The Ohio State's baseball program is continuing to take form to Greg Beals' vision.
With only four players on the 34-man Ohio State baseball roster from the Bob Todd-era, the 2013 Buckeye nine enters year three under Beals as a Big Ten favorite. The early signing period concluded Wednesday and the latest Ohio State recruiting class is home to even more top talent. The seven signee class, with four prep players from Ohio alongside standouts from Indiana and Kentucky, will be called upon to lay the ground work to help make the Buckeyes perennial conference favorites.
OF Ronnie Dawson, Licking Heights
Flying under the radar for most of the recruiting process, midway through the summer local product Ronnie Dawson made an up close and personal impression with the Ohio State staff. Participating in a team camp the Buckeyes hosted, the 6'1", 220 lb, multi-sport star showed athleticism and tools that forced the coaching staff to extend an offer in hopes of seeing him on the Nick Swisher Field turf under their direction.
While raw in his development, the left-handed hitting Dawson boasts a speed and power combo that projects to an all-conference corner outfielder with reps and refining. Dawson will arrive on campus from nearby Pataskala, a community on the eastern skirts of Columbus, where he was a 2011 Division II Special Mention All-Ohio running back for Licking Heights. A preseason knee injury sidelined Dawson for the 2012 football season, but the spring saw him named MSL-Cardinal Division Player of the Year last season after hitting.459 with 24 doubles, five triples and nine home runs.
LHP Zach Farmer, Piketon
One of the most highly recruited players to sign with Ohio State in the last decade, Piketon southpaw Zach Farmer has been a target for the coaching staff for nearly as long as they have been on campus. A Baseball America third team All-America selection as a sophomore, Farmer has displayed a lower-90's fastball from his projectable 6'3", 185 frame for several years.
Just as long as he has been on the radar for college coaches, he too has for professional scouts. Ranked at one point among the top 30 class of 2013 prospect and a potential first round draft pick by Perfect Game, the ceiling of Farmer is very high. But the left-handed pitcher signed his National Letter of Intent with the accolades not as high as they once were. A rocky summer season, in which Farmer suffer an ankle injury along with decline in velocity and spurts of erratic command, saw the lofty praise curtailed a bit. However, Farmer received invitations to try out and subsequently participated in the East Coast Pro Showcase and the Area Code Games, two events that are established to showcase the top players in the country in front of pools of professional scouts.
Beals calls Farmer one of the best athletes he has recruited; a dynamic and special player. Farmer's future is on the mound but he can also swing the bat: his Baseball America honor was as a utility player as he batted .514, while also striking out 140 in 66 innings with a .68 ERA. Plus he can run a bit to boot. Scouts will flock to see Farmer this spring, but he isn't the lock to be drafted high enough to yield a signing bonus that be consider a college career killer. The hope for Ohio State is that Farmer does make it to campus where under the tutelage of Beals, pitching coach Mike Stafford, and former Buckeye now volunteer coach Josh Newman, the great potential that was previously flashed is brought out. If so, it isn't far fetched to expect Farmer in the Buckeye weekend rotation for 2014.
RHP Travis Lakins, Franklin
Franklin right hander Travis Lakins may not be a highly decorated player, but that does not mean his future isn't bright nor the coaches aren't excited about his addition. As has been one of their main focuses, Beals lands in Lakins another player that is an exceptional well rounded athlete. Lakins brings to the program an ability to throw strikes, a good feel for pitching, and a mindset of always competing. On the mound he is a pitcher that currently displays a fastball that is in the mid-to-upper 80's with the ability to toss an above-average curve and know what pitches to throw when and where. Lakins is the type of player that can put a program over the hump by providing key depth and skill.
INF/RHP Kyle Michalik, Brunswick
Out of the northeast corner of Ohio, Brunswick's Kyle Michalik represents a first for the Ohio State coaching staff: their first recruited two-way player. As current Buckeye Josh Dezse has doubled as the Buckeye closer and first baseman, he was recruited and signed at the end of the Todd-era. Michalik, the first commit for this class, looks to have a role both on the mound and in the dirt behind it, bringing a lot to the table.
While pitching, Michalik works well off his sweeping slider with a sinking fastball in the upper-80's. While not overpowering, Michalik does a good job of keeping opposing batters off balance. Michalik currently plays shortstop and has shown enough to make one believe there is a chance he can stick there. With quick feet and good reads, Michalik moves well laterally and displays a soft glove with quick hands. Michalik boasts more than enough arm strength for the position which is paired with good glove-to-hand transfer skills. At the plate, Michalik has a reliable bat that makes consistent contact and shows an ability to drive the ball into either gap.
RHP Brennen Milby, Green County (Greensburg, Ky.)
Milby represents the first player Ohio State has landed from the Bluegrass State as far back as many can remember (and it won't be a moment too soon for rival Kentucky preps). Heading into his senior season at Green County, Milby is the Kentucky record holder for career no-hitters with six. Stafford claims Milby continues to get better each time he sees him and Beals says he is one of the most dominant pitchers he saw on the recruiting trail.
In Milby's arsenal is a fastball that can reach up to 92, a repeatable change, the makings up a wipeout slider, and a devastating hammer for a curve. Sharing another state record with 20 strikeouts in one game, Milby has the makings of being a player that can step in and compete for a starting role the moment he steps on campus.
OF Troy Montgomery, Mount Vernon (Cumberland, Ind.)
At the end of June, Montgomery ventured into Bill Davis Stadium for a tournament his Indiana Bulls travel team was playing in. As he visited the home of the Buckeyes for the first time, he was committed to Illinois. Being on campus must have left an impression as shortly thereafter Montgomery re-opened his recruiting. It would not be long before he committed to Ohio State.
What the Buckeyes received in the pledge and signing of Montgomery is a player they can build their program around. An ideal leadoff hitter, Montgomery can field, hit, run, and throw. As Montgomery too participated in the East Coast Pro Showcase, evaluators have said he possessed the strongest arm on the team of the Midwest's top players while being an above-average-to-plus runner. Montgomery is going to be a player that excels in center field while putting the ball in play and causing havoc on the bases. Fans of the program can expect the left-handed hitting Montgomery to excel in the ways former Buckeye standouts and top seven round draft picks Matt Angle and J.B. Shuck did. And like those two, contributions to the program should be seen from day one.
LHP Tanner Tully, Elkhart Central (Bristol, Ind.)
Where two would be Buckeyes were in Syracuse for the ECPS, the same was the case a few days later in August in Long Beach for the Area Code Games. Tully, like Farmer, was amongst those that were flown to California to play against the country's best.
Not only did Tully play, he made several in attendance take notice. Baseball America's national college writer, Aaron Fitt tweeted of Tully,:
LHP Tanner Tully has a chance to be a quality college pitcher at #OhioState: low slot, 86-88, effective slurve at 77-78. 6 K in 4 IP.
At 6'0", 185 pounds, there is not a lot of to project forthcoming for Tully. A tick or two of velocity should come where he can comfortably sit in the low 90's. Even with present high-80's fastball velocity, Tully is expected to be tough for collegiate hitters. Tully was a player that went off the recruiting board late and received attention from premier programs in the region. His signing paired with Farmer's gives Ohio State one of the best two LHP combos around.
Committed but not signed
As has been the case under Beals, Ohio State received commitments from several players that are expected to make the program as walk-ons and contribute. So far that number is at four with the following players are:
3B Curtiss Irving, Greenfield Central (Ind.)
RHP Adam Niemeyer, Minster
SS JP Sorma, Independence
OF Jalen Washington, Twinsburg
Thoughts on the recruiting class
The 2013 class picks up right where the 2012 class left off. The current freshmen for Ohio State is a class dominated by positional players with Ohio and the midwest deep in hitters. In-state the Buckeyes picked up two of the top power threats in Jacob Bosiokovic and Zach Ratcliff and nabbed a dynamic athlete in outfielder Jacob Brobst. Outside of Ohio, a pair of infielders in Troy Kuhn (Ind.) and Craig Nennig (Wis.) have shown early promise. Where Ohio State did well to sign right handed pitcher Jacob Post, the recruiting class has contributors but not multiple impact arms.
That's not the case this year. With Farmer, Milby, and Tully, Ohio State has a 1-2-3 that is unrivaled in the Big Ten this recruiting year and bodes well against top programs in the region like Kentucky and Louisville. With four senior pitchers on the current roster and a junior in Dezse that many expect to be drafted high and head to the pros, the door will be wide open for new faces to step into starter roles in 2014. Post has the makings of being one of those guys, after him it should not surprise anyone if two of these three are filling in the spots in the rotation.
While at the present time the odds are favorable if you're Beals, Farmer is still a wild card. He could have a spring where a return of velocity and some cleaning up of his mechanics sees his stock rise and faced with a decision to make. But as Ohio's top prep arm, for Ohio State to establish itself regionally and coming off a year where Kent State reached the College World Series, his signing was a must-have, even if he elects for professional baseball. Milby and Tully fall on the right side, for Ohio State, of the line between very good player and too good of a player to play college baseball.
After the big three arms, in the field Ohio State maintained a program principal in recruiting players with big tools and big ceilings. In scout speak, Montgomery has three above-average tools: field, throw, run, with a bat and enough juice to hold his own at the plate. Dawson is a project but with time and shaping has the body and raw ability to be a star. Lakins and Michalik may be overlooked, but they are players that will not need much time and present abilities to aid a Big Ten program right now.
This is the third recruiting class for Beals and staff and it is one that completes their restocking of the bare cupboard they inherited. From the beginning, Beals has said the program needs more athleticism and slowly but surely they're getting there. The class isn't the biggest, but it will be called on early and often to continue Ohio State's journey back to the top of the Big Ten. From 2014 forward, Ohio State should have the pieces offensively, defensively, and on the mound to return to a time when the Buckeyes were regular participants in NCAA Regional action.