Selection Monday came and went, and as expected after a horrendous month of May, the Ohio State baseball team failed to make the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes, who concluded the season on a five-game losing streak, finished the year 35-20.
"I'll tell you what I told our guys at the end of the day, I really felt like they deserve better than what this month of May has brought us," head coach Greg Beals said after Ohio State was eliminated from the Big Ten tournament on Thursday.
When the month began, the Buckeyes were nationally-ranked for the first time since 2009 and in the discussion to host a regional. But a 4-10 finish to the season, including losing ten of their final eleven conference games, ultimately sealed the team's fate.
Still, there was improvement over the previous season and plenty of highlights for the scarlet and gray. With a sizable portion of the roster back next season, there is hope that the program is headed for better things in 2016. Let's take a look at the state of the baseball Bucks moving forward.
What Ohio State loses
Beals will be saying goodbye to just five seniors, but the impact of their departure will be difficult to endure. Chief among them is right fielder Pat Porter, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and the biggest weapon in Ohio State's lineup. Porter led the team with a .338 batting average, 11 home runs, 49 RBIs, and a .576 slugging percentage. The Chagrin Falls, Ohio native has all the tools to play professionally, and will leave a big hole in the batting order.
The Buckeyes will also lose their two co-captains and catching tandem in Aaron Gretz and Connor Sabanosh. Splitting the catching and DH duties for much of the year, the two had solid if unspectacular statistical seasons. Gretz hit .279 with a homer and 18 driven in, while Sabanosh batted .289 with two dingers and 23 RBIs. Beyond the numbers, though, the leadership and management of the pitching staff that the two provided will be difficult to replace.
As tough as losing Porter's offense and the leadership of Gretz and Sabanosh will be, the place where Ohio State will be losing the most is perhaps on the mound. Sunday starter Ryan Riga (5-4, 3.32 ERA) and closer Trace Dempsey (9-3, 4.19 ERA, seven saves) have both finished their careers, and may garner late-round interest in the MLB draft in much the same way Greg Greve did a year ago. Saturday starter Travis Lakins (4-4, 3.75 ERA) may also be headed to the pros, as the sophomore is draft-eligible and projected to go in the first half dozen rounds. If Lakins does make the jump, Beals will be replacing two-thirds of his weekend rotation and the school's all-time career leader in saves.
What Ohio State brings back
One area where the progress of the program under Beals has become evident is in the roster's depth. Despite the losses Ohio State faces, there is a solid core of experienced players returning. Leadoff man Troy Montgomery, who was named second-team All-Big Ten and led the conference in stolen bases, had the type of breakout sophomore season the coaching staff was hoping for. Montgomery hit .317 with 12 doubles, four home runs, 27 RBIs, and a .493 slugging percentage, and led the team with six triples and a .431 on-base percentage.
Fellow sophomore Ronnie Dawson came on strong late in the year and is one of the prime candidates to assume Porter's role as the top masher in the middle of the lineup. Dawson finished the season hitting .279 with a team-high 15 doubles, seven home runs, 34 RBIs, and 16 steals, and will likely shift to right field next year.
This season's juniors who will be counted on every day next year as seniors are an experienced lot, many of whom have played major roles for Ohio State since they were freshmen. Troy Kuhn will be expected, along with Dawson, to provide the pop in the middle of the order. Despite missing twelve games with an ankle injury, Kuhn was second on the team in doubles (14) and third in home runs (6) and slugging (.469). Fellow infielders Craig Nennig (.266, 30 RBIs), Nick Sergakis (.250, 24 RBIs), and Zach Ratcliff (.286, two homers, eight RBIs) will also provide a veteran presence.
On the mound, Tanner Tully did not have the type of sophomore campaign he had hoped for. Last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year went 4-4 with a 4.32 ERA as the Friday starter, but got shelled in his final two outings and was skipped over in the Big Ten tournament. Tully will be expected to anchor the weekend rotation in 2016 with the departures of Riga and Lakins. Adam Niemeyer, who made the conference's All-Freshman team after posting a 2-0 record with a 2.16 ERA, and Jacob Niggemeyer, who was 4-0 with a 3.27 ERA in his first season in Columbus, will be in the mix for the rotation, and incoming recruit Ryan Feltner of Walsh Jesuit High School is a likely option for the midweek.
Who steps up?
Having only a half dozen departures from this season's ballclub means there are not many holes to fill for Ohio State, but there are a few returning players that will have the opportunity to increase their contributions, as well as a pair of incoming freshmen that will compete for playing time.
At the top of the list is Tre' Gantt, who should have a chance to start in the outfield for the Buckeyes after hitting .311 as a freshman. Gantt showed off elite speed and a solid head for the game, providing a spark midseason when Beals inserted him into the DH role, and with Dawson likely moving right field, is the natural choice to take over left.
Gantt's classmate Jordan McDonough should get a look as the DH next season. The former Cincinnati St. Xavier standout showed some pop in his bat in limited opportunities as a freshman, hitting six doubles and driving in five runs.
Rising juniors L. Grant Davis and Jalen Washington also showed glimpses of their potential in limited chances throughout the season. Washington, who hit .280 in just 25 at-bats, will get first crack at taking over the catching duties, while Davis, who hit .282 with 13 RBIs and showed a fiery personality, may force himself into the lineup at second base.
Ratcliff is one who has underachieved during his time at Ohio State, but certainly has the power to be a middle of the order hitter. The Columbus Academy product finished the season strong, going 3-for-7 in the Big Ten tournament with a pair of doubles and a home run. Additionally, Jacob Bosiokovic, a former All-Freshman performer in the conference, will be back after taking a medical redshirt in 2015 due to Tommy John surgery, and Ryan Leffel (.211, eight RBIs) will provide depth.
Two incoming recruits may also play their way onto the field. Owen Young, son of former Major Leaguer Dmitri Young and nephew of current Baltimore Oriole Delmon Young, is a big, athletic first baseman and outfielder with the sort of gap-to-gap power that Beals loves. Joining him is the intriguing Brady Cherry, an honorable mention High School All-American by Perfect Game. Cherry's best position is an unknown at this point, as he has played third base, shortstop, and catcher, and also projects favorably as a right-handed pitcher.
Were it not for the Buckeyes' May collapse, the outlook for the future of the program would be nothing but positive. Reality can't be ignored, though, and the bottom line is that Ohio State squandered a huge opportunity down the stretch of the season. When the team needed to be at its best, it simply did not get the job done.
That said, the feeling entering this season was that the Buckeyes were still a year away. The fact that the team was competing for a Big Ten championship and NCAA tournament berth in May is a testament to the progress the program has made under Beals. With a solid core returning next season, there is no reason to believe that Ohio State cannot be a contender again.