As the Ohio State baseball team prepares to head to Jacksonville, Fla., where they open play Friday, all eyes are on the outfield.
Senior Zach Hurley thrives off the pressure and the chance to lead the defending Big Ten champions.
“We live off that. We’ve been here before and done that,” Hurley said. “We’re all veterans and we’ve been in the big games and clutch situations. We know how to handle ourselves and that’s expected of us.”
Hurley will patrol left field for the Buckeyes this season. In his first three seasons with the Scarlet and Gray, Hurley has produced sparkling offensive numbers. The co-captain will look to build on his career .320 average, and assistant coach Eric Parker thinks the senior is capable of doing just that.
“He, like a lot of the other guys, works incredibly hard. He comes with effort every day and in baseball that’s a big part of it,” Parker said. “It’s a long year. Being able to get up every day and know the grind of it is big, and Zach is one of the guys who does it best.”
Center field duties will be split this year between seniors Michael Stephens and Chris Griffin. But having a surplus of talent in the outfield certainly isn’t bothering coach Bob Todd.
“That’s a plus for us,” Todd said of having two talented center fielders. “Michael Stephens was our center fielder last year but Chris Griffin has worked very hard and has really improved the last two years. He’s going to get some opportunities to play because he’s earned it.”
Stephens, who saw his first action as a Buckeye last season after transferring from Fullerton College, will still see plenty of time in the outfield. He led the Buckeyes in home runs with 14 and runs batted in with 63 last season.
The athletic Griffin can play all three outfield positions and consequently might see time in right field as well. In right, he will share time with Brian DeLucia, who missed most of last season with a broken finger.
DeLucia converted from third base last year and worked in the outfield last spring and in fall ball. He’ll switch places with Ryan Dew, who heads to the infield this season. Their switch provides the Buckeyes with some versatility at the plate.
“They give us some flexibility both right-handed and left-handed,” Todd said. “That way we can match up a little better against pitching.”
There is some concern about whether or not DeLucia will be able to return to the offensive player he was after switching positions and returning from an injury. However, Parker has no doubt DeLucia will make a seamless transition and be productive for the Buckeyes this season.
“Last year he had the advantage of the medical redshirt. He was able to get out there a lot during batting practice and get his feet wet and get familiar with the outfield,” Parker said. “He’s working hard every day with the other guys. It also helps you’ve got a veteran crew out there with him that can help him out.”
The star-studded outfield is one of many veteran areas for the Buckeyes this year, which has Todd excited about the talent he has on the roster.
“We really don’t have as much depth as we’d like. But when you take a look at the nine or 10 people we’re going to put out there on a daily basis, you have to like them,” Todd said. “They are experienced and they understand what it takes to compete at this level. I like the talent level we have.”
The outfield is one area the Buckeyes do posses great depth, as three underclassmen are in line to back up the top four. Redshirt sophomore David Corna, who saw his first action as a Buckeye last season, is alongside freshmen Joe Ciamacco and Hunter Mayfield. The trio will battle to see action in the outfield this season.
With the Buckeyes returning a veteran squad, and especially as defending Big Ten champions, expectations are high within the ball club as they enter the season.
“With the experience we have back, and having won the Big Ten this year, we obviously should be up there and compete for the title,” Parker said.
But Hurley is aiming even higher than a conference championship.
“That’s something we’re trying to establish every year is win the Big Ten. That should be a given for us,” Hurley said. “We set out some goals this year and the main one is Omaha.”
Omaha, Neb., is where the College World Series is held every year and where the Buckeyes plan to be come June.