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MLB draft complicates Ohio State baseball’s hopes of bouncing back in 2018

The Buckeyes lost a pair of key players to the pros this summer.

Ohio State baseball

After a rough season in which Ohio State went 22-34 and missed out on the Big Ten tournament, there wasn’t much for Buckeye baseball to do except sit back and wait for next year. Despite the bumps and bruises of 2017, there were bright spots for the Buckeyes that suggested better days to come. But nothing comes easy in the world of college sports, and as such head coach Greg Beals saw his program take a hit during the Major League Baseball draft.

With the deadline for drafted players to sign with the professional clubs that selected them having passed on Friday, Ohio State now knows where it stands, and two players who figured to have prominent roles with the team in 2018 are no longer options.

The first is Tre’ Gantt, the Buckeyes’ leadoff hitter and center fielder. The Fishers, Ind., native was taken in the 29th round by the Cleveland Indians and opted to forgo his senior season in Columbus. We don’t blame Gantt for seizing the opportunity to get his pro career started, but it does leave a crater-sized hole in the roster for next season.

Perhaps no Ohio State player improved more than Gantt in 2017, who had played his way into regular time as a freshman and sophomore, but became a mainstay in his third season. Splitting time between the leadoff spot and two-hole, he slashed .314/.426/.426 with 13 doubles, two triples, two homers, 18 RBIs and 14 steals. He led the team with 64 hits and 46 runs scored, and proved to be solid patrolling the outfield.

Prior to the draft, one could have written his name in permanent marker on the lineup card, and it was well within the realm of possibility that he would garner all-conference consideration. Now Beals must turn to a new outfield quarterback and offensive catalyst.

The Buckeyes will be returning Dominic Canzone in right field, fresh off a tremendous rookie campaign, being named to the third-team All-Big Ten and All-Freshman team. You can put his name down in ink in the everyday lineup. Tyler Cowles and Noah McGowan will also be returning for their senior seasons, but both had their issues adjusting to a higher level of play after making the jump from the junior college ranks.

One name that may find its way into the conversation to replace Gantt is incoming recruit Jake Ruby. A two-time state champion quarterback for Bishop Hartley High School in Columbus, Beals said of Ruby, “his speed fits at the top of the order.” If Ruby can acclimate to the college game quickly, perhaps Ohio State will have another Troy Montgomery type of player on its hands.

The outfield isn’t the only part of the team that lost someone, though, as the pitching staff watched a talented prospect choose the pro ranks as well. Xavier Moore, a right-hander from Amherst Steele High School, was taken in the 16th round by the Texas Rangers and received a $125,000 signing bonus, according to Lone Star Ball. Much like Gantt, it’s impossible to fault Moore for making what he admitted was an extremely tough decision to pass on college.

“It was tough,” Moore told Marissa McNees of The Morning Journal. “I called my (Ohio State) coaches, let them know what’s going on. That was definitely tough. I committed (to Ohio State) at the end of my sophomore year, so I’ve been there and had that commitment for two years, but at the end of the day you have to do what’s best for you and your family, and my family is backing me up.”

Capable of hitting the mid-90s with his fastball and complementing it with a sweeping slider and splitter, Moore would certainly have been in the mix to claim a spot in the Buckeyes starting rotation, whether on the weekend or in the midweek.

There was one draft decision that went Ohio State’s way, though, and helps to offset the loss of Moore. Left-handed pitcher Seth Lonsway, the top-rated player in the state of Ohio, who many projected to be selected in the first half-dozen rounds, slipped into the 19th, where he was taken by the Cincinnati Reds. Lonsway did not sign by the deadline, and is in line to be wearing scarlet and gray come fall ball in September.

The Celina High School product figures to be a candidate for the weekend rotation with a fastball that touches the mid-90s and solid secondary offerings. For a pitching staff that struggled mightily with injuries and ineffectiveness a season ago, the expectations for Lonsway will be deservedly high.

At this juncture, it’s tough to say what Ohio State baseball will look like come the fall. While the losses of Gantt and Moore will have an impact on next year’s ball club, it’s never a bad thing for a program to have players drafted. Beals has a little more firepower on the recruiting trail as a result, but as he looks to return the team to contention in the Big Ten in 2018, will also have a little less talent to work with.