Heading into the final weekend of March, Ohio State is 15-6 in large part to their pitching, a staff that has the nation's 10th-best ERA at 2.35.
Where the Buckeyes are receiving votes in this week's National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, nowhere to be found are the Florida Gators. After reaching three-consecutive College World Series, Florida is 11-15 on the season, 2-4 after two weekends of Southeastern Conference play.
Though they are heading in opposite directions, the two schools that met in the 2006 BCS championship game and the 2007 Final Four championship contest have a similarity this spring college baseball season; both are without junior right-handed pitching prospects that were expected to be two months away from being first-round picks.
Ohio State announced on Feb. 11 that Josh Dezse would miss at least two months due to a stress reaction in his back which stemmed from a bulging disc. On Feb. 14, the family of Gator Karsten Whitson informed Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers that Whitson would miss the entire season following a shoulder procedure, a cleanup that Whitson's father Kent told Baseball America's Aaron Fitt that Dr. James Andrews was able to locate and repair an impingement that was causing discomfort.
After turning down a $2.1 million signing bonus from the San Diego Padres, who made him the ninth overall selection in the 2010 draft, Whitson was supposed to have solidified himself as the premier amateur pitcher in 2013, to recoup the passed over bonus and possibly be the first overall pick.
While first-round selection, Dezse, drafted in the 28th round by the New York Yankees in 2010, turned down an offer in the neighborhood of $500,000 to attend Ohio State.
Both enjoyed strong freshman seasons. Whitson went 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA, making 19 starts as Florida finished as national runners-up. Dezse posted pedestrian numbers on the mound, a 4-2 record with 6 saves and a 5.53 ERA, doubling as Ohio State's first baseman with a triple slash of .332/.427/.472. The figure that captured Dezse's potential was the 100 mile-per-hour radar gun reading he produced in a game against Oklahoma State.
Following their Freshman All-America campaigns, the future appeared bright for the two. From the outside, it appeared the decision was right to attend college and it was almost a certainty any turned down bonus would be made up for with three brilliant collegiate seasons.
Of course this third season has been far from what was expected. With neither throwing a single pitch, Karsten out for the season, Dezse still weeks away from being re-examined, gone are the two from draft boards. Instead, what has entered is discourse that they made the wrong choices in attending college.
Not so fast.
It is easy to look at the passed up six- and seven-figure bonuses and say both were wrong to head to college. It is a bit harder to accept that these decisions are incredible personal, unique to each individual.
For ESPNHS I wrote an article on the advantages of attending college opposed to signing the professional contract for high drafted players. While Whitson may not have needed much polish to step into the lower minors and be successful, Dezse was a work-in-progress. A high school catcher, while he possessed a 95 MPH fastball, Dezse offered little command and no semblance of a secondary offering.
Beyond physical maturation and growth, there is mental development. Whitson may have enjoyed a stellar freshman season, but would those results have been the same spending hours driving through Great Lake states pitching every fifth day for the Padres' Fort Wayne TinCaps of the Midwest League? Where Whitson's family could drive across the state to see him in Gainesville, the support would not readily have been there in Arizona or Eugene, wherever Whitson's minor league career would have began.
That is not to say Whitson would not have been able to handle it, nor that under professional tutelage Dezse would not have been able to be molded from the raw arm he was in June 2010 into a frontline starter working his way up through the minors. One does not know for certain. Just as one cannot say both would have went through the 2011 spring without an elbow injury that resulted in Tommy John surgery.
What one can say is that each made the decision that was right in their hearts.
Dezse grew up 20 minutes north of Columbus. It is hard to imagine he had a childhood that differed from that of every Central Ohio kid, one with visions of attending Ohio State, going to football games and donning the Scarlet and Gray.
In 2010, Florida was coming off of a College World Series appearance and they had an incredible surplus of talent primed for future trips. In joining that collection of talent, as Kent Whitson told Fitt, Karsten was able to cross an item off his "bucket list" by pitching in the College World Series.
There, too, was Chris Sale. Picked four spots behind Whitson in the 2010 draft, Sale made his Chicago White Sox debut two months after leaving Florida Gulf Coast, little more than a week before the signing deadline. Sale's rise through the White Sox ranks is a rarity, but 2010 also saw Mike Leake (the 9th overall selection in the 2009 draft) make the Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day roster after not pitching in the minors. More and more college pitchers were rising quickly through the minors, becoming more big league-ready.
With the 2013 draft being little more than two months away, the hysteria and buzz has yet to pick up. But as the weeks pass, as pitchers light up radar guns and rack up strikeouts, fans of professional clubs will begin to pay more attention to who can possibly be their next ace. In doing so, the stories of Dezse and Whitson will be told. As will that of San Diego junior Dylan Covey, the Brewers 2010 first-round draft pick who opted for college after it was discovered he was diabetic days before the signing deadline, and turned down Milwaukee's reported $1.7 million offer as college offered the opportunity to monitor and control the situation.
Before doing so, look beyond the dollar sign. Know that while they could have been members of a professional organization, they were 18-year-olds that made a decision that was in their best interest. Both Whitson and Dezse have the potential to be back atop draft boards in 2014. In doing so, after four years of college, they will be close, if not with, a college degree in hand, and the experience of being student-athletes at two premier universities.
Hard to call that a mistake.