Ohio Baseball 2018 Preview


Baseball: What's in store for Ohio baseball in 2018

Anthony Poisal / For The Post

Coach Rob Smith entered 2017 with a plan to turn his team’s biggest weaknesses into strengths.

That plan has carried out nicely for him and the Bobcats, as the pitching staff has been one of the most consistent in the Mid-American Conference while the fielding has been among the best in the nation.

But not everything has been smooth for Ohio, as the offense has often been at fault for its losses, which have frequently come because of the bats failing to pick up the solid work turned in from the mound.

Baseball vs Morehead

Blake Nissen | FILE

Michael Klein running to first base during Ohio's game against Morehead State University on March 21, 2017.

Strength in arms

To improve from its 23-29 record in 2016, Ohio needed any form of improvement from its pitching staff, which finished with a displeasing 4.87 ERA and lacked consistency all season.

But Smith identified his team’s problems and made some changes that potentially saved his team from an abysmal season. Senior Jake Rudnicki made a smooth transition from starter to reliever and was often used as an efficient setup man in addition to a reliable long-reliever, a pair of crucial roles for a team that was often always in close games in final innings.

Filling in for Rudnicki’s starting spot, as well as the departure of other frequent starters who were graduating seniors, were redshirt juniors Michael Klein and Gerry Salisbury and junior Butch Baird.

The trio of starters showed incredible consistency throughout Ohio’s weekend games and when the offense delivered, wins were often the reward.

The bullpen will have Jake Roehn back, who served as one of the most reliable closers in the MAC and proved capable in pitching in the clutch.

In addition to Rudnicki, Ohio will have a tall task in replacing frequent relievers in Tom Colletti and Matt Mikolajczak, a pair that proved capable in eating innings.

In all, Ohio’s successes were largely based on the work from its pitching staff, as the question marks that filled it at the season’s start were quickly answered.

Need for offensive support

Several of Ohio’s losses came in frustrating fashion, as the offense often struggled to pick up the quality work put in from the mound.

Though the Bobcats had no real issues in putting men on base, it was simply driving them in that caused Ohio trouble, as Smith was a frequent preacher of efficient situational hitting throughout the season.

Ohio will have to replace the efforts of graduating seniors in outfielder Spencer Ibarra, second baseman Ty Black, third baseman Connor Callery and shortstop Ty Finkler, all of which were among the team’s leaders in at-bats.

But the Bobcats still own some potential at the plate, as first baseman Rudy Rott was often at the core of Ohio’s offensive success. The sophomore was among one of the team’s leaders in the long ball, including a week-long stretch in mid-April in which he hit five home runs.

Smith will need to deploy a new batch of infielders for next season, and in addition to a boost in offense, Ohio will be lucky to reach anywhere near the level of defense from 2017.

Stellar defense

Ohio boasted a top-five defense in the nation throughout most of the season with a fielding percentage that floated in the .980s and was always just a few ticks from the No. 1 spot.

The defense undoubtedly played a role in Ohio’s success.

In 2016, the Bobcats committed 63 errors. By mid-season of 2017, the team had committed just 17 errors and were on pace to nearly cut their previous season’s error total in half.

But with three of the four infielder spots now up for grabs and the loss of one of the team’s most talented defensive gloves in Ibarra, the next wave of defenders will carry a big load in attempting to match the numbers from 2017.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly listed Jake Roehn as a graduating senior. Roehn is a redshirt junior. The article has been updated to reflect the most accurate information.

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