Ohio State head coach Greg Beals seems to have a prototype for what he looks for in his outfielders: fast, left-handed, and possessing gap-to-gap power. In 2015, the Buckeyes will have plenty of all three roaming the confines of Bill Davis Stadium. This may be the most talented outfield Beals has had in his tenure at Ohio State.
"This team is going to be at the top of the conference this year," Beals said. "If we can stay healthy and win some big games, I think we've got a chance to play for a championship."
Three starters return to the club this season, and all three are expected to be key contributors as the Buckeyes try to end a five-year NCAA tournament drought.
We conclude our positional preview of the 2015 Buckeye nine by taking a look at the outfield.
Few Big Ten teams have the luxury of penciling in a starting outfield consisting of three players with as much talent as Ohio State will have this spring. The trio is highlighted by one of last year's Freshman All-Big Ten players and a Perfect Game summer collegiate All-American. Expectations are high for this unit, and the Buckeyes are likely to ebb and flow offensively in tune with them.
Left Field - Ronnie Dawson
When Dawson arrived in Columbus, playing time wasn't a sure thing, but that only fueled the Grove City, Ohio native.
"I wasn't expected to start any [last season], so I just had that push me so I could continue to work hard, so that hopefully when I got the opportunity I could take advantage of it, and I did," he said in an interview prior to the beginning of fall ball.
Dawson's attacking style at the plate made it impossible for Beals to keep him on the bench, and he rewarded his coach with one of the best offensive seasons by a freshman in program history. 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, 4 home runs, and 25 RBIs.
After the season, Dawson was named Freshman All-America by both Louisville Slugger and Perfect Game, and continued his hot play in summer league. Playing for Chillicothe in the Prospect League, he hit .303 with 11 doubles, 3 triples, a league-leading 11 home runs, 44 RBI, 45 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases. Those monster numbers led to Dawson being named Pro Prospect of the Year by the league.
"It's a great honor to achieve, but I'm not satisfied," he said. "I'm working hard every day to improve my game whether it is in the weight room, on the field, or in the cages. The ultimate goal is to help this team win a Big Ten championship."
If the Buckeyes are able to compete for that conference crown, Dawson will be a big reason why.
Center Field - Troy Montgomery
Montgomery had a more typical freshman campaign than Dawson, traversing the peaks and valleys of a long season. With that experience under his belt, the Fortville, Indiana native will be expected to use his speed in the field and on the basepaths to impact games for Ohio State.
Monty appeared in 49 games in his first season in Columbus, making 36 starts, and finished the year up with a .235 batting average, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 2 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.
Like Dawson, Montgomery put up impressive stats in summer league, being named a Northwoods League All-Star for Kalamazoo. He hit .357 on the season while mostly occupying the leadoff spot in the lineup, with 7 doubles, 4 triples, 3 home runs, 37 runs scored, and 13 steals. His .962 OPS would look mighty good to Beals near the top of the order.
Right Field - Pat Porter
Porter is looking for a bounce-back season. A full season removed from a broken hamate bone in his left wrist, the senior is looking to return to the form he showed as a sophomore, and will be counted on to provide stability in the middle of the order.
The Chagrin Falls, Ohio native batted only .229, with 9 doubles, 4 triples, a homer, and 21 RBIs a year ago, after a solid campaign in 2013 that saw him finish second on the team with a .296 average, to go along with 13 doubles, 5 triples, 4 home runs, 42 runs scored, and 33 RBIs.
In a theme amongst the outfield, though, Porter had a monster summer, being named a collegiate All-American by Perfect Game.
"I definitely had the best summer of my career, best baseball season of my career, and that was against the exact same or better talent that I played my entire school year," he said in an interview at the outset of fall practice.
Porter hit .324 for Kenosha in the Northwoods League, leading the league in RBIs with 63, and adding 15 doubles, 5 triples, 10 home runs, and 53 runs scored. If he can bring that sort of production to Ohio State's lineup in his final season in scarlet and gray, both the team and Porter's pro prospects will be on a steep ascent.
Backing up Ohio State's talented starting outfield is a veteran and a pair of newcomers that bring a lot of athleticism and potential to the team. While Dawson, Montgomery, and Porter aren't likely to yield a lot of playing time to the reserves, depth is key throughout the long slog of the season. If Beals needs to, he has solid options he can turn to on the bench.
As a sophomore, Brobst mostly saw time as a defensive replacement. He appeared in 24 games for the Buckeyes, but amassed only 12 at-bats. The Columbus native garnered just one hit (.083 average) and scored 4 runs. With so much talent in the outfield in the everyday lineup, Brobst will likely struggle to find playing time, but provides a capable reserve for Beals.
Gannt is yet another recruit out of the state of Indiana for Beals, and fits the mold of a Buckeye outfielder. Left-handed and with a ton of athleticism, the Fishers, Indiana native has great speed, gap-to-gap power that should translate to a lot of doubles, and a good arm. Again, with so much talent on the field already, Gannt may not get consistent playing time, but with tools that have already gotten the attention of pro scouts, he may make it hard for Beals to keep him on the bench.
Another freshman who will provide depth is Winand, who comes from Mansfield, Ohio as a preferred walk-on. Yet another lefty, Winand manned center field for the scarlet team in the Scarlet and Gray Series at the conclusion of fall practice. He went 2-16 with 2 runs scored, committing one error in the four games.