Two of the last year’s brightest performers return to take the next step, both individually and collectively, as leaders of the 2024 Buckeyes.
There were a lot of peaks and valleys connected with the the 31-25 record and last year’s Ohio State baseball finish.
The valleys, remembered, are concerning because over the course of a 56-game schedule they’re a natural part of baseball – injuries, slumps, and the unforeseen.
The peaks, sometimes, are too few, but often highlight talent that’s undeniable, achieving its own level while pushing the collective standard a bit higher. Such was the case of freshmen shortstop Henry Kaczmar (Walsh Jesuit High School) and catcher Matt Graveline (pronounced Grav-uh-lun), who did more than just contribute to the peaks of a winning season after a lot of early valleys.
They illustrated, one, that Ohio high school baseball is a fertile recruiting platform. And two, given their early success as Buckeyes, there will inevitably be more who seek to follow them. Such is the power of the Ohio State brand…the Mount Rushmore of amateur baseball in the ‘Buckeye’ State.
Consider our next eight of this year’s ‘Meet The Team’ series……..
Sophomore shortstop, Henry Kaczmar…From day one of the 2023 season, Kaczmar demonstrated what talent, when coupled with opportunity, can become. Playing in his first game as a collegian, Kaczmar banged out a pair of hits and made three significant, if not routine, plays at shortstop to help the Buckeyes to a sparkling 3-0 win over 2022 NCAA regional participant UConn in Port Charlotte, Florida.
55 games later, he homered against Michigan to complete the sweep of TTUN, and put the finishing touches on a season stat line that read: .293, 7 homers, and 47 RBIs, this while fielding at a .962 clip (9 errors in 55 games).
The irony? Kaczmar was an original commit to play at Michigan, but changed in time to become a Buckeye and a building block for more, and future, success under the new coaching regime. He is a ‘player’, and numbers aside, the most impressive part of his game is his consistency.
He started every game, led the team in hits (61) and RBIs (47), and led the team with 17 multi-hit games.
A quote from a rival Big Ten coach: “Someone from the team that wins the league will get the MVP (Maryland’s Matt Shaw), but you can’t convince me that anyone’s more valuable than Ohio State’s shortstop.”
Someone noticed, because at the end of the year ‘Kacz’ was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team.
Maryland ended up winning the league, and more irony…Kaczmar would collect four hits against the Terps in a game at Bill Davis Stadium on April 14th.
After an impressive summer of prospect-level baseball up East, anticipation for 2024 is stoked by what he might do as an encore. It was a huge question prior to the ’23 season. Who plays shortstop? Now, there’s no question at all, except for…is there anyone more consistent, and valuable, than the Buckeyes’ shortstop?
Sophomore catcher, Matt Graveline…If there was a catcher in the Big Ten that showed more potential behind the plate in 2023…for lack of a better explanation it was someone who simply had played more at the position previously than Centerville High School graduate Matt Graveline.
Arguably, the Buckeyes’ sophomore showed the best throwing arm in the league – a cannon from behind the plate that made opposing players and coaches stop and watch between innings when Graveline would peg the ball to second base on a rope.
More, the only thing that prevented him from becoming a sensation was the fact that Graveline split catching duties with senior Cole Andrews. Graveline played 24 games in the outfield, a concession to his overall athleticism. Owing to his growing reputation, he can do a lot more than just catch!
A legit multi-tool player, he played in 50 games in 2023, hit .287 (56 hits), with 4 home runs and drove in 35 runs. He had 13 multi-hit games, a pair of 4-hit games, and his first collegiate home run was a grand slam against Gonzaga! All of this landed him a spot on the league’s All-Freshman team with Henry Kaczmar.
After a successful summer, he returns in 2024 as the starting catcher, yes, but with the versatility to play as many as six different positions on the field, if needed. At the plate, he’s capable of more, as well, and a what’s next includes becoming a more selective hitter. He struck out 56 times in 195 at bats last year.
But in baseball no one remembers the debits when you can run, hit, field and throw like Matt Graveline. Kyle Schwarber clubbed 47 home runs last year for the Philadelphia Phillies…and hit .197!
Graduate pitcher, Justin Eckhardt (RH)…A transfer in 2023 from the University of Texas, Eckhardt made 21 appearances for the Buckeyes, including six starts.
He recorded a record of 4-3, striking out 36 in 46.2 innings pitched, and finished the year with an earned run average of 6.17.
“He gives us a veteran presence on the mound,” said pitching coach Sean Allen, who coached Eckhardt while the two were together at Texas. “He’s experienced and knows how to pitch.”
A native of Sealy, Texas, he fanned four hitters twice, on May 10 against Central Michigan, and again on May 19, against Michigan.
He hopes to see more action in 2024, because the longer he pitched in 2023…the better he pitched.
Sophomore pitcher, Landon Beidelschies (LH)…No one on the 2023 roster got a better taste of the next level of baseball than reliever Landon Beidelschies.
A 6’3″, 230 pound hard throwing lefthander, he won the closer role out of the bullpen early in the year for his ability to challenge hitters and throw tough strikes with movement. And like any new venture, there were mixed results. But the numbers speak for themselves. When he was on, ‘Cheese’ was nigh on to unhittable.
Making 24 appearances (including one start), he compiled an 0-2 record in 30.1 innings, struck out 45 hitters in those 30 innings while walking 21, and finished the year with a 4.15 ERA.
Impressively, opposing teams hit just .226 against him, and no pitcher on the staff grew more in his ability to adapt to the stress of his role, beginning to end, than Beidelschies (pronounced Bye-dul-cheese).
He’s projected to compete for one of the three weekend starting roles in 2024 because he throws hard, has a wicked breaking ball, and has the size to be an imposing figure on the mound.
A prospect to rise quickly among Big Ten pitchers in 2024, he’s a graduate of Canfield High School, in Mahoning County.
Junior first baseman/DH, Ryan Miller…Junior transfer Ryan Miller (from the University of Tennessee) seeks to prove that author Thomas Wolfe knew nothing about baseball when he wrote in his famous 1940 novel: You can’t go home again!
Miller is a Columbus native, played his high school baseball at Dublin Jerome High School, and played enough at UT in his first two years that coming home now as a Buckeye…he could make people forget that he ever left
Playing in just twelve games in 2023, he hit .455 in limited at bats, with 3 home runs, and drove in 9 runs.
“He has stupid power, that’s how strong he his,” adds an OSU assistant, an element missing from the Buckeyes batting order since the days of Brady Cherry and Zach Dezenzo.
A prospect to play either first, or as the designated hitter, Miller (6’3″, 200 lbs) was ranked as the #4 prospect in Ohio when he signed with Tennessee, originally. He was a member of the Volunteers 2023 College World Series team.
And it’s true…Thomas Wolfe didn’t know a thing about baseball!
Senior pitcher, Colin Purcell (RH)…If experience on the mound was a prerequisite in 2024, the Buckeyes took a big step in securing it when senior Colin Purcell announced his commitment to transfer from Texas A&M, Corpus Christi.
At 6’5″ and 200 pounds he meets the eye test.
And with 15 appearances, including 13 starts in 2023, he proved his durability as a member of the Islanders pitching staff. Purcell logged 81.2 innings, compiled a 5-6 record, and an earned run average of 4.08 on an Islander team that finished 24-30 for the year.
Sean Allen, again: “He knows how to manage the game well. He’s a good strike thrower and you can tell that he’s been through some battles. The biggest thing is…he was really consistent in the fall fall, and you knew what you were going to get with him out there.”
Purcell was named the Southland Conference Pitcher of the Week twice last season, and also earned Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Week honors.
Senior infielder, Will Carpenter…No transfer ever knew his way around Bill Davis Stadium better than Will Carpenter does. He’s the brother of former OSU second baseman, and assistant coach, Matt Carpenter, who played for the Buckeyes from 2016 to 2020.
Carpenter is a prospect to see time at the middle infield positions, particularly second base, after transferring from John A Logan College, in Carterville, Illinois, where in 2023 he batted .306 with 60 hits, 44 runs scored, 9 doubles, 3 triples, 9 homers, and 55 RBIs. It’s hard to have a better year, and now he hopes to bring that kind of production back to Division I, and Ohio State.
From Aurora, Ohio, he played four years at Aurora High School, was a four-year letter winner, and played club ball for Team Ohio Pro Select. Was ranked #1 shortstop prospect in Ohio, and #12 player in the state by Prep Baseball Report.
Upon graduation he spent his freshman season at Penn State before moving on to John A. Logan. Carpenter’s father, also named Matt, played at Mississippi State and was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 1994 major league draft.
Junior pitcher, Jaylen Jones (LH)…A transfer from the University of Michigan in 2023, Jones represents a power arm out of the bullpen and a situational nightmare for lefthanded hitters.
With a fastball that hits 95 miles per hour, he appeared in 20 games with the 2023 Buckeyes, including four starts. He compiled a record of 0-1 in 23 innings, with a 7.04 ERA, 28 strikeouts and 22 walks. Walks were his undoing, as he proved to be one of the toughest Buckeyes for opposing hitters to face. They batted just .214 against the Thomasville, Georgia lefthander, and just three of the 18 hits he gave up were for extra bases.
His importance is obvious – a power arm that can strike out hitters with an overpowering fastball and a devastating slider. One hitter, or one inning, Jones can give you both.
Prior to becoming a Buckeye he played the 2022 season at Michigan, where he made five appearances, striking out 2 in 2.2 innings pitched.
Prior to Michigan he was a three-time Perfect Game Preseason All-American, and rated by Perfect Game as the No. 2 pitcher in the state of Georgia and the 20th best high school pitcher in the country.