Hoping to rebound from a disappointing year offensively — and something better than midfield — Greg Beals and the Buckeyes of baseball will look to some proven merchandise to help lead the way.
It was former Yankees manager Casey Stengel who used to respond to reporters this way, when they asked him how he planned to repeat as pennant winner and world champion.
“Well,” Casey was starting, “if you wouldn’t be surprised, I think I’m going to play the guys who played last year. Nobody except the American League seemed to care.
Ohio State coach Greg Beals might have a Stengel streak in him when you ask… who might be the biggest surprise to come out of his 2022 Buckeyes roster?
“When you ask most people automatically think of a rookie?” Beals responded recently.
The average Section 101 guy, of course, would say… rookie.
Beals smiles and walks off in another direction. “I want to talk about Zach Dezenzo.”
Zach Dezenzo? Surprise?
Wouldn’t he be like Stengel’s shortstop, Tony Kubek, on all those big Yankee teams?
And from dollars to dimes, Zach Dezenzo has never heard of Casey Stengel…or Tony Kubek!
“Zach Dezenzo has really grown,” Beals continued. “And you can say, ‘Wait a minute, he was your starting shortstop for three years.’ But Zach Dezenzo is a ‘player of the year’ type talent and he’s really matured.”
If his answers surprise you, it invites you to look back on the previous three seasons.
Dezenzo played straight out as a freshman in 2019, starting 41 games at shortstop and hitting .250 (48 for 188). He showed power – 10 home runs, a triple, 9 doubles and drove in 37 runs. Generational? It was the most home runs by an Ohio State shortstop in 18 years.
In the disastrous Covid-shortened 2020 season, he started all 14 games, splitting time between court and third base, but got off to a slow start at home plate. He hit .189, still with 4 doubles and 7 RBIs.
But last year he blossomed, starting all 42 games at shortstop. In an offensive challenge lineup that collectively reached its worst in fifty years, Dezenzo hit .302, hit .550%, had 31 runs, while leading the team with 11 doubles games and 15 multi-hit games.
And while it’s not uncommon for some to tire as the season progresses, Dezenzo has done his best work in the Buckeyes’ final weeks. In the Purdue Series (April 30-May 2), he hit .533 (8 for 15) with a pair of home runs and 10 RBIs. Three weeks later, he hit a pair of three-run homers in the series opener with Northwestern. , going 6 for 12 on the last weekend of the season.
“Zach has matured,” Beals concluded, reaffirming his case. “Physically, you see it when he hits. He’s an adult now. There will be people this year who will say, ‘How did he not get drafted last year?’ how do you get it return for his senior year? People are going to say that this year.
Zach Dezenzo, himself, would be the last person imaginable to say that. He is calm, like a worker in his approach to school and baseball. He has his priorities – among them a distinguished Big Ten scholar in 2020 and ’21.
He doesn’t seek attention, but he gets it. You don’t see a lot of college shortstops who are 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. He could play tight end on the field beyond Bill Davis Stadium in the spring. But his flexibility and ability to position himself and move around serve him the same way he’s served other great shortstops, like Cal Ripken, Jr. He knows how to play.
“I tell people I’m a shortstop and some of them do a double take,” he shares. “They’ll say, ‘Are you serious?’ And I tell them, ‘Yeah, I’m serious.’
“Being taller and bigger definitely has its ups and downs, but I’m happy with my body type. When I got here I was 190 pounds and gained 25 pounds of solid strength. It translated into my offense, my defense, my athleticism, my arm strength…and I have a lot of people here to thank for that.
He admits the July draft was a disappointment and something he had to live with, push past and use as motivation to improve in his senior season.
“It was a whirlwind of emotions, of confusion, because of what I had heard before the draft. You sit there for three days and twenty rounds and when you don’t hear your name there is a certain disappointment. You have hope and when it doesn’t happen…it’s very disappointing.
“But I also had time to realize that there was still an opportunity ahead of me…another year at Ohio State. I had to reframe my mind, get back to college baseball and the mindset to come back , to continue to grow and to be here to win baseball games and championships. It took a few days at the time, but I’m back in the “let’s get to work” mindset now .
He graduated from Marlington High School, at Alliance, which 50 years ago produced another notable Buckeye, basketball player Luke Witte. He already has his degree in sports management and is aiming for a career in baseball in one capacity or another.
As for his priorities for 2022, he spent part of last summer playing in the MLB Draft Development League, for a team in Frederick, Maryland, to capitalize on his ending to the 2021 season.
“It’s a new club this year,” Dezenzo said of the ’22 Buckeyes. “Every year is a new season, a new ball club, and with that comes new strengths and weaknesses. We want to have a club that has a competitive mindset, wins ball games and aims to compete in the Big Ten Tournament and the National Tournament.
Then, and only then, will he talk about the draft for 2022. As for attention, watch closely this year and you’ll see more than 6’4” and 220 pounds when you see him play. It’s the mindset – why he puts in the work.
And that surprise Beals was talking about?
This is not at all a surprise.