Pro Speak: Buckeyes On The Diamond

This week Professionally Speaking focuses on former Ohio State players looking to earn a shot in Major League Baseball. Nearly a dozen are positioned somewhere in the minors these days, all trying to reach the level of current Oakland A's regular Nick Swisher.

Though most of the best-known former Buckeyes in the pros make their living on the football field, 2007 has been an active one for alumni on the baseball diamond as well.

And we mean more than just Oakland A's regular Nick Swisher. While the flamboyant former Buckeye opened the season with a hot bat but has seen a June swoon turn into a trying July as well. He entered June with a .305 batting average, nine home runs and 32 RBI, but since then has left the yard just twice and seen his batting average drop 50 points.

He'll likely get company in The Show sooner or later in the form of Mike Madsen, a starting pitcher who has rocketed through the Oakland farm system this year.

The righty's ascension through the Oakland farm system finds him at Triple-A Sacramento these days, where he is 2-0 with a 4.64 ERA through four starts. The River Cats are Madsen's third team this year after he started the season at Advanced-A Stockton.

He told his hometown newspaper, the Willoughby News-Herald, the secret to his success is the addition of a curveball to his original out-pitch, a slider.

"It's not like my stuff has changed that much, except for learning the new pitch," Madsen told the paper. "Mechanically, I'm still the same. It's all about using four pitches to get outs now."

Though the A's are 2.5 games back as of this writing and in need of help in their rotation, Madsen probably is not quite ready to contribute to a pennant race.

The same may not be true of another former OSU hurler, Josh Newman. His parent club, the Colorado Rockies, are 5.5 games back in the National League West and reportedly looking for help in their bullpen, but if none can be found via trade the former OSU lefty could be turned to.

Newman is 2-1 with a 3.16 ERA in 38 games at Triple-A Colorado Springs in the Pacific Coast League. He has struck out 40 while walking 20 in 44.2 innings.

But will it be enough to earn a call-up this year?

"Josh needs to spend more time here," Sky Sox pitching coach Chuck Kniffin told the Denver Post July 21. "When the time is right, he'll get the opportunity. He hides the ball pretty well, and he has a good changeup when he keeps it down."

The success of those two this season is in contrast to a third veteran toiling in the minors this year. Madsen also told the paper he'd love to be playing in the Indians organization, and that is where another former Buckeye pitcher is having a rougher time this season.

Scott Lewis is just 2-7 at Double-A Akron, though his ERA of 3.79 is more respectable than the won-loss record. Lewis has not won since June 6, a span of nine starts.

Four position players are continuing minor league careers this year, with Doug Deeds having advanced the highest thus far.

The lefthanded-hitting outfielder in the Minnesota Twins' organization has swung a hot. Playing for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings of the International League, Deeds is 11 for 32 in his last 10 games, a .344 batting average that is a marked improvement over his season average of .238 in 65 games.

In the Reds' farm system, second baseman Drew Anderson finds himself hitting .251 at Double-A Chattanooga. In 95 games with the Lookouts this season, Anderson has shown some pop in his bat for a middle infielder with 34 extra-base hits (21 2Bs, six 3Bs and seven HRs). He's also scored 57 times, driven in 43 runs and stolen 10 bases.

Earlier this season, Chris Buckley, the Reds senior director of scouting, had this to say about Anderson.

"He's a very hard-nosed guy," Buckley told "He's a guy that you have to watch play more than one game. He doesn't wow you with any one tool, but he does everything pretty good and plays hard everyday. He's a guy that everybody in our system likes. He's a professional and takes that approach to the game."

Two other veteran former Buckeye position players are opposing each other in the short-season Single-A New York-Penn League: infielders Ronnie Bourquin and Jedidiah Stephen.

Bourquin, a left-handed hitting third baseman, seems to be enjoying his time in Oneonta, where he is hitting .313 in 23 games. Bourquin has driven in 12 and boasts an on-base percentage of .414.

That comes on the heels of a failed call-up to Advanced-A Lakeland, where Bourquin began the year and hit .192 in 26 games.

Stephen's bat has caught fire lately as he is batting .358 in 18 games. He has scored nine runs and driven in 10 more for Aberdeen in the Baltimore Orioles' system.

Besides those veterans, all in at least their second year out after leaving Columbus, a handful of recent draftees are plying their trade on the diamond.

Center fielder Matt Angle is hitting .288 with 15 stolen bases as Stephen's teammate in Aberdeen. As July 24, Angle had no home runs but was getting on base at a .403 clip. He could boast of 25 runs scored in 32 games and was five steals short of the team single-season record with more than half the 82-game season remaining.

While Angle grinds along, Eric Fryer is struggling in rookie ball at Helena in the Brewers' organization.

Through 21 games the catcher was batting just .203 with one home run and seven RBI in 69 at-bats. He had one more hit (14) than strikeout (13) through July 24.

One player who ranks as a future Buckeye rather than a former one would love to be able to claim Fyer's numbers, however.

Though his first 20 games with Greeneville of the Appalachian league, Devon Torrence is playing baseball like a football player. At last check the center fielder was carrying a .157 batting average. He had eight hits and 16 walks while striking out 32 times.

If there is hope for Torrence as a baseball player, however, it could be found in looking at his last six games. Beginning with the second game of a doubleheader July 19 and extending through another double-dip July 23, Torrence reached base 15 times (12 BBs, three hits) and stole four bases.

Finally, it should come as no surprise to those who observed the most recent edition of the Buckeyes that the most successful member of the 2007 rookie class has been lefty reliever Cory Luebke.

The native of tiny Maria Stein, Ohio, is mowing them down with the Eugene Emeralds of the Single-A short-season Northwest League.

Luebke opened his career with a 2-0 record and 1.66 ERA. He has started three times among his seven appearances and struck out 20 in 21.2 innings. The opposition is hitting .214 against the lefty, who has yet to issue a walk as a pro.

"He has three big-league pitches now – fastball, slider, change-up," San Diego Padres field coordinator Bill Bryk told the San Diego Union-Tribune July 23. "I've heard this from other guys: This guy's a steal."...

Of course, no version of Professionally Speaking would be complete without at least a little bit of football news.

As of this writing, five of the former Buckeyes drafted in April had inked contracts: quarterback Troy Smith (Baltimore Ravens), running back Antonio Pittman (New Orleans Saints), wide receiver Roy Hall (Indianapolis Colts), defensive lineman Jay Richardson (Oakland Raiders) and center Doug Datish (Atlanta Falcons).

The news was not so good for veteran linebacker Robert Reynolds, who was cut by the Tennessee Titans after three seasons.

Finally, we close with a wish of, "Good luck," to LeCharles Bentley in his bid to return to football this season with the Cleveland Browns.

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