By GREG AUMAN
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—In his first year at Ohio State, Josh Dezse put together one of the best seasons by any freshman in the Big Ten.
Actually, two of them.
Dezse, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound first baseman from Powell, Ohio, about 20 miles north of campus, led the Buckeyes with a .332/.427/.472 slash line and 42 RBIs. He also doubled as Ohio State’s closer, going 4-2, 5.53 with six saves. Between the two, he was Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
“My outlook really is not going to change,” said Dezse (pronounced dez-ZAY), who was a 28th-round pick of the Yankees in 2010 but did not sign. “I still have the jitters every game, the butterflies, and I think that helps you succeed a little bit.”
The balancing act between his two roles will continue this season, with Dezse working at first base and again as closer. Dezse had three hits in the Buckeyes’ season-opening 5-3 loss to South Florida in the Big Ten-Big East Challenge, but admits his future—thanks to a fastball clocked at 100 mph—might be on the mound.
“It’s definitely pitching comes first,” said Dezse, who struck out 32 batters in 27 innings as a freshman. “If I do want to play at the next level, it’s going to be that, I believe . . . But I’ll stay late (after practice) focusing on hitting, so it is pretty even.”
Ohio State coach Greg Beals knows how to manage an elite two-way player—before coming to Ohio State last year, he coached 2010 first-rounder Kolbrin Vitek at Ball State. Vitek was a first-team All-American as a utility player and one of three finalists for the John Olerud Two-Way Player Award, after leading the Cardinals in average, home runs and RBIs, as well as ERA and innings pitched.
“Josh showed signs of being really special last year,” Beals said. “The thing we need him to do, as a sophomore, he’s going to learn how to handle the duties of doing both. It’s a challenge, and it’s a credit to him as a baseball player that he can do both as well as he does. I’m looking for him to handle that role and the pressure situations even better.”
Dezse, who didn’t start pitching until his junior year of high school, already ranks as Baseball America’s top prospect in the Big Ten, even though he can’t be drafted until 2013. For now, he likes the way playing first keeps his arm warmed up for pitching, and as he continues to improve in both areas, Ohio State is in position to challenge in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes finished 26-27 overall last year and 13-11 in the conference, but the league was balanced enough that they finished the regular season just two games out of first. Dezse is just starting to get familiar with his present and his future.
“I got recruited here as a catcher,” he said. “In high school, I’d start, play a game at first, then get back behind the dish. So here is a little bit easier.”