Mere days before the start of the 2024 season, the brass facts of winning baseball starts to come into focus. Leaders need to step forward, and the new faces on the roster will need to make their contribution felt.
If the Ohio State Buckeyes ascend in 2024, an observer recently made the comment: “They have to have some leaders emerge, and they have to find some depth that can play.”
Hardly, although they’ve been saying that about baseball and baseball teams since the days of Ruth (Babe) and Cobb (Ty).
To wit, Mosiello and staff worked furiously on the fact of depth with their first official recruiting class of 2024, beginning with pitching. Pitching, of course, is never an immediate guarantee; because even Nolan Ryan was a developmental project that the Mets gave up on after just five years, trading him to the California Angels in 1971. 359 career wins and 5,000 strikeouts later one can make the claim that they might have been more patient.
And at the college level nearly every recruit falls into the category of development project, which makes the college game so easy to embrace for the fact of not only the destination, but the journey.
Again in 2024, the intrigue with the Buckeyes centers around which rookies (or freshmen) will find success early…like Henry Kaczmar and Matt Graveline in 2023?
Which upperclassmen will have ‘breakout’ years?
And frankly, upon first glance you might say to yourself, “Who are these guys?” There’s that many new faces. In 2024, call it the coming wave.
But some familiar ones, too, that you need to appreciate with a better appreciation for development…better than the New York Mets, in 1971.
Starting with junior lefthanded starting pitcher, Gavin Bruni…the big lefthander from Alliance (OH) who showed plenty of breakout potential in 2023, compiling a 5-3 record, a 4.87 ERA, and striking out 73 hitters in just 57.1 innings pitched. At times he flashed brilliance. At times he teased of potential yet-to-be seen.
His fastball can be electric; and the breaking pitch devastating. His issue in 2023? Command, and the issue that nearly every young power pitcher needs to master in order to be a consistent, top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher.
Along with the 73 strikeouts, Bruni sullied his stats with 42 walks in those 57 innings. And to give you an idea of how unhittable he can be…opposing teams batted just .235, with less than a hit per inning (50).
His potential is such that he was listed in the top 6 of Cape Cod League pitching prospects this past summer. But to become that prospect, he has to refine the potential.
“I want to become more of a pitcher and less of a thrower,” he said recently. “And I’m working on it…becoming a more efficient pitcher in 2024.”
If he does, the fastball (upwards of 96) and the breaking pitch (dominant in a six-inning 3-hit start against Grand Canyon last spring) will make him one of the Big Ten’s most anticipated pitching talents in 2024.
At this point, he’s the most anticipated pitching talent at Lane and High.
Freshman first baseman, Clay Burdette…the tall redhead from Archbishop Moeller (Cincinnati) is 6’2″ (205 pounds) and crowned his high school career in 2023 with the Division I OHSAA state title in baseball, a key member of one of the state’s best collections of amateur talent. Both as a pitcher and first baseman, Burdette was on the radar of nearly every Division I program in Ohio.
But at Ohio State, in the short term, he’s a position player, despite having a 90 mph fastball in high school. In his senior season at Moeller he hit .360 with 4 home runs and drove in 28 runs. Athletic, he’s projected to benefit from both work and time at the next level. He’s very familiar with competition, and as a true freshman, time is on his side.
Junior centerfielder, Josh Stevenson…Stevenson (6’1″, 195 lbs.) transferred to Ohio State last summer after spending two years at LSU, and a member of the Tigers’ 2023 NCAA National Championship team, where he backed up Washington Nationals’ #1 draft choice, Dylan Crews.
That didn’t amount to a lot of playing time for Stevenson, as he played in just 24 games and scored nine runs. But as a freshman in 2022, Stevenson played in 40 games, hit. 200 in limited at bats, scored 17 runs with 4 doubles, a home run and 9 RBIs.
His calling card during fall baseball was his ability to play center field. Stevenson, whose brother Andrew spent much of the 2023 season with the Minnesota Twins, can play some serious outfield and it’s hoped that his offensive production catches up during those early non-conference games in Arizona, California, and Las Vegas.
From Lafayette, Louisiana, Stevenson played summer baseball in the Cape Cod League in 2023 for the Wareham Gatemen.
Junior infielder, Tyler Pettorini…Pettorini splashed on the scene in 2023 by leading the Buckeyes in hitting (.315), playing mostly as the designated hitter, but also filled in admirably as the ‘utility’ infielder, primarily at second base.
No one surprised more with his ability to produce big hits than the left-hand-hitting Pettorini (6′, 180 lbs), who goes to the plate to rake, and frequently makes contact – hard contact. But being a free swinger, he struck out 31 times in 149 at bats, while stroking 4 home runs, 3 triples, 8 doubles, and driving in 28 runs. He can slash it to the gaps, and pull the ball with some power.
“No one has worked harder in the off-season to become a more complete hitter, and a more complete player, defensively,” says coach Bill Mosiello.
And that’s his goal in 2024…Pettorini (Wooster, Oh) has his mind set to become an everyday defensive member of the Buckeyes’ infield, as well as a more selective hitter. He walked just ten times in 2023.
He had 11 multi-hit games in 2023, and his best day included a season-high four hits and a career-high four RBIs against Maryland on April 16.
Senior first baseman, Hank Thomas…From Cincinnati St. Xavier High School, by way of Georgia Tech University (2021), Hank Thomas did enough in limited opportunities in 2023 to make a lasting impression.
Playing primarily as a first baseman and designated hitter, he’s also a capable outfielder and saw time in left field during Trey Lipsey’s absence. He hit .232 with 4 home runs, 15 RBIs, and 15 runs scored…but what stood out, as well, as the number of hard-hit balls off the bat of Thomas that were caught. He could have been luckier.
A high school standout at St. X, he was rated the third best overall player in Ohio his senior year, and the #2 outfielder. He had his best high school season as a junior (2019) when he hit .407 over 21 games for 24 hits, five doubles drove in 18 runs.
A versatile player, he’ll see time at first base in 2024, in the outfield, and as a DH. Hank Thomas is capable of helping the Buckeyes in a lot of ways.
Freshman infielder, Zach Fjelstad…A true “who is this guy” from this year’s freshman class, the wiry infielder from southern California did as much as a freshmen can do at the Division I level during fall baseball. He made an impression.
From Santa Margharita High School, in Orange County, he’s a former California regional high school champion and a second team all-league selection in the highly competitive Trinity League, the same league that’s produced notable big league talent like Cleveland Guardians’ catcher, Austin Hedges.
His stock in trade? Good hands, versatility, and every time you looked up in fall ball he was making a play.
Freshman outfielder, CJ Richard…A teammate of fellow frosh Clay Burdette on the 2023 OHSAA Division I state champion Moeller Crusaders, Richard was another incoming freshman from the fall who made an impression.
At Moeller he hit .305, with 6 home runs, and drove in 47 runs during his senior season, impressive for his size (5’8″, 165 lbs).
A selection to the highly competitive Greater Catholic League all-league team, Richard was also tabbed as the second-ranked outfielder in the state of Ohio by Perfect Game.
Impressed during fall baseball, particularly for his speed in the outfield. He can fly, and showed good ability to get to the ball and make the catch. Outfield depth was a critical deficiency on the 2023 team with the early injury to Trey Lipsey, and time missed by centerfielder Kade Kern. CJ Richard will check the box in that regard for 2024.