Of all the players Ohio State lost after last season, perhaps none meant more to the team than 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 in 2015. The Chagrin Falls, Ohio native was a 15th round selection of the Houston Astros in June's Major League Baseball draft.
"Pat Porter was our rock last year," head coach Greg Beals said. "You don't really replace a guy like Pat. We are going to need contributions from everybody to make up his offensive numbers."
Fortunately for the Buckeyes, they return two of the premier outfielders in the Big Ten this season, and have plenty of depth around them. While one player may not be able to equal Porter's production from a year ago, Beals has plenty of talent to play with, and the fortunes of outfielders Ronnie Dawson and Troy Montgomery may determine how high the team can fly in 2016.
"All the way around the diamond we are one of the strongest in the Big Ten, certainly in the outfield," Beals said.
We continue our preview series of the 2016 baseball Buckeyes in the outfield.
Ronnie Dawson - Left field
Just pencil Dawson into the middle of the order and call it a day. The Grove City, Ohio native has been an offensive force for Ohio State since he stepped on the field two seasons ago, and will be counted on to produce at an even higher level this year.
As a freshman, Dawson hit .337 with four home runs and 25 RBIs, garnering Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American honors. He followed that up by being named Player of the Year in the Prospect League in the summer of 2014 and improving on his numbers as a sophomore in Scarlet and Gray.
Last season, Dawson saw his batting average dip to .279, but he hit a team-high 15 doubles to go along with seven home runs, 34 RBIs, and 16 stolen bases. The left-handed hitter slugged .465 and put together an OPS of .828. He spent the summer of 2015 being named an all-star in the Cape Cod League, the top amateur summer league in the country, and earned MVP honors in the Scarlet and Gray Series in the fall.
"Ronnie continues to get better as a baseball player," Beals said. "Those experiences from last spring and the challenging pitching he faced over the summer improved his quality of at-bats."
With Porter gone, Dawson is the heir apparent to strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. He has shown in his first two seasons that he is a five-tool player with first-team All-Big Ten potential. With aspirations of playing pro ball, the time is now for Dawson to live up to that potential.
Troy Montgomery - Center field
Just as Beals can depend on Dawson to anchor the middle of the lineup, he can write Montgomery's name in sharpie at the leadoff spot. The junior from Fortville, Indiana had a breakout year in 2015, and has been racking up the accolades as the new season approaches.
Montgomery was named a preseason third-team All-American by the NCBWA, preseason All-Big Ten by Perfect Game, and a Player to Watch by the Big Ten conference coaches. The sophomore campaign he put in merits all the attention. Montgomery hit .317 a year ago, scoring 54 runs, hitting 12 doubles, 6 triples, and four home runs, driving in 27, and leading the conference and tying the school record with 35 stolen bases. All of that while also playing a superb defensive center field.
Those numbers earned him second-team All-Big Ten honors, but he refused to rest on his laurels, and is primed to have a huge season for the Buckeyes. The team will need him to continue to spark the offense at the top of the order.
"Troy probably had as good of a fall as I've ever coached," Beals said. "Coming off a tremendous spring, he took the summer off and put on 12 pounds in the weight room, so there is going to be some punch in his bat."
Jacob Bosiokovic - Right field
As highly-touted a player as has arrived at Ohio State during Beals' tenure, Bosiokovic is coming off of a redshirt season looking to live up to the lofty expectations he set as a high school player at Rutherford B. Hayes High School in Delaware, Ohio. A two-time Ohio Division I Player of the Year, Bosiokovic is making a position change and hoping to become an everyday player.
Bosi started at third base his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 2013, he hit .273 with seven doubles, four home runs and 33 RBIs, and looked to be someone the Buckeyes would be able to count on to bolster the lineup in seasons to come. But in 2014, his production seemed to plateau, as he hit .268 with 10 doubles, one homer, and 26 driven in. He lost his starting job during Big Ten play, then underwent Tommy John surgery early last season.
With Montgomery and Dawson anchoring the outfield, Bosiokovic has a chance to come back from his injury and contribute without the pressure of his first two seasons. If he can lock down the third outfield spot, or at least play well as part of a platoon, the Buckeyes could have the best outfield in the Big Ten.
When the University of Akron decided to give the ax to its baseball program, Beals got a veteran transfer student to provide depth in the outfield. In three seasons with the Zips, Mosbarger steadily improved, becoming an everyday player and showing good pop in his bat.
As a junior last season, the Bellefontaine, Ohio native hit .268, scoring 35 runs, belting 12 doubles, three triples, and three home runs, driving in 24 runs, and slugging .411. Mosbarger is likely to platoon in right field with Bosiokovic as the season gets underway, and can also provide at-bats as a designated hitter.
Gannt is the kind of player that coaches love because he's fast, energetic, and has a good head for the game. As a freshman last season, the Fishers, Indiana product provided a midseason spark for Ohio State, seeing time chiefly at DH and as a pinch-runner. Gannt had a slash line of .311/.351/.373 in 2015, scoring 14 runs and stealing five bases.
Those encouraging stats, coupled with his ability to play anywhere in the outfield, make Gannt a vital part of the roster. He should get opportunities to see the field as a designated hitter, as well as in a role off the bench as game situations dictate.
Montgomery and Dawson are the highlights of the outfield group without question. Ohio State will in large part go as far as the two take them this season. Porter won't be walking through that door, so the junior duo must step up.
Much as is the case on the infield, though, the Buckeyes will have good depth roaming the wide open spaces of Bill Davis Stadium. Bosiokovic, Mosbarger, and Gannt, along with senior Jake Brobst and freshmen Jacob Vander Wal and Ridge Winand, give Beals a lot of options if he needs them.
"I can't imagine we are going to face a team in the conference with a better outfield than what we have," Beals said.