Vols Baseball vs ETSU
Tennessee's Luc Lipcius (40) running to second in hopes for a double against ETSU at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday, March 10, 2020.

The 2020 college baseball season was cut short due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The Vols were only able to play about a month of baseball before the rest of the season was cancelled. During that time, they shattered all expectations. Tennessee went 15-2 and even reached as high as No. 11 in some polls. 

Here is how the Vols graded out over the season.

Catchers 

Connor Pavolony and Landon Gray formed a dynamic duo behind the plate for the Vols.

Pavolony entered the season with the starting job in hand but didn’t earn it because of his offensive production during his freshman year. Last season, his slash was .228/.391/.366, and he hit two home runs, six doubles and drove in 17 runs in 101 at bats. 

This season was very different. Pavolony finished the season slashing .342/.395/.737, while clubbing four home runs, three doubles and also drove in 12 RBI in just 38 at bats. He also finished fourth on the team in OPS (1.132).

Gray had a turnaround that was equally impressive. In 2019, the then-junior hit .163 in 39 games and recorded just three home runs. Gray also struck out 25 times, while walking just eight times. This further attributed to his .245 OB%. 

In 2020, he was a different man. In just 22 at bats, Gray hit .318 while getting on base at a .483 clip. He also hit two homers in a quarter of the at-bats. Gray’s plate vision improved as well as he struck out six times to seven walks. 

Grade: A

Infielders 

Luc Lipcius, Max Ferguson, Jake Rucker, Liam Spence and Pete Derkay helped to create one of the deepest lineups in the SEC. 

Lipcius is probably the most consistent hitter out of the group and definitely jolted the offense with every at-bat. The Vols' first baseman slashed .326/.525/.674, along with two home runs, 15 RBI and seven doubles. He struck out eight times and took walks on 16 different occasions. 

Max Ferguson primarily hit lead-off for the Vols and caused havoc on the base paths any chance he got. The sophomore stole nine bases on 10 attempts, which easily led Tennessee but also put him tied for No. 23 in DI baseball. On top of that, Ferguson hit .333 with a .462 on-base percentage. 

Jake Rucker fit perfectly in the three hole for Tennessee. In 62 at-bats, Rucker hit .339 with three home runs and 16 RBI. He also finished with a 1.006 OPS, good for sixth on the Vols. 

Liam Spence has made a great first impression for Tennessee fans. The junior transfer slashed .346/.490/.500 in 52 at-bats for the Vols. Spence also recorded a homer and three doubles, along with 12 RBI. 

Pete Derkay performed like one of the best bench bats in all of college baseball. In 24 at-bats, Derkay hit .542 with one homer, two doubles, and 11 RBI. He also walked five times to just four strikeouts. Derkay’s OPS of 1.383, also ranks first on the Vols roster. 

Grade: A

Outfielders 

Tennessee came into the 2020 campaign with a crowded outfield and those battles remained tight in part from everyone’s stellar play. 

Alerick Soularie earned plenty of preseason accolades before the 2020 campaign kicked off. He earned Preseason All-SEC First Team. D1Baseball presented him with Preseason First-Team All-American. Both NCBWA and Baseball America put Soularie on their Preseason Second-Team All-American. Perfect Game slotted him on their Preseason Third Team All-American. Finally, Soularie was rated as the No. 58 overall 2020 MLB Draft Prospect by Baseball America. 

Soularie didn’t start the season off too well. He went 0-13 in the opening series against Western Illinois and didn’t hit his first home run until February 26, against UNC Asheville. 

However, his fortunes began to change and he quickly began one of the Vols' most productive hitters. Soularie finished with a .267 AVG, a team-high five homers and 17 RBI, which ranked second on Tennessee’s roster. 

Zach Daniels finally came into his own during the 2020 season. In 2019, he slashed just .200/.262/.417, with four homers and 10 RBI in 60 at-bats. He also struck out 29 times compared to just five walks. 

In 2020, however, the junior slashed .357/.478/.750, with four homers and 18 RBI in only 56 at-bats. He also greatly improved his discipline, striking out 14 times and walking 13 times. Daniels was named MVP of the Round Rock Classic as well. 

Jordan Beck played well during his freshman year. He hit .275 with one homer and five doubles, as well as driving in nine runs. Beck showed good plate discipline as well; he struck out 11 times and walked in eight appearances. Beck also earned a place on the Round Rock Classic All-Tournament Team. 

Evan Russell was having a career year in 2020. The junior slashed .271/.393/.458, along with two home runs and 12 RBI. Russell was also one of the Vols best fielders. 

Drew Gilbert played all over for Tennessee, but really made his mark in the outfield. The freshman hit .350 in his 40 at-bats. He drove in eight runs, while also clubbing a homer and three doubles. Gilbert had a quality eye as well. He struck out just six times to seven walks. 

Grade: A-

Starting Pitching 

Tennessee entered this season with treasure trove of quality arms and the starters proved that statement to be true. 

Chad Dallas was terrific as the team’s stand-in ace, as both Garrett Crochet and Camden Sewell started the season hurt. Dallas gave up just three runs in 17 innings of work during his first three starts. He struggled during his fourth start against Wright State, going 4.1 innings with surrendering three runs on seven hits. 

Overall, Dallas finished the season with a 3-0 record and a 2.53 ERA. He threw 21.1 innings, gave up 19 hits, six runs and struck out 21 batters while only walking six. 

Chase Wallace moved into the rotation for the first time in his career this season and had mixed results. He only went five innings on one occasion and had two starts where control became an early issue. Wallace surrendered three runs in two starts, which helped to inflate his ERA to 3.50. 

Wallace started four games for Tennessee, going 1-1 in the process and threw 18 innings. He surrendered 13 hits, eight runs (seven earned), walked seven batters and made 18 batters swing and miss. 

Jackson Leath started just two games for Tennessee out of five appearances, but he started the year in the weekend rotation so he just barely qualifies for being labeled a starter. 

On the year, Leath finished with a 4-0 record, with a 1.45 ERA in 18.2 innings. In those innings of work, he gave up 11 hits, five runs (three earned), walked five batters but struck out 29, including 12 in his first start of the year against Western Illinois. 

Crochet made just one start this year, after beginning the year on the DL. The Vols ace threw 3.1 innings, gave up two hits, zero runs and zero walks, while striking out six batters. 

Sewell made one start as well. The sophomore went 3.0 innings, gave up one hit, one run, walked a batter and struck out five against ETSU. 

Grade: B+

Bullpen 

Tennessee’s bullpen is deep and versatile, and played a big role in the team’s success from the very start. 

Elijah Pleasants appeared the most out of any pitcher for Tennessee, and he even made two starts. Overall, the sophomore finished with a 1-0 record and a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings of work. He gave up 13 hits and three runs (two earned). The righty battled with control a bit, as he walked five batters and struck out just nine. 

Sean Hunley was a workhorse in the Vols’ bullpen. He finished with a 0.54 ERA in 16.2 innings. The junior let one run score, while walking two batters and striking out 14 others. Hunley finished with a team-high three saves. 

Kody Davidson did not throw much this season, but when he did, he typically was striking out the opponent. In six appearances and 5.1 innings of work, Davidson finished with a 0.00 ERA, and gave up just three hits, zero walks but tallied eight strikeouts. He also finished with the lowest WHIP on the team (.59).

Closer Redmond Walsh gave up just one unearned run in 11.2 innings of work. That lone run left him with a 1-1 record, but the rest of his numbers were dominant. He allowed just fives and walked just two batters, while punching out 10 others. Walsh’s opponent batting average was .125, a team-low. 

Christian Delashmit is one of Tennessee’s more underrated players. He finished with a 3-0 record, and a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings of work. He gave up 10 hits, one run, two walks and tallied 16 Ks. 

Mark McLaughlin made five appearances and worked 10.0 innings for a 1.80 ERA. The righty allowed five hits, two runs, one walk and punched out 12 batters. 

Kirby Connell started the year hurt and became one of Tennessee’s more reliable bullpen members, except for one awful appearance. 

Connell finished the year with a 6.35 ERA in 5.2 innings. During his appearances, he gave up five hits, four runs (all in one appearance that lasted 0.1 innings), walked just one batter and struck out seven others. 

Will Mabrey threw just 4.0 innings for Tennessee. During that time, he recorded a 2.25 ERA, gave up two hits, one run and a walk while striking out three batters. 

Ethan Anderson pitched only 3.0 innings. He recorded a 3.00 ERA, while surrendering three hits and one run, but struck out four players. 

Grade: A-

Overall

Unfortunately for Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello, he won’t be able to see what his team would have further accomplished if the year had played out. 

There are plenty of great takeaways. First, Tennessee finished with a 15-2 record and remained undefeated until March 6 against Wright State. Second, the Vols swept Round Rock and defeated the then No. 1 and No. 25 teams in the nation, Texas Tech and Stanford, respectively. Finally, players like Daniels, Pavolony, Lipcius, Soulaire, Dallas and Hunley showed that they can carry this team to big places.

While this season may be lost, what fans and staff saw out of this group during the season should send exciting chills throughout the entire Vol family for what may come next year.

Grade: A

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