When we previewed Ohio State back in February, it was clear that the team's success would hinge in large part on the development of a quartet of sophomores on the infield. If these players could make a jump in their second year in the program, the Buckeyes had an opportunity to improve significantly and be among the top of the Big Ten heap.
The season turned out to be a mixed-bag for the sophs, as injuries and struggles at the plate forced head coach Greg Beals to juggle his lineup. These moves opened up the way for other players to gain experience and depth to be built, which will be important for the team moving forward. By and large, it was not the kind of season Ohio State's infield had envisioned, but there were enough positives and a few surprises that are a reason for cautious optimism.
We continue our recap of the Buckeyes' season by going around the horn on a young infield.
Troy Kuhn, 2B/3B
In a season in which the expected infield starters took their lumps at the plate and in the field, Troy Kuhn was the most pleasant surprise of the bunch. Splitting time between second base and third base, the Zionsville, IN native put together a quality campaign at the plate, garnering third-team All-Big Ten recognition and leading the Buckeyes in a variety of statistical categories.
Kuhn, who hit .272 with two doubles, 12 RBIs, and 12 runs scored in 32 games as a freshman, started every game for Beals in his second year in Columbus, batting .290 and leading the team with 14 doubles (9th in the Big Ten), six home runs (4th in the Big Ten), 40 runs scored (12th in the Big Ten), and 35 runs driven in (12th in the Big Ten). The righty, who was the only player on the roster to start every game all season, was second on the team in hits (65) and slugging percentage (.442), and third in on-base percentage (.379).
After taking his game to a new level, Kuhn will be counted on to be a force in the middle of the order as a junior in 2015. It remains to be seen whether his home in the field will continue to be the hot corner, or if he will be moved back to second base. A team-high 15 errors will need to be cleaned up regardless of where Kuhn plays, but playing every game has a tendency inflate that number.
Nick Sergakis, SS/2B
Nick Sergakis took a roundabout route to Ohio State, walking on at Coastal Carolina, partially tearing his rotator cuff, and playing a season at South Carolina-Lancaster before landing back in his hometown of Columbus. When the season began, Sergakis was seen mostly as a utility guy off the bench, limited mostly to pinch hitting duties and spot starts.
All of that changed when an injury to starting shortstop Craig Nennig pressed the Columbus Academy alum into the lineup. Sergakis took advantage of his opportunity, seizing the leadoff spot in the order and providing consistent offense. He finished the year hitting .318 with 29 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, a home run, and 13 RBIs. Even after Nennig returned, Beals could not remove the sophomore from the lineup, shifting him to second base.
Though small in stature, Sergakis is a gritty player who provided a spark to the top of the order. His plate patience could use some work, as Beals would like to see more walks, fewer strikeouts, and a higher on-base percentage from the top spot. Moving forward, Sergakis provides a viable starting option on the middle infield and was as big a surprise in 2014 as the Buckeyes had.
Craig Nennig, SS
With Craig Nennig, the name of the game is defense. A slick fielding shortstop with a strong arm, Nennig committed just six errors in his 38 games, solidifying the middle of the infield. An injury sidelined the Wisconsin native for twenty games in the middle of the season, which allowed for the emergence of Sergakis.
As good as the sophomore's defense is, though, there is a trade-off at the plate. Nennig hit just .231 on the season, generating only three extra-base hits, and driving in 10 runs. This was an improvement over his freshman campaign, however, when he .125 in 23 games.
Because Nennig is such a standout with the glove, he will always be in contention for a starting spot at Ohio State in the future. If his offense can begin to catch up to his defense, it will be a much more solid case.
Jacob Bosiokovic, 3B
Back in February, if one were to bet on which of the four sophomores on the infield would have a breakout year, odds are most would have guessed Jacob Bosiokovic. After a solid freshman season in which he hit .273 with seven doubles, four home runs, 33 RBIs, and 28 runs scored in 56 games, it appeared the hot corner was set in Columbus for the foreseeable future.
Unfortunately, Bosiokovic struggled at the plate and in the field in the early going, and by midseason, found himself on the bench. The Delaware, OH native and former top recruit finished up his sophomore season with a .268 batting average, 10 doubles, a home run, and 26 RBIs, starting 43 games. His ten errors in the field were second-most on the team behind Kuhn.
Bosi, as the coaching staff refers to him, has shown flashes in his first two seasons of being capable of providing significant pop in the middle of the order, but has failed to do so consistently. In order to crack the starting lineup as a junior, he may even be moved to the outfield. There is also the possibility that the right-hander, who was a top pitching prospect in the state of Ohio coming out of high school, could see time on the mound.
Josh Dezse, 1B/DH
To say that 2014 was a frustrating season for Josh Dezse would be an understatement. The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, who redshirted a season ago due to injury, was chomping at the bit to get back on the field. The Buckeyes were eager for his return as well, as he had displayed middle-of-the-order power at the plate and elite velocity on the mound in his first two seasons. The Powell, OH native never did make it onto the mound this season, but played his way into the starting job at first base.
After starting slowly and working off the rust of a year away from the diamond, Dezse found his stroke at the plate when Big Ten play began, earning third-team All-Conference recognition. For the season, he hit just .246, but had 10 doubles, five home runs, and 27 RBIs, all of which were second-best on the team.
Dezse will likely garner some pro interest in June's draft as a pitcher, despite not having taken the mound in two years. If he decides to stay in Columbus, he could be a force at the plate and on the bump for the Buckeyes as a senior, and boost his stock for the MLB Draft. We will found out this summer if Dezse will stay or go.
Zach Ratcliff, 1B/DH
The forgotten man on the Ohio State infield for much of the season was Zach Ratcliff. After showing promise in limited playing time as a freshman, batting .323 with a double, a home run, and three RBIs in 15 games, the Columbus Academy product was penciled in as the starting first baseman in February, and it was hoped that he would provide the kind of power in the middle of the lineup that his 6'5" frame suggests.
After a slow start, Ratcliff was resigned to the bench, losing the first base job to Dezse and losing at-bats at designated hitter to others. He finished his second collegiate season with a .232 batting average, hitting two doubles and two home runs, while driving in 15. The highlight of the year came on April 1st against Ohio University, when Ratcliff went 3-4 with a double, a home run, and 5 RBIs.
The future for Ratcliff may hinge on whether Dezse sticks around. If the pros come calling for his teammate, the junior would be in line to get a shot start at first base next spring, though he would likely face competition from Ryan Leffel, Curtiss Irving, and possibly Bosiokovic.
Ryan Leffel, INF/DH
Ryan Leffel served as a jack-of-all-trades for the Buckeyes this season, seeing time all over the infield and at DH. After sitting out last year with a wrist injury, the Dublin, OH native put together a strong sophomore campaign, and will be a strong contender for an increased role as a junior.
Leffel really found his groove at the plate in Big Ten play, making the case for more at-bats. He finished out the year hitting .303 with four doubles and 12 RBIs. Despite the success Leffel found at the plate, he appeared in just 31 games, 25 of them starts, as the emergence of Sergakis and hot bat in conference play of Dezse made playing time hard to come by.
Next season, Leffel should once again contend for playing time, either at first base, DH, or in spot starts around the infield. As a right-handed bat in a lineup with plenty of lefties, the pop he showed in limited opportunities this season may be sorely needed.