Now that we have taken a detailed look back at the players and position groups that led Ohio State to a 30-28 record and a berth in the Big Ten tournament in 2014, the obvious question is: what does it mean for the program moving forward?
Youth is served
The Buckeyes were an incredibly young ball club in 2014, with 21 players on the roster this year in their first or second collegiate seasons and only three seniors. Much of the inconsistency the team displayed throughout the season may be attributed to youth.
Particularly as concerns the pitching staff, a lack of experience saw several young arms thrust into high-pressure roles and game situations. Ohio State's only seniors on the mound in 2014 were Greg Greve and Tyler Giannonatti. At points during the season, head coach Greg Beals had three underclassmen in the weekly starting rotation (Tanner Tully, Zach Farmer, and Jake Post) and one in the closer's role (Travis Lakins). The situation is likely to be similar in 2015, as Ryan Riga and Trace Dempsey will be the only senior pitchers on the roster.
In the everyday lineup next season, the experience so many Buckeyes have gotten early in their careers will instantly turn the team into a veteran ball club, with 11 position players in the junior and senior classes that have already seen significant time. The only departure Ohio State will be dealing with is that of Tim Wetzel, so there will be great continuity in the field.
With so many youngsters playing major roles so early in their careers, Ohio State is getting a taste of budding stars much sooner. Tully took the Big Ten by storm and ran away with Freshman of the Year honors, also making second-team All-Conference. Fellow freshman Ronnie Dawson joined Tully as second-team All-Conference and All-Freshman, and contended for a batting title for much of the season. Troy Kuhn, who managed just two extra-base hits all season as a freshman a year ago, established himself as a middle-of-the-order type of hitter, leading the team in a host of offensive categories as a sophomore, and earning third-team All-Big Ten recognition. The quick development of these players points towards better days ahead for the Buckeyes.
Beals on the hot seat?
With that said, Beals will be in his fifth year at the helm in 2015, and the Buckeyes' drought in winning conference championships is leading to increased scrutiny. As Indiana has built itself up into a national power, and conference newcomer Nebraska is headed to the NCAA tournament, the quality of play in the Big Ten is improving rapidly. The Kent State alum and former skipper at Ball State has brought a nice mix of recruits to Columbus, but has had trouble landing the top in-state talent. The first real recruiting class Beals signed were this year's sophomores, and aside from Kuhn and Post, none really showed the kind of development that was hoped for. The freshman class led by Tully, Lakins, and Dawson made a strong showing, though, and their ability to progress and improve will be closely watched.
After down seasons at the plate from several players, the bottom line is that Ohio State must be much more potent offensively if it wants to contend with the Hoosiers and Huskers in the Big Ten. If players like Josh Dezse (if he does not turn pro), Pat Porter, Jacob Bosiokovic, and Zach Ratcliff can bounce back in 2015, this is a team that should score more than the 4.79 runs per game it averaged.
Due to the lack of upperclassmen, Beals is bringing in a small recruiting class next season, consisting of four freshmen and a transfer. Jacob Niggemeyer, a right-handed pitcher from Olentangy Liberty, should see some action out of the bullpen or during the midweek, and Tre Gannt of Hamilton Southeastern in Indiana will provide depth in the outfield. Beyond that, catcher Jordan McDonough of Cincinnati St. Xavier will be lodged behind two seniors, and Nate Romans of Walsh Jesuit and L. Grant Davis, a former Arizona State recruit, will have plenty of competition on the infield for playing time.
Putting it together, top to bottom
It is far too soon to know exactly what the depth chart will look like come next February, but the sports media is in the business of making educated guesses way too early (I'm looking at you, 2015 NFL mock drafts). Based upon the performance of the players in 2014, the everyday regulars will likely look a little something like this when the Buckeyes get back on the diamond:
Weekend rotation: Tully, Riga, Lakins
Midweek starter(s): Post, Irving, Niggemeyer
Catcher: Gretz and Sabanosh platoon
First base: Dezse
Second base: Sergakis
Third base: Kuhn
Left field: Dawson
Center field: Montgomery
Right field: Porter
Obviously, a lot can change between now and the first trip down south next spring. Players can develop, put things together, and mature physically and mentally. Several Buckeyes who had down years will come back hungry and eager to compete for playing time, and that's a good problem to have when you enter the off-season.
It will also be interesting to see whether or not Dezse, a one-time top pro pitching prospect, can get back on the mound. With a fastball that touched triple-digits on the radar gun, getting Dezse the pitcher back in any form would be a plus for the team.
A positive trajectory
It is easy to look at the history of Ohio State baseball and throw stones at Beals. The Buckeyes were the preeminent program in the Big Ten for years, and the lack of a conference championship the past five seasons is something new to fans of the scarlet and gray. But turning around a program is a process. It takes time to recruit the right types of players, to establish relationships and trust with high schools and summer leagues, and to develop those players once they arrive on campus. Not to mention, springtime in Ohio really doesn't compare with what you'll find in ACC, SEC, and Pac-12 country.
The name of the game is, of course, wins and losses. To that end, Beals and his staff are not meeting expectations, and must begin to show improvement, seriously contend in the Big Ten, and restore some of the program's national reputation. Still, the performance in 2014 of young players like Kuhn, Dawson, and Tully suggests that Ohio State's trajectory is trending in the right direction. As these players and others in their classes become further immersed in the culture of the program and take on expanded roles on the team, there is reason for optimism that the Buckeyes can complete the climb to being mentioned among the conference's elite once again.