle of the Ohio State lineup. Whether he gets his shot this season or next, look for Dawson to make an impact offensively or at one of the corner outfield positions.
Junior catcher Aaron Gretz
As a sophomore, Gretz split time behind the plate with senior Greg Solomon. The two formed a platoon as neither provided consistent production or seized command of the position. Gretz received 30 starts behind the plate, as well as another 13 as the designated hitter, and over the course of 160 at-bats he batted. .260. The only extra-base hits Gretz recorded were seven doubles, leaving his .305 slugging percentage something to be desired. Gretz, however, exercises strong plate discipline, drawing 24 walks against 25 strikeouts, carrying a .360 on-base percentage over his second season.
Defensively, Gretz is a durable receiver, excels in blocking and corralling wild pitches, but has an average arm. The opposition successfully stole 33 bases in 44 attempts with Gretz behind the plate, a 75% rate the Buckeyes surely would like to see clamped down on. Heading into the season the catching duties will fall squarely on Gretz, the only backstop with NCAA Division I experience on the roster.
Junior Connor Sabanosh
Junior college transfer Connor Sabanosh (Scottsdale Community College), is a strong defensive catcher, selling the coaching staff on his catch-and-throw skills, and will be nipping at the bit for playing time if Gretz falters. Given Beals' recent success with junior college transfers from Arizona, Jaron Long, Brian King, Kirby Pellant, the hope is he former Fighting Artichoke continues the trend.
Freshman Jalen Washington
Like classmate Ronnie Dawson, true freshman Jalen Washington has shown plenty of promise since arriving on campus. Beals, as well as the rest of the coaching staff, rave of the Twinsburg native's athleticism and natural instincts behind the plate and on the basepath. Washington is a converted infielder who is still raw behind the plate, but the future is promising. It should not be counted out that Washington can move up to No. 2 on the depth chart over the course of the season, a bonus of Washington is the depth he provided around the infield.