One look at Ohio State's roster shows that head coach Greg Beals has a very specific player in mind when he and his staff recruit outfielders: left-handed, quick, and possessing gap-to-gap power at the plate.
The Buckeyes came into the season with a good deal of experience at the corner outfield positions, but it was center field that proved to be the difference-maker for the club thanks to the emergence of a pair of talented freshman.
We continue our recap of the Buckeyes' season by roaming the outfield.
Ronnie Dawson, CF
When the season was getting started, it was believed that another freshman would be making an impact in the Ohio State outfield. Ronnie Dawson was seen as depth off the bench and a potential designated hitter. Though the Grove City, OH native did see some time at DH throughout the course of the year, he also forced his way into regular duty in the field, and put together a standout first season in scarlet and grey.
Dawson finished fifth in the conference in hitting, sporting a .337 average en route to being named second-team All-Big Ten and All-Freshman. He had team-leading marks with 69 hits (10th in the Big Ten), 10 stolen bases, and a .454 slugging percentage (11th in the Big Ten), and added 10 doubles, four home runs, and 25 RBIs. After having served as a batboy when the conference tournament was held in Columbus two years ago, Dawson was a key cog in the Buckeyes trip to Omaha this season.
The ceiling is high for Dawson as he continues in the program. With the starting left field spot opening up next season, there is a high likelihood that the job will be his to lose. With excellent speed and raw power, Beals will be expecting the former Rawlings High School All-American to help anchor the top of the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Troy Montgomery, CF
The emergence of Dawson early in the season made playing time a little more scarce for Troy Montgomery than was initially expected. The one-time Illinois commit who reopened his recruiting and ultimately ended up in Columbus, Montgomery has all of the tools to be a solid contributor in the middle of the outfield. The Fortville, IN product flashed the strongest arm on the team in 2014, and with his speed and approach at the plate, seems destined to end up batting at or near the top of the order.
Montgomery appeared in 49 games, making 36 starts, and finished the year up with a .235 batting average, six doubles, two triples, two homers, and 22 driven in. The .235 mark seems a little deceiving, though, as he was as hot as anyone on the team for a stretch in the middle of the season. Sporadic playing time may have contributed to the dip as the season wore on.
Teaming with Dawson, Montgomery gives the Buckeyes two solid starters in the outfield for at least the next two seasons. The experience both gained as freshmen will be valuable as they take on greater roles with the team in 2015.
Pat Porter, RF
When Beals talked about some of his players not having the kind of seasons they had expected, it's hard to argue that Pat Porter wasn't among them. After a monster sophomore campaign in 2013 that saw Porter finish second on the team with a .296 average to go along with 13 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 42 runs scored, and 33 RBIs, the right fielder was a member of the Big Ten's preseason watch list and was garnering some pro interest.
Porter struggled mightily this season at the plate almost from game one, seeing his average dip to .229. The cleanup hitter in the lineup, his power numbers experienced a sharp decline as well, as he tallied nine doubles, one home run, and 21 RBIs. After such a high-quality previous season, opposing pitchers were more weary of Porter. Luck also seemed to play a role, as a reduction in strikeouts and an improvement in walks did not correspond with an increase in on-base percentage.
Porter has one more season to reclaim the form of 2013 and prove his pro potential. The improvement in his plate discipline is encouraging, despite its failure to translate into better statistics. The Chagrin Falls, OH native has the physical tools necessary to be an All-Conference type player, and will be relied on to do just that as a senior.
Tim Wetzel, LF
The lone senior position player on the team, Tim Wetzel concluded his career with Ohio State struggling with injuries and at the plate. The left fielder put on a great show in his final game at Bill Davis Stadium, though, going 2-3 with a home run and two RBIs at the plate and making two spectacular defensive plays in a 5-2 Senior Day victory over Northwestern.
Wetzel began the year hot, flirting with .300 throughout much of the season's first month, but struggled in Big Ten play and missed time with an ankle injury. For the year, the Mayfield, OH product and team co-captain hit just .223, with five doubles, one homer, and 16 RBIs. It was the second straight season in which Wetzel had the lowest batting average among regular starters.
The memory Wetzel will leave with the program is a positive one, though, despite his batting average. Beals has raved in the past about his work ethic and joy for the game. He has also been a key spokesman of the team in the wake of freshman Zach Farmer's leukemia diagnosis, speaking to the press and helping to organize turnout for "Be the Match." These off-the-field contributions are incredibly important to the program because it speaks to the kind of student-athletes it recruits and develops.