OSU is in the metro Tampa area under the direction of Greg Beals for the first time. The Springfield, Ohio, native and former Ball State coach was hired in June to replace Bob Todd, the Hall of Fame coach that led Ohio State for 23 seasons.
The new skipper has brought a new energy to the OSU squad, but the Buckeyes will need more than energy. Only three starters on the field return in seniors Brian DeLucia, Matt Streng and Tyler Engle, while first-round MLB draft pick Alex Wimmers is gone after capturing National Pitcher of the Year honors.
In all, the team has nine sophomores and 11 freshmen among its 33 players. Fifteen players are new from last year's roster, including a number of players that will be counted on in key roles.
They'll move into a game that is changing along with the team. The NCAA approved new bat standards this year aimed at making the metal bats teams used more like wooden bats. As a result, offensive numbers are expected to plummet across the college baseball landscape.
The Buckeyes open with a tough slate, too. After facing the Bearcats today, the Buckeyes will face No. 21 Louisville tomorrow and St. John's on Sunday. Both teams qualified for NCAA tournament play last year, and the Red Storm is receiving votes in the national polls.
A video webcast of games of today and tomorrow can be seen on collegebaseball360.com.
For more on OSU's season, here are a few quotes from the first-year manager.
Beals on finally starting the season: "I tell you, it's been a long time coming. We've done a lot of work, my coaching staff and I, from the first of July to now. There's been a lot of work going into it. It's exciting to get ready. We're at that time right now where we're ready to go play. That doesn't mean we have it all figured out. We're ready to go play and see what we're good at and see what we need to continue to work on."
Beals on the Buckeyes' style of play: "I believe in advancing runners when need be with the sacrifice bunt and with the hit and run. We'll steal bases, we'll put guys in motion. A lot of that depends on your team and your talent, and this year's team, that's what we need to do. We need to create some action. We need to protect ourselves against some double plays with a couple of guys in the lineup, and we have some guys that can run that are going to be abel to steal some bases. We need to give them the freedom to do that. The new bat is going to emphasize that solid game even more."
Beals on the goals for this season, including making the six-team Big Ten tournament at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus: "We need to be at that level. We know that the tournament is here in downtown. What a great venue that is, and we need to find a way to get ourselves into that tournament. That's a major goal of mine. However, as a team, we haven't started talking about that yet. As a team we're very process-oriented."
Beals on the relative youth of his team: "It's funny, I think as Buckeyes we're all young. I'm the oldest guy on the field and I'm a rookie. The excitement is there. There's nothing stale about what we're doing. The players feel that. The players are very excited about their turn. They know that this is our opportunity to make our mark and we're going to go out and continue to get better at what we're doing."
Beals on coaching at OSU: "Well, all my thoughts about Ohio State baseball are special. But as far as now that we're in the season, I firmly believe it's a work in progress. I talk to the guys about self talks – you need to be saying the same thing in your head that you were saying in the cages all winter long. The game, as we open up, it is going to be special, but it's also my job to keep the players in check, keep the players on task and doing the things we've been working on. The first win, I think after the 27th out some emotions will return, but until then it's very business and making sure that our guys are prepared. I'm very player oriented. My job is to make sure that those 24 guys that we're taking are ready to play."
Though there will be a lot of new faces – the Buckeyes lost their top six hitters (Zach Hurley, Michael Stephens, Cory Rupert, Dan Burkhart, Ryan Dew and Cory Rupert) from a season ago – the Ohio State coaching staff thinks it knows how the playing time will shake out early in the season.
In the outfield, DeLucia will be the key. A fifth-year senior, he will play right field for a second year in a row and has drawn marks for his player in the field as well. A team captain, DeLucia is also the team's leading returning hitter with a .320 average last year with six homers and 39 RBI.
Freshman Tim Wetzel of Mayfield, Ohio, will be the center fielder. He showed flashes of being a prototypical center fielder and leadoff hitter while starring in the fall with a .400 average (6 for 15), four runs scored, three RBI and three stolen bases.
The left-field spot will be shared between junior David Corna and sophomore Joe Ciamacco. Neither have earned much playing time in their careers; Corna has pop but had just one at bat a season ago, while Ciamacco is yet to see the field.
Streng has moved to third base from first after a tough season a year ago. Coming off a 2009 campaign in which he hit .308 with eight homers, the switch hitter batted just .265 last year with one bomb.
Engle is back for a fourth year as the team's shortstop. A solid defensive player, Engle regressed at the plate last year as his batting average dropped from .285 to .224.
Junior Ryan Cypret has moved into a full-time role as the team's second baseman. The son of former assistant Greg Cypret, Ryan has earned praise from the coaching staff for his steady leadership during the offseason. He batted .267 in 45 at bats last season.
First base will be shared by converted third sacker Brad Hallberg and freshman Josh Desze. Hallberg has some pop but hit .273 last year in a limited role with one homer and eight RBI. He is expected to be the No. 5 hitter. Desze will also moonlight as the team's closer after batting .410 last year at Olentangy Liberty High School in suburban Columbus.
Greg Solomon will get the opening nod behind the plate. An Arizona native and JUCO transfer, Solomon is tabbed as an excellent defensive catcher by Beals. A sophomore, he hit .241 last year. He will share time with redshirt freshman Steel Russell, the son of former MLB manager John Russell.
JUCO transfer Brad Hutton could also see time at catcher or a corner infield spot after blasting 24 homers in two years at Polk State College in Winter Haven, Fla.
Drew Rucinski will take the ball on opening day as the No. 1 starter. A senior, "Boomer" is seventh in appearances on the OSU career list with 71. He won 12 games in relief in 2009 and was a weekend starter last year, going 4-4 with a 5.45 ERA while battling a painful blister on his right, pitching hand that made his last few starts a struggle.
The No. 2 starter is back for his fourth year in the rotation, Dean Wolosiansky. After 18 wins his first two seasons, Wolosiansky struggled last year, going 4-8 with a 5.76 ERA. "Wolo" has led the team in starts for the past two seasons.
The third starter will likely be freshman Greg Greve. A 6-3 righthander, Greve was 8-1 last year at Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) Walsh Jesuit on the way to becoming a 45th-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants. Greve can also play a corner infield spot for OSU.
Another option as a starter is sophomore Brett McKinney, who split time between midweek starts, Sunday starts and the bullpen last year while going 3-4 with a 6.67 ERA. He showed potential, though, striking out 46 in 59.1 innings. He must cut down on his 32 walks.
Desze was a 28th-round draft pick of the New York Yankees after going 5-2 as a senior with a 2.44 ERA. Both he and Greve have been lauded for their ability to throw strikes and throw hard.
In middle relief, senior Jared Strayer is expected to be a key set-up/middle innings guy. After switching to a sidearm motion last year, Strayer emerged as a dependable reliever with a 2-2 mark and 4.95 ERA that improved throughout the year as he gained health after midseason knee surgery. He walked only nine in 40 innings.
Two lefthanders who could play big roles are senior Theron Minium and junior Andrew Armstrong, both of whom have battled injuries. Minium was 3-2 with a 5.09 ERA last year, while Armstrong did not pitch. A 2008 45th-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves, Armstrong showed progress in 2008, going 4-3 with a 4.42 ERA, before injuries caught up with him the last two years.
Other pitchers who could earn time include righthanders Brian Bobinski, Cole Brown and John Kuchno.