Ohio State Athletics

2017 MLB Draft: OSU vs. Xavier

Following his first scouting trip of the year, Jeff Ellis breaks down last weekend's matchup between the OSU Buckeyes and Xavier Musketeers.

This was my first scouting trip of the year. I was excited for the chance to see a potential top three round choice in Zac Lowther. The weather, though, made it a less than stellar experience and affected both the pitchers and the hitters. The temperature was under 40 and it went from some snow to a hard, cold rain. It limited my ability to get a full picture of the abilities of the players I wanted to see. It was not a fun game in which to hit or pitch. As someone who grew up in Ohio, I remember how awful it was to hit with metal bats in sub 40 degree weather and I don’t think I faced a fastball that was in the 70’s.

There were two players on each team that I was most intrigued to see.

Xavier

Zac Lowther, LHP

This marked the second year in a row a small school lefty from Ohio lead the Cape in strike outs. Lowther is not the athlete that Lauer is, and that's not a knock on Lowther as much as a comment on what type of athlete Lauer happens to be. Last year was Lowther’s first extended chance to start, and he was good, but not great. I would not have predicted he would lead the Cape in strikeouts. So far this year, his strikeout rate is up nearly five strikeouts per nine. The concern for me is that his walk rate is also up quite a bit, nearly two walks per nine; more on this in a bit.

On Saturday, Lowther was throwing his fastball a majority of the time. He was relying on it, in part, I assume, because of the bad weather and, in part, because Ohio State could not touch it. He allowed just one hit over six innings. Ohio State was able to get two runs across, though, through a walk, error, back to back sacrifices and then a hit. The game ended up going 13 innings, but it should not have happened. The error was on Lowther, fielding a sac bunt. Lowther walked three batters, but it felt like more while watching. He did strike out 11 batters, including five of the first six outs, via the strikeout.

He was mostly 88-90 throughout the game and held this velocity through the fifth inning. I had him peak at 91 in the second inning. His slider and curve both looked like potential average MLB pitches. I had each of them in the high 70’s and low 80’s. 

I have Lowther as a second round arm and among the top 50 or so guys in this draft. He could slide into the early third but, his performance on the Cape, along with his ability to fill up the zone from the left hand side, will lock him into the top three rounds of the draft. 

Rylan Bannon, 3B, Xavier

Bannon was a player who stood out from a numbers point of view. He was leading Xavier in home runs and has posted strong walk totals the last two years. His on base numbers this year are nearly identical to a year ago, but it is the power which has jumped. He has five home runs this year, after just five the previous two years combined. He did post 17 doubles a year ago, so maybe he has gotten stronger in the last year and those doubles are leaving the yard.

I got to see three at bats by Bannon.  He walked two of those times and the other time he flew out. I didn’t get to see him work much in the field, as Lowther was dealing and very few Buckeyes made contact. 

Bannon is a former high school second baseman and is still built like one, at a listed size of 5’10” and 180 pounds. His fielding percentages have not been strong for Xavier, which makes me wonder what his future position might be. The hope might be that he could move back to second, where his on base skills and power would profile best. 

I was a bigger fan of Daniel Rizzie’s offensive and defensive profile then I am of Bannon. Rizzie ended up falling to the 13th round, which may have been, in part, due to the depth of the catching position. Bannon will be drafted, I would think, but it's more a question of when and a lot of it will be based on what position a team thinks he can play.

Ohio State

Tre’ Gantt, OF

Last year, I saw Ohio State a few times. It was a team that was loaded, in terms of draft prospects. Ohio State had six players who were drafted and signed, which was second best in school history. Ronnie Dawson was one of the top 100 players in the class, and he went 61st overall, which made Ohio State even more interesting to watch.

When I am trying to see a team that had this much depth, it can be hard for a non-draft eligible player to catch my eye, but Tre’ Gantt managed to do that. He started just one game I saw late in the year, vs Iowa. He played right field for what was a loaded Ohio State outfield that ended up having three players drafted. 

Gantt didn’t have a great game, but the tools and athleticism were easy to see. He just seemed to glide as he played. The first game I saw this year, again, was not his best, as he was 0 for 2 against Zac Lowther. In fairness, no one played well against Lowther. 

Gantt is playing centerfield this year for the Buckeyes. It is a rough year for Ohio State. After so many players departed a year ago, they have struggled to a 9-14 record. I should note they have been swept in their last two weekend series, which has had a big effect on how the season has looked, record wise. They had just three players returning who had 100 at bats or more last year, and only one player who had over 150 at bats. 

Gantt came out of the gate hotter than expected, which has helped him on the draft radar. Gantt is a natural athlete who had a limited track record the previous two years due, in part, to being part of a veteran squad. This was his first year as an everyday starter and he has made the most of it. Gantt has as many extra base hits this year (10, so far) as he had his first two seasons combined. He has hit for average and his ISO has shown surprising pop. Ohio State has a large and interesting freshman class for next year, but it's safe to say Gantt won’t be there to help them get used to Columbus. 

Jalen Washington, ?????

Jalen Washington is the only player on Ohio State who was an everyday starter a year ago. I wrote about him as a draft possibility, because of how great he looked behind the plate. He lead the Big Ten in runners thrown out last year and was a strong athlete with quick feet, which lead me to think he could be a solid backup catcher in the minors.

Washington didn’t play much his first two years on campus and, after a strong defensive year at catcher, Washington's position changed in order to help the team. Ohio State had a few catchers, but what they lacked this year were up the middle players, so Washington took over and became the Buckeyes every day shortstop. This was his position back in high school. Yet it stood out, because when do you ever see a player move from catcher to shortstop?

Washington has hit as many homeruns this year, three, as he did his previous three years combined. The rest of his data has stayed in line with last year’s numbers. There is value in a senior sign who could back up multiple positions for you across the minors. A player like Washington could carve out a long career, because of his flexibility. This flexibility is his best trait and what will end up seeing him drafted this summer. 


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