2007 Ohio State Baseball Season Outlook
Jan. 25, 2007
Ohio State head coach Bob Todd has a positive outlook for the 2007 season. Of course, so does every other coach around the country as his team heads toward its season opener, but Todd thinks his optimism has merit.
"We are entering the 2007 season with a lot of optimism," Todd, the 20th-year Buckeye head coach, said. "We have quite a few returning players and more importantly, for the first time since I have been at Ohio State, we have all four of our starting pitchers back. It is highly unusual that you have your complete starting rotation intact."
Those four weekend starters, who include Dan DeLucia, Cory Luebke, Jake Hale and J.B. Shuck, all of whom return from a pitching staff that led the Big Ten in earned run average (3.46).
DeLucia was the Buckeyes' first 10-game winner since 1999 and Shuck, the 2006 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, won eight games. Luebke returned to school after being drafted last June by the Texas Rangers as a draft-eligible sophomore and Hale showed promise last year as a freshman.
The Buckeyes have several key position players returning, as well. Catcher Eric Fryer, first baseman Justin Miller, second baseman Jason Zoeller, centerfielder Matt Angle all return, as does Jacob Howell, who split time in left field last year with Shuck. DeLucia, Angle and Zoeller all were first-team All-Big Ten picks last season and Fryer, Shuck, Howell and Luebke also were among the nine total Buckeyes to earn all-conference mention in 2006.
"I think this team overall has good team speed, which should not only help us on the base paths, but should result in a better team defensively," Todd, who has guided the Buckeyes to six Big Ten regular season and seven tournament titles, said. "The biggest question marks are going to be the left side of the infield, where we lost Ronnie Bourquin at third and Jedidiah Stephen at short. Not only are those two positions valuable, but the quality of player we lost is going to be tough to replace."
Bourquin, the 2006 Big Ten Player of the Year, was selected in the second round of the draft by the Detroit Tigers while Stephen, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, went in the eighth round to the Baltimore Orioles.
The Buckeyes led the league in team batting average (.332) in their third-place finishes during the regular season and conference tournament. However, Bourquin and Stephen accounted for 17 of the team's modest 28 home runs and made up 25 percent of the team's hits.
Of the six position players who return, five batted .325 or better. In fact, Angle, a first-team All-Big Ten pick last year, was second on the team with a .369 average and Fryer, a second-team all-conference selection, was just behind him with a .368 batting average. Those two combined for 157 hits, just eight less than the combined total of Bourquin and Stephen.
Todd thinks the Buckeyes have the tools they need to battle for a Big Ten title and a regional berth, especially with their pitching staff. If they can fill in the left side of their infield, the Buckeyes could be looking at an seventh Big Ten title and 12th NCAA tournament appearance under Todd, who became coach at Ohio State in 1988.
Zoeller, a senior, was the first-team All-Big Ten second baseman in 2006. In his second year as the starter, he batted .337 overall and .354 in league games, finishing with 60 hits, including 13 doubles, four triples and five home runs. Junior Tony Kennedy, who has backed up Zoeller at second for two years, again will be the backup at second, but this year could challenge for the open spot at third base. Junior Chris Macke, who backed up Bourquin each of the last two years, also returns. Miller and Moorman also could contend there, as could Brian DeLucia, Dan's younger brother and one of the 14 newcomers on this year's Buckeye squad.
Zoeller could slide over to shortstop with Kennedy in the game at second, but the Buckeyes likely will look to freshman Cory Rupert, the 2006 Ohio Division I Player of the Year, to fill the void left by Stephen at short.
"Freshman Cory Rupert played sound defense in the fall and we obviously feel like he has earned some playing time, but whether he is able to win the starting job has yet to be seen," Todd, who has guided the Buckeyes to 40 or more wins 10 times in his career, said.
Backing up the infield will be redshirt freshmen Matt Curran and Ben Toussant and freshmen Cory Kovanda and Matt Streng.
Angle, who batted .396 in Big Ten games, had 79 hits, the fourth highest total in the league last year. He led the conference with 63 runs scored and stole 25 of 29 bases. Howell batted .402 in 35 games, while Shuck batted .325 in the 40 games he picked up a bat.
"I still feel like our outfield is going to be very stable," Todd, who has never had a losing season with the Buckeyes, said. "Matt Angle in center certainly anchors it. We gave J.B. Shuck some playing time in the outfield last year and we still have Jacob Howell. There has been some really good competition from Jonathan Zizzo and red-shirt freshman Zach Hurley. Both have made a lot of progress."
Zizzo saw action in 28 games with 18 starts last year, including eight in the outfield. Hurley spent a lot of time in the batting cage while redshirting last season.
"Jonathan is trying to get some playing time in what I think is a very talented outfield. He did a good job for us last year at key times offensively," Todd said. "And Zach Hurley is one of the hardest workers on the team. He has shown a lot of potential to be productive offensively."
Red-shirt sophomore Michael Arp, red-shirt freshman Chris Griffin as well as freshmen Brad Brookbank and Ryan Dew will try to challenge for outfield spots.
Behind the Plate
"Eric Fryer is a tremendous worker and leader," Todd said. "He is definitely one of the best athletes on the team. He does a very good job handling the pitching staff and will hit in the middle of our lineup."
On the Mound
"We are very comfortable with the leadership we are getting from Dan DeLucia," Todd, whose pitching staff led the Big Ten in ERA last season for the sixth time in his career, said. "He pitched No. 1 for us last year, which is very difficult to pitch the opening game of a series. I thought he handled it well. He was excellent on Friday night with his poise and competitiveness.
"We're happy that we have Cory Luebke back, who is very talented and has a world of potential. Last year, he was drafted in the 22nd round by the Texas Rangers and realized what was best for him was to come back to school. Obviously, we are happy and agree with that decision."
Luebke was 7-6 and managed a 3.38 EA and 65 strikeouts in 85.1 innings and earned third-team All-Big Ten honors. He pitched seven complete games, albeit during doubleheaders.
The other two spots in the rotation belong to sophomores Hale and Shuck. Hale also was used in the seven-inning doubleheader games and tossed three complete games. He finished 4-5 with a 3.38 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 64.0 innings. Shuck led the Buckeyes with a 2.51 ERA and was 8-5 as the team's No. 4 starter. Shuck, a second-team all-Big Ten selection, won five games before his first loss and won his first two conference games.
"I see our starting pitching with some talent and a lot of potential," Todd said. "But our bullpen needs to be a whole lot better than it was last year if we are going to be successful. As I look back at last year's team, maybe the one Achilles' heel might have been middle relief. We have good competition on our staff."
Sophomore left-hander Josh Barrera and redshirt freshmen lefthanders Eric Best and Brad Hays, along with freshmen Josh Edgin and Theron Minium, will be the team's middle relievers in 2007. Barrera was 3-1 with a 4.42 ERA in 14 appearances last year as a rookie. After that, Todd will turn to closers Trey Fausnaugh and Rory Meister. Fausnaugh made 15 appearances, while Meister made six saves in 29 appearances.
"They are another year older and more experienced and we expect them to improve on last year's performances," Todd said.