For head coach Greg Beals, his sixth season at the helm of the Ohio State baseball program was one to remember. 44 wins, a Big Ten tournament championship, and a place among the 64 teams in the NCAA tournament. Though the Buckeyes were eliminated from the Louisville regional by Wright State, their season was a step forward for the program.
"The season doesn't end the way anyone wants it to except for the national champion, and that's certainly the case for us today," Beals said to Press Pros Magazine after the season's final defeat. "I'm extremely proud of this group of Buckeyes, not only for what they did on the field, but for who they became as a team."
The members of that team now head off in different directions; some to summer league play, others to summer school, and a few to begin their professional careers. The Ohio State squad that will return to Bill Davis Stadium in a few months for fall ball will be very different from the one that walked off the field, axe in hand, in Louisville. Whether the program can take another step forward or regresses two steps backwards will be the looming question.
What the Buckeyes lose from the everyday lineup
In just a couple of words, the Buckeyes will be losing a lot. Nine seniors will be departing the program, along with the potential for as many as four underclassmen who were selected in the Major League Baseball draft. That's nearly 43 percent of the roster, and an incredible chunk of the 2016 team's production.
Among position players, senior co-captain and first-team All-Big Ten performer Nick Sergakis, who was drafted by the New York Mets in the 23rd round, headlines the departures. Sergakis was in the top ten in the conference in slugging, on-base percentage, runs scored, hits, RBIs, doubles, home runs, walks, hit by pitch, and total bases in 2016, and provided solid third base defense and unquantifiable leadership to the team.
The rest of the starting infield and the top two reserves are also departing. Craig Nennig, the three-year starter at shortstop, and Troy Kuhn, who started at third base, second base, and first base in his four years, have both exhausted their eligibility. Jacob Bosiokovic, who spent the second half of the season manning first base after starting the year in right field, was drafted in the 19th round by the Colorado Rockies.
Behind that trio and Sergakis, L. Grant Davis and Ryan Leffel, both seniors, were the only other players to see time on the infield. Fellow senior Zach Ratcliff ended up redshirting despite appearing in 16 games at the beginning of the season.
The losses are just as deep in the outfield, as third-team All-American left fielder Ronnie Dawson was selected in the second round by the Houston Astros, center fielder Troy Montgomery went in the eighth round to the Los Angeles Angels, and reserves Daulton Mosbarger and Jake Brobst exhausted their eligibility.
Dawson was arguably the most dangerous man in the lineup for all three of his seasons in scarlet and gray, and capped it off with a 2016 that saw him slash .331/.419/.611 while leading the team with 85 hits, 55 runs scored, 25 doubles, 13 home runs, 51 runs batted in, and 21 stolen bases. The Grove City, Ohio native has already inked his first professional contract with the Astros.
Montgomery, who started the year off slowly but finished on a tear, had a slash line of .297/.423/.466, to go along with 14 doubles, eight home runs, 34 runs batted in, and owning fourth place in program history with 60 career stolen bases.
In all, the offense is losing 80 percent of its hits, 80 percent of its doubles, 86 percent of its home runs, 83 percent of its total extra-base hits, and 77 percent of its runs batted in. That is a crater-sized hole that Beals will have to fill in 2017.
What the Buckeyes lose from the pitching staff
On the mound, the losses are also great, though less so than with the everyday lineup. Friday night starter Tanner Tully, the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-Big Ten selection as a junior, is the largest loss after being drafted in the 26th round by the Cleveland Indians.
The Elkhart, Indiana native has anchored the weekend rotation for most of his three seasons in Columbus, amassing a career record of 18-10 with a 2.93 earned run average in 46 appearances that included 40 starts. Conceivably, Tully could return for his senior season in an attempt to boost his draft stock, and has until July 15th to make a decision. But his leverage for negotiating his signing bonus would likely only diminish in doing so, thus it's a good bet that he will forego his final season of eligibility.
Also departing the weekend rotation will be senior John Havird, who went 6-4 with a 3.73 ERA in his 16 starts in 2016.
The one area where departures do not leave a sizable loss in production is in the bullpen, which is expected to return several underclassmen next season. The one big loss is senior lefty Michael Horejsei, a 21st round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox, who will be taking with him 34 appearances in which he held the opposition to just a .156 batting average, sported a 0.84 WHIP, and had a 4.33-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The total production the Buckeyes will be replacing includes 57 percent of its starts, 45 percent of its innings, and 42 percent of its strikeouts.
Pride and uncertainty
The players moving on from the program have much to be proud of. This senior class is the first full recruiting class Beals put together after taking over the program, and it helped propel the team to successes not seen in years. The Big Ten tournament title and NCAA regional appearance will be added in ink to the Ohio State baseball annals, both accomplishments to be proud of.
That said, the departures also leave the future of the program with innumerable questions, uncertainties, and doubts. After reaching such heights in 2016, can Beals, his staff, and his returning and incoming players continue to build momentum? Or will the Buckeyes once again find themselves back at square one?