Unproven talent has the potential to either burst onto the scene or fall to the wayside.
The 2019 Ohio State baseball team’s success will depend on the play of its inexperienced but talented pitching staff and veteran players. The new-look team will try to build on its 36-24 record and NCAA Tournament berth from last season.
In the 2018 campaign, the Buckeyes had a plethora of experienced arms to put on the mound. Three of the team’s starters and the closer were upperclassmen.
The five most-used pitchers from last season, three of which had the lowest ERAs on the team, have moved on from the program, but the openings in the rotation will give younger players the opportunity to prove themselves this season.
“As a coach, I am really excited about the talent level that we’ve got with the pitching staff,” head coach Greg Beals said. “[I am] apprehensive about the fact a lot of them don’t have a track record.”
Among the Buckeyes’ more battle-tested pitchers are junior Jake Vance and sophomore Griffan Smith, both of whom logged more than 30 innings pitched in 2018.
Along with Smith and Vance, sophomore catcher and captain Dillon Dingler said redshirt freshman Seth Lonsway and freshman Garrett Burhenn were among the best pitchers he has ever caught and been with.
“They have a lot of confidence in themselves, a lot of poise when they are on the mound, so it should be good,” Dingler said.
But Beals noted that the entire load is not on the pitching staff.
“We’ve got some experience in that infield,” Beals said. “We’ve got to play good defense to support that young pitching staff.”
Beals said the infield will likely consist of junior first baseman Conner Pohl, senior second baseman Kobie Foppe, junior shortstop Noah West and freshman third baseman Zach Dezenzo.
Foppe, who had a .335 batting average in 2018, was a key contributor to last year’s team, which posted the most runs scored in Beals’ eight-year stint with the team.
But utility Noah McGowan is no longer on the roster after posting a team high .351 batting average. Outfielder Tyler Cowles, who posted a .322 batting average, has also graduated from the program.
Even with the loss of such offensive weapons, junior outfielder and captain Dominic Canzone said the team is confident it can continue the offensive momentum from last season.
“They were huge pieces, obviously, last year, but we have other guys that are going to step up,” Canzone said. “Then obviously, some of our leaders can produce more. Just top to bottom I feel really strong about our hitting in our lineup.”
The leaders of the team will be a crucial component of developing a young team. Dingler said it will be important for the older players to make sure the younger guys remain even-keeled throughout the season.
“Just sticking behind guys,” Dingler said. “Baseball is a very tedious sport. You go through a lot of lulls. Go through a lot of highs and lows. Just sticking with kids. Making sure they are not getting too high, not getting too low. Leaving them alone too. Helping them out when they need help.”
Canzone emphasized the need to stick together and respond positively to adversity in order to successfully navigate the season.
Supporting one another is something that Dingler feels will come easily and propel them forward throughout the season.
“I think we’re really close this year,” Dingler said. “Like Dom [Canzone] said, the brotherhood is very close this year. We’re always together at the field and off the field. I feel like us having each other’s back and us bonding together will really set us apart this year.”
The team’s confidence is evident in its goals for this season, viewing the previous season as a leaping-off point.
“The biggest thing for us is winning regionals this year, making a super, and winning a Big Ten championship,” Canzone said.
Ohio State will open the season Friday against Seton Hall in the Snowbird Baseball Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida.