Monday, February 9, 2009

2009 Season Preview Part I: Outfield

In kicking off The Buckeye Nine's preview of the 2009 season, we take a closer look at the corp composing the outfield. How the outfield shakes out will be one of the more interesting decisions Coach Todd has to make in filling out his line-up game by game. With a mixture of veterans, youth, newcomers, and unknowns there is a chance many different combinations will be used to fill out the line-up.

For the second time in as many seasons, Coach Todd will be searching for a centerfielder to anchor the outfield. Former Buckeye J.B. Shuck followed Matt Angle as Ohio State CF's to be drafted and leave following their Junior seasons. Angle selected during the 2007 draft in the 7th round by the Baltimore Orioles, and Shuck in the '08 draft in the 6th round by the Houston Astros, have left big shoes to fill to the next CF who patrols Bill Davis Stadium. Combining outstanding speed and glovework in the field, and a consistent bat as a lefty, Angle and Shuck have left their marks on Ohio State baseball, the next in line might not be too far off.

Springboro, Ohio native, Junior Zach Hurley is most likely to take over CF duties for the 2009 season. A career .281 hitting in his time at Ohio State, Hurley has seen action in 71 games over the last two seasons, starting in 42. With the need to replace Angle and former Ohio State standout Jacob Howell in the outfield, Coach Todd turned to Hurley quiet often last season selecting him to start 35 times. His most prominent role was being the teams centerfielder when Shuck was making the move from outfielder to pitcher Sunday afternoon's.

The 42 games Hurley played in, showed the depth and luxury Ohio State had when their 4th outfielder produced the way Hurley did. Hitting at a .302 mark (42-139), Hurley posted an on-base percentage of .373 in the process of drawing 17 walks, and slugged .410 which was 4th best on the team. With 8 doubles, 2 triples, and 1 four-bagger, Hurley collected 11 extra-base hits, also 4th best, even though 8 Buckeyes stepped to the plate more often, making Hurley's number more impressive.

Hurley's impressive 2008 campaign did not stop with the conclusion of the Ohio State baseball season. Playing for the Cincinnati Steam of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, Hurley put together an impressive summer that opened the eyes of many scouts. Leading the league in batting with a .433 average to go along with 30 RBI and 3 Home Runs in the wooden bat league, Hurley was named the GLSCL’s Player of the Year and its No. 1 pro prospect, Baseball America listed Hurley as the league’s third-best pro prospect. Perfect Game Crosschecker recognized Hurley as a potential high round draft pick, by putting together the 19th best season in the summer of 2008 of all collegiate players. ranks Hurley as the 16th best outfield amongst 2009 draft eligible players.

The more Hurley is on the field, the fewer question marks and cons in his game there are. There is a slight red-flag as Hurley is coming off of surgery that limited his role in fall practices, but Hurley is expected to be 100% and ready to go at seasons open. For Hurley to become a complete player, becoming more aggressive after getting on base and utilizing his speed will be huge. Hurley shows he does posses above average speed when roaming in the outfield, yet last season only saw him attempt 7 steals, being successful in 5. Hurley has good plate discipline with a 1:1 BB:K ration at 17 a piece, he does have a tendency to chase the high out of zone pitches, compacting his personal strike zone as he did over the summer will lead to better contact, more walks, and more production. Hurley will look to continue his progression as a player and become an anchor in Ohio State's outfield.

Another Junior that has already become an anchor in Ohio State's outfield, being the starter for the majority of the last two seasons in rightfield, is Ryan Dew. Dew a Central Ohio native, hails from Worthington, is a Kilbourne Wolves product along with teammate Cory Kovanda. Making the short move from the northwest part of the city to Campus has been as easy and quick rewarding transition for Dew. Since starting as a Freshman, Dew has already played in 97 games for Ohio State, starting in 71, and currently boasts a career average of .265 (70-264) with 4 HR, and 45 RBI.

Posting near identical numbers from his freshman year that saw him hit .269 (35-130), Dew hit .261 for Coach Todd in '08, going 35-for-134 at the plate. The batting for average did take a slight hit, but Dew saw an increase in power as he hit 3 HR's compared to 1 the season before, including the game-winning shot in game 1 of the Michigan State series in the 10th inning. Dew's wasn't the only one to gain from an increase in power as his RBI production increased from 18 to 27 and his 12 extra-base hits were 3rd on the team.

Improving on power while maintaining patience isn't also a task that goes over smooth for most players. Dew shows he is an expection. Showing outstanding plate discipline as a Freshman, striking out only 8 times, Dew improved on the mark, limiting his strikeouts to just 7 for the entire season. His 7 strikeouts in 134 AB's, made Dew the 21st toughets player to strike out in all of Division I baseball, striking out only once every 19.1 AB.

Displaying plate discipline is not Dew's only strong spot. Though he checks in at 6'1 and 220 pounds, Dew is an above average fielder, with solid range, outstanding ball recognition off the bat, and a good arm. There isn't too much about Dew's defensive abilities that will draw a "wow", but if you take a closer look, Dew shows he can play a solid corner outfield and is the definition of consistent. In 54 chances, Dew committed 0 errors and had an outfield assist. For his career Dew has committed just 1 error for a .990 fielding percentage in 104 chances.

With patience at the plate, solid fielding, and the potential for power, expect Dew to again be in competition to receive the majority of playing time at rightfield. Dew has been consistent in every phase over his two years both in the box and in the field, it would not be a surprise to have Dew hit .275, knock 6 HR's, drive in 30, play good defense and be in the line-up. With his frame and quick bat Dew could reach double-digits in HR's for the Bucks. A lot of it will depend on adjustments made to his swing if any are made.

With outstanding pitch recognition and taking very few risks on balls out of the zone, Dew has a great understanding of the strike zone. Where Dew gets into trouble is during his swing. When there is a pitch in his wheelhouse, the lefty relies too much on his upper-body strength, forcing his wrists and hands to get too out in front resulting in a pop up. Ideally in his swing Dew would take just a bit more of a stride after loading his back leg and letting more of his hips generate power, keeping his wrists and bat a tad behind and not providing a significant uppercut. I personally feel after two years in the program Dew will break out and have a great Junior season becoming a power bat that scares opponents.

Though Dew and Hurley provide plenty of experience, none on the team have been around Bill Davis and will be able to pass along knowledge as much as 5th year Senior Michael Arp. Though he was red-shirted in 2005, as one of just three Seniors on the team, Arp is the only Buckeye to know what it takes to reach the NCAA tournament two times. A feat the Buckeyes would like to see become a reality this season. A career .314 hitter in 89 games, Arp is looking to become a full-time player and have an outstanding season to cap his time in Columbus.

Reaching the big stage isn't something Arp has gained just by tagging a long. Being a key contributor and producing in clutch situations has become a staple of Arp's time in Columbus. Arp providing the game-winning two-run double in the 2007 Big Ten Championship game versus Minnesota. The hit lead Ohio State to become the first 6th seed in Big Ten Tournament history to win the title, and proceeded to lead the Bucks to receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, competing in the College Station Regional.

For some one hit in a clutch situation becomes the only moment that signifies their career, see Michigan's Alan Oaks HR off Vanderbilt's and #1 draft pick David Price, and they slide back into the shadows and become an unknown once again. Not Arp. Riding the momentum of such a clutch hit, Arp showed in 2008 that his big hit wasn't a fluke.

In seeing action in 34 games, starting 22 amongst leftfield, rightfield, and DH, Arp hit a robust .367 (29-79), slugged .443, posted a a team best .442 on-base percentage, drove in 15 and hit his first career HR. When you think the numbers couldn't be more impressive Arp shows he knows when to produce when needed. in 18 Big Ten games, Arp batted .418 (18-43) with 7 RBIs to improve to a .354 (34-96) career hitter in conference play. Going 4-for-7 throughout the season as a pinch-hitter Coach Todd knows Arp's value in the field, or coming off the bench in a late game situation.

Arp has shown in his 3 seasons that his bat in ready and capable of being an everyday player. Coming into college as an infielder before converting to the outfield, defense at times does get a bit tricky for Arp, but there is not a harder working player on the team, and throughout his career Arp has improved and is nothing short of a solid outfielder defensively. With underrated speed, Arp can still a base here and there as he was 3-for-3 last season in stolen base attempts. Arp plays with emotion and passion, and if he does not end up in the outfield, expect Arp to make a strong case for being the team's DH. A player with Arp's bat, experience, and energy is something this line-up will only benefit from.

Between Arp, Dew, and Hurley, 257 games have been played. The last Buckeye expected to compete for a spot in the outfield has played in a total of 0 games in Scarlet and Gray. JUCO transfer Michael Stephens is 2008 junior college All-American, where he played the first two seasons of his career at Fullerton College in California. The coaching staff logged quite a few miles in bring Stephens to campus, but by all sign, it shows to hav been a great move.

In 2008 hit .435 with 72 hits. Knocked in 51 RBI, and had 5 HR's and 17 doubles last season as a sophomore. As a Hornet, Stephens finished 8th in the California Community College Athletic Association with his average, slugged .639, reached base in more than half of his plate appearances, posting a .510 on-base percentage, and stole 9 of 12 bases in 44 games.

The cross country flight, and change in climate didn't cool Stephens' hot bat. After arriving in Columbus and having a good fall practice, Stephens lead the Buckeyes in hitting during the Scarlet and Gray series, going 6-for-8 with 3 doubles, and three RBI. If his fall performance was any indication that he can hit and produce on a Division I level, Stephens will surely be forcing his way into the line-up one way or another.

As many know in sports, nothing is certain, and never assume anything is set in stone. Though those four players are expected to compete and comprise the outfield, three other Buckeyes on the roster are not going down without a fight.

Junior Chris Griffin has the most experience of the remaining outfielders as 2009 will be Griffin's fourth season in the program. Hailing from Pickerington the red-shirt Junior has had playing time in 5 games over the previous two seasons. Though he is 1-for-5 in his career, don't sneeze at the one hit. Last season in a pressure situation, Griffin came to bat against Eastern Michigan with the bases loaded as the Buckeyes were tied at 12-12 in the 7th. Griffin's first career hit, a RBI single ended up being the game winner as the Bucks won 15-12. Griffin in limited playing time has displayed above average speed and a good glove.

Another Buckeye that has been in the program eager to make his mark and obtain playing time is Brad Brookbank. A high school teammate of pitcher Taylor Barnes, Brookbank comes from Cincinnati St. Xavier, a school rich in baseball history. Brookbank played centerfield in the 2008 Scarlet and Gray Series going 1-for-5 with an RBI, and 2 runs scored over 2 games.

The last Buckeye to be a part of the outfield corp is true Freshman Joe Ciamacco. The 4th Central Ohio native of the outfielders, Ciamacco went to Hilliard Davidison High School. In his senior season the former Wildcat hit .395 with 7 doubles, and 2 triples to go along wit 30 runs, and 21 RBIs. Ciamacco was a force on the basepaths as he stole 33 bases. Ciamacco had a productive Scarlet and Gray Series with 3 hits in 5 AB's knocking in 2 runs.

Overall the outfield is not as deep as year before. Though Stephens does appear to be more than capable of handling the duty, only three Buckeyes have made starts in the outfield for Coach Todd. Defensively, the outfield is slight above average. The lack of overall speed is made up for by great awareness and field presence. Though Hurley did show a flash of brilliance with an over the shoulder on the run catch last year in game 4 versus Penn State, there won't be a ton of highlight making grabs. There will however be plenty of routine plays made routinely, very few errors, players in the correct plays and plenty of energy. Centerfield has been blessed to be anchored by players the Angle and Shuck who use their speed to cover ground unlike any other Big Ten centefielder. It will be a tough task for Hurley to step in and replicate their abilities, but smart play and enough speed will get the job done. Stephens, Dew, Arp will hold down the corners with no problem.

At the plate, this season has the potential to be one of the more powerful group of outfielders to pass through Bill Davis in sometime. Hurley is riding a wave of momentum that can see him become a very high draft pick. If he can produce with an aluminum bat the way he did over the summer with a wooden, pencil him in as all-Big Ten right now. Stephens will be out to show his staggering JUCO numbers can stand up in Big Ten play. Dew brings plenty of power potential, and a plate patience and discipline not many around have, if the balls he puts into ball can find a few holes here and there, a monster season is in store. Arp will be Arp. A bat off the bench if needed, but a true high average consistent hitter if inserted into the line-up daily. Outside of Stephens, it will be a stretch to see a 15+ base stealer here. Unlike years past however, small ball might not be needed. Quite a few extra base hits can come from this group.

Overall the group is solid in every facet of the game. Defensively the outfield is ahead of the infield, at bat a tad behind. Speed is the only concern here, but the other tools are all there, and this will be the most consistent core of players for Coach Todd in 2009.


BaseballBucks33 said...

Does anyone know what kinda of surgery Hurley had this off season? Really think the OF will be very strong this year. Would love to see Hurley,Arp and (maybe) Stephens try and steal some bases this year though.

BuckeyeFan16 said...

I agree Bucks33. However, nobody steals without the signal/permission from BT. I hope he will give these players the green light more often this season. Nice article Chris Webb! It looks like a strong & solid outfield for the Buckeyes this season. I am looking forward to your remaining team coverage.

BaseballBucks33 said...

16,i totaly agree about BT making the call when to run and when not too. I hope having BT back in that 3rd base coaching box we will see some aggressive base stealing/running. I think this team has good speed and with out a lot of HR power the Buckeyes need to use this to our advantage this season.