Rob Smith had several holes to patch in his lineup after Ohio was booted by Indiana from the 2017 NCAA tournament.

The Bobcats were Mid-American Conference champions last season — their second title in three years — but they appear to have an uphill battle if they want to defend their championship in 2018.

Of Ohio's 12 players who received at least 60 at-bats in 2017, five were seniors that needed to be replaced in 2018.

Three of those five players were on the Bobcats' remarkable infield, which was perhaps the biggest reason why Ohio's defense finished 12th in the nation in fielding percentage (.980) and only committed 44 errors. The Bobcats also lost three of their top five offensive players from 2017. 

Through the Bobcats' first four games, the replacements for Smith's lineup appear to be clear.

Hafner fills in at shortstop

Trevor Hafner transferred from Sinclair Community College after his freshman season and had a fast start to his Ohio career last weekend.

Hafner, who appears to be Smith's replacement for Ty Finkler at shortstop from 2017, went 7-for-21 and hit a team-leading six RBIs and four doubles.

The sophomore offers similar skills as Finkler and perhaps even a little more offensive pop. Finkler totaled a .236 batting average with five home runs and went 18-for-20 in stolen base attempts in 2017, whereas Hafner batted .371 with eight home runs and stole 15 bases with Sinclair.

With Hafner's impressive showing against Rider, expect him to anchor the shortstop position for the Bobcats in 2018.

Garcia shines in leadoff role

Devon Garcia replaced Spencer Ibarra in centerfield from 2017, but the junior also appeared to replace Ibarra's leadoff role from a year ago.

Ibarra shined as Ohio's leadoff batter in 2017 and led the Bobcats in batting average (.325), slugging percentage (.542) and at-bats (240). While Garcia, who had a .253 batting average and .305 slugging percentage in 95 at-bats in 2017, likely won't provide the same level of power as Ibarra, he provided an encouraging level of consistency in the leadoff role last weekend.

Garcia went 6-for-15 with two walks as the leadoff hitter for the Bobcats and accounted for three runs.

After the solid weekend, Smith could continue to use Garcia, who possess several common leadoff-man characteristics, at the top of the lineup. Garcia's 5-foot-11 size looks smaller in his crouched batting stance and could help him draw walks early in games, and his 2-for-5 finish in stolen base attempts in 2017 doesn't do justice for Garcia's speed, which was found more often in his impressive outfield range.

Look for Garcia to receive more at-bats at the top of Smith's lineup in the future.

Levy's second-base opportunity

Aaron Levy struggled in his first game with Ohio. The freshman went 0-for-3 in his first game on Friday and committed a pair of errors that led to the Bobcats dropping their first game of the season.

Levy wasn't in the Bobcats' lineup for their first game of Saturday's double-header, but he returned in a big way for the second game.

The second baseman went 2-for-4 with a second-inning solo home run in Ohio's 6-5 victory. Levy finished the weekend 3-for-11 with a pair of RBIs and went 1-for-4 with another RBI on Sunday.

If Levy avoids poor defensive games like Friday, he appears to be a solid replacement for Ty Black, Ohio's second baseman from 2017. Black hit a .272 batting average with four home runs and 28 RBIs in 2017 and was excellent in the field with a .971 fielding percentage.

Will Giannini's bat compensate for his glove?

Tony Giannini's bat powered Ohio's offense last weekend, but his glove limited the third baseman's value.

The senior went 8-for-16 with three RBIs and currently leads the Bobcats in batting average, but he also leads the team with four errors.

Giannini, who was primarily an outfielder last season, was Smith's first choice at replacing Connor Callery at the hot corner from 2017. Callery committed just nine errors last season and hit a .312 batting average.

Smith will likely be patient with Giannini defensively, as he had zero errors and 84 putouts last season.

Ohio won't match the superb defense they had in 2017, but if the Bobcats want to match last season's success, however, it will be imperative that Giannini and the rest of the new defense improve from the nine errors it committed last weekend.


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