Wednesday, February 18, 2009

2009 Preview: Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Bob Todd
2008 Record: 30-24 (15-15, fifth in the Big Ten)

At The Plate: Coach Todd returns a veteran lineup in 2009. The group is led by senior captain 1B Justin Miller. Miller, who may well be the most overlooked player in the Big Ten, finished sixth in the conference in batting average (.395), tied for fifth in RBI (61), tied for fifth in doubles (16) and tied for ninth in hits (79). While Miller couldn’t garner any all-conference recognition in ‘08, he begins this season amongst those considered for Big Ten Player of the Year honors.

All of Miller’s infield mates return, as well. Sophomore catcher Dan Burkhart looks to improve on his solid freshman performance. Burkhart posted a.308 average and 29 RBIs in his first season in Columbus. 2B Cory Kovanda, a junior, hit .324 and scored 45 times a season ago. Kovanda’s middle infield partner is sophomore SS Tyler Engle. Engle hit .252 in his freshman campaign. Thirdbase belongs to junior Cory Rupert (.313 with 39 RBI). Brian DeLucia also saw time in the OSU infield and should fill a utility role again in ‘09.

Juniors Ryan Dew (.261, 27 RBI) and Zach Hurley (.302, 18 RBI) return to corner outfield spots. They will be joined by newcomer Michael Stephens. Stephens, a JUCO transfer, is rated as one of the top five newcomers in the Big Ten by Baseball America. He will be the Bucks’ centerfielder. Senior Michael Arp (.367 in 22 starts) will continue to see action in the outfield, designated hitter and in a pinch-hitting role.

On The Mound: OSU has a bevy of returning arms to rely upon in ‘09. The pitching rotation should be led by sophomore Dean Wolosiansky. Last year, “Wolo” went 7-4 with a 4.22 ERA and claimed freshman All-America and second team All-Big Ten honors. He should be the Buckeyes’ Friday starter.

The battle for the remaining starting spots begins with lefthanded sophomore Andrew Armstrong. Armstrong was 4-3 with a 4.42 ERA in 38.2 IP in 2008. Fellow lefty Eric Best, who spent last season as the Buckeyes’ closer, might move into Coach Todd’s weekend rotation in 2009. Best collected eight saves while going 4-2 with a 4.29 ERA in ‘08.

Alex Wimmers, who was Best’s set-up man last season, and fellow sophomore Drew Rucinski are also in the mix to claim a starting role. A new face, freshman Russ Oltorik could push his way past the veterans and find himself in the OSU rotation.

While a number of Ohio State’s bullpen arms are looking to make the jump to starting, last year’s Friday starter, Jake Hale appears headed to the back-end of the Buckeyes bullpen. It won’t be an unfamiliar role for the senior righthander. Hale (5-3, 4.50) was the Bucks’ closer two seasons ago and has ten career saves. Hale is the lone Big Ten representative on the NCBWA’s Stopper of the Year preseason watch list.

The Schedule: The most daunting non-conference games for Ohio State are a date at Miami, FL right before the Big Ten season opens and two midweek games late in the year at Louisville. However, Notre Dame and Cincinnati are amongst the Big East/Big Ten Challenge opponents and there are two games at North Florida that shouldn’t be ignored. (Not that any games should be ignored.)

The conference schedule opens for OSU on the road at Penn State. Other trips include visits to Minnesota (in week two), Purdue and Illinois. Those with Columbus on their travel schedule include Michigan State, Northwestern, Michigan and Iowa.

Bottom Line: The 2009 Buckeyes are, perhaps, the most experienced team in the Big Ten. Their entire infield returns intact. The outfield returns two starters and adds a junior college All-American. The pitching staff has a senior closer and a rotation that, while young, saw plenty of action in 2008. Yet, not everything is perfect in Columbus.

Ohio State doesn’t hit many homers. They might not have the best defensive side in the conference, either. They are also coming off a disappointing season. Yet, it’s difficult to imagine OSU not finishing better than a year ago when they came in fifth place. The 2009 Buckeyes should take a run at the conference title. At worst, another top six finish is in order. As the Big Ten Tournament will be in their backyard, OSU should be a threat to claim the post-season crown, as well.


BaseballBucks33 said...

Great job Brian on this article. I am very exicted about the 2009 season for the Buckeyes. I really feel like OSU has a great team to contend for the Big ten title but they have to put it all together on the field. They have some new guys that are going to be very nice additions to this club like (JUCO) OF Michael Stephens and freshman pitcher Ross Oltorik.

Go Buckeyes!!

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