Thursday, February 21, 2008

2008 BTH Preview: Ohio State

Ohio State
Head Coach: Bob Todd
2007 record: 38-24 overall; 15-15 in Big Ten (won Big 10 tournament; lost in NCAA Regionals)
2007 RPI: 69
2008 Projected Big Ten Finish:
Collegiate Baseball - 3rd
Rivals - 5th

At The Plate: Ohio State returns a number of quality bats in 2008. The group is led by junior Justin Miller. Miller, who hit over .400 in conference play, was a third team All-Big Ten selection. Although, he spent most of his time at firstbase last year, Miller (.346/1/51) could start out this year as the Buckeyes‘ catcher. However, don’t be surprised if Miller also gets at bats as the designated hitter, at third base or back at first depending on how the rest of the infield shakes out.

At times last season, Coach Todd started three freshmen in the infield – Cory Kovanda, Cory Rupert and Brian DeLucia. This year, Kovanda (.289) appears the be the starter at second, as DeLucia (.302) does at third. Rupert (.257) could start as well, but is being challenged by freshman Tyler Engle. In addition to Engle, two other Buckeye freshmen are vying for starting roles.

Ryan Meade may hit his way into playing time at first base although his bat may lead him to start at DH. First year catcher Dan Burkhardt is trying to land a starting job. Even if Burkhardt doesn’t open the season as the starter, look for him to see playing time.

A former infielder, Tony Kennedy, opens the new year in the outfield. Kennedy, mostly a third baseman last season, hit .322 en route to garnering a second team All-Big Ten nomination. Also returning to the outfield is J.B. Shuck. Shuck, a former Big Ten Freshman of the Year, hit .342 with 37 RBI. Shuck will roam the OF on the days he doesn’t pitch. Also vying for an outfield spot are junior Michael Arp (.233) and sophomore Ryan Dew (.269).

On The Mound: The Buckeyes run to a conference tournament berth and their subsequent Big Ten Tournament championship began when junior Jake Hale (4-3, 4.25, 10 saves) was returned to the starting rotation. Hale, who began 2007 as the closer, earned an All-Big Ten Tournament Team berth as a starter. He would appear to be OSU’s Friday starter.

Shuck (4-4, 4.88), a junior, will probably grab a Saturday spot. The wild card in Ohio State’s rotation and, perhaps, their season is senior Dan DeLucia. DeLucia, a first team All-Big Ten pick in 2006, was injured and missed most of last year with Tommy John surgery. Originally, it was thought DeLucia might not be ready until later in the season, but it now looks like he could go sooner than later. If he returns to form, Ohio State could have a formidable rotation.

A number of young Buckeye hurlers are looking for that final weekend start. Josh Berrera (4-1, 4.41), Eric Best (3-1, 4.06) and red shirt freshman Dean Wolosiansky are all in the hunt to become the fourth starter. Veteran Rory Meister (4-7, 5.00, 3 saves) will be given the first chance to re-capture the closer’s job.

The Schedule: Before the conference schedule kicks in the Buckeyes will get a look at two ranked opponents, Arkansas and Texas A&M. Another non-conference highlight game is an April visit from Louisville, a CWS team in 2007. All three should help Ohio State’s RPI. Penn State, Minnesota, Purdue and Illinois all travel to Columbus in Big Ten play. The Buckeyes visit Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa.

Bottom Line: Ohio State’s 2007 regular season was a bit of a disappointment. However, their post-season run that garnered them another Big Ten Tournament championship and landed the Buckeyes in the NCAA field made up for the shortcomings of the regular season. This year should yield a better regular season record, but will it be enough to return to the NCAA Tournament? As we learned in ‘07, don’t count the Buckeyes out.