University of Tennessee baseball starts its season on Friday against Western Illinois at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. The Vols are bringing back some old faces while adding some new ones. Let’s take a look at where some of those players finished up in the 2019 season and where some of them will be in 2020.
First, the Vols needed to replace three right-handed arms in Garrett Stallings, Zach Linginfelter and Andrew Shultz, all of whom were selected in last year’s MLB Draft. The Vols also lost Will Neely who started 37 games over his four-year career.
Here are the returning pitchers.
Will Heflin, LHP: Heflin opens 2020 as the Vols most reliable bullpen arm. In 2019, he went 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA in 26 appearances. He finished the season with career bests in appearances, ERA and strikeouts with 35. However, Heflin is recovering from a knee injury and won’t be back until SEC play.
“He’s really attacked the rehab like we have been wanting him to,” head coach Tony Vitello said. “Another thing about that, is that he is a pretty athletic agile guy for a left-handed pitcher. Most people think of lefties as weirdos but Will is an exception. He should be good to pitch by the second or third week of SEC play. Whether we are gonna do that or not, we will see.”
Camden Sewell, RHP: Sewell finished 2019 as a top freshman. He made 20 appearances, five starts for Tennessee and went 4-1 with a 2.18 ERA, the lowest mark by a true freshman in Vols history. He also struck out 43 batters over 45.1 innings. Sewell will be vying for a weekend rotation spot, but could move back to the pen.
Chase Wallace, RHP: Wallace was nagged by a hamstring injury that limited him to just nine appearances. He threw just 6.2 innings, striking-out seven and walking four. He ended the season with a 1.35 ERA. Wallace is coming off a strong offseason and could see himself in a weekend starter role.
Elijah Pleasants: RHP, Pleasants appeared in only 11 contests during his freshman season, but he made the most of them. The righty finished with a 2.45 ERA, struck-out five and walked seven, over 11 innings. He is expected to take a bigger role with the team this season, either in the ‘pen or as a midweek starter.
Sean Hunley, RHP: Hunley has spent time as a midweek and weekend starter and as a reliever. Last season, he made 20 appearances, five starts and recorded a 2.60 ERA in 45 innings of work. He finished the season with 29 punch-outs and 12 walks. Hunley is expected to see a majority of his work as a member of the weekend rotation.
Garrett Crochet, LHP: Crochet, the ace of the rotation, will look to improve upon his 2019 season. Last season, the lefty threw 65 innings, striking out 81 batters to just 22 walks. Over his 18 appearances and six starts, Crochet’s ERA stood at 4.02. He is expected to be taken inside the top 10 in the 2020 MLB Draft.
Redmond Walsh, LHP: Walsh comes into the 2020 season as one of the SEC’s best closers. He recorded a 1.38 ERA, the lowest on the team, last season and tallied nine saves, which is tied for fifth in a single season in Vols history.
“Stuff in analytics terms is about spin rate and velocity, but guys who have to hit know that there is a lot more that comes with it, like execution, movement, and location,” Vitello said. “He actually has quite the arsenal and coach Anderson is helping him grow that with the curveball. Even though it's not over powering, I think he has confidence in what he brings to the table stuff wise.”
Here are the new pitchers:
Drew Gilbert, LHP: Gilbert was selected in the 35th round by the Minnesota Twins in the 2019 MLB Draft. The freshman has been a two-time Perfect Game Preseason All-American and a Gatorade Player of the Year finalist in 2018. He could be a two-way player with the Vols this season.
Kody Davidson, RHP: Davidson arrives at Rocky Top having just led the Walters State Community College Senators to the NJCAA College World Series in 2019. The junior finished the season with a 4.11 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 46 innings.
Jason Rackers, RHP: Rackers is coming from Jefferson College, where he went 8-3 with a 3.97 ERA. He also threw two complete games and recorded 82 strikeouts in just 65.2 innings in 2019.
Jackson Leath, RHP: Leath started 10 games and struck out 61 batters in 61.1 innings, which earned him NJCAA Region XIV All-Conference honors during the 2019 campaign. He is expected to make an immediate impact on the team.
Kirby Connell, LHP: Connell, during his prep career, played in South Carolina and Missouri. At Butler High School in Missouri, he set the state record for single-season ERA (0.00) and consecutive innings pitched without an earned run allowed (59.1).
Ethan Anderson, RHP: Anderson was a four-time Perfect Game Preseason All-American during his time at River Ridge High School in Woodstock, Georgia. Perfect Game also named him the 188th best player in the country.
Here are the returning infielders.
Jake Rucker, INF: Rucker hit .273 in 61 games for the Vols last season. He recorded 28 RBIs, hit 10 doubles, one triple and struck out 28 times in 183 ABs, in 61 games.
Austin Knight, INF: Knight only appeared in 15 games for the Vols last season and made just one start. During his playing time, he went 1-12 for a .083 AVG, drove in a run, struck out twice and walked five times.
Conor Pavolony, C: Pavolony served as the Vols primary backstop during the 2019 season. He appeared in 44 games and made 34 starts. During that time, he hit .228, hit two home runs, drove in 17 runs and walked 22 times. The sophomore was able to find his way on base at a .391 clip. He also committed just two errors and finished with a .994 FLD%.
Landon Gray, C: Gray was the Vols backup catcher, behind Pavolony. He started 27 games and hit just .163. His on-base percentage was .245 and he committed three errors behind the plate.
Trey Lipscomb, INF: Lipscomb entered his freshman season with a lot of excitement. Perfect game named him the No. 5 overall prospect and No. 1 shortstop in Maryland in the 2018 Class. However, he played in just 12 games, making one start and hitting just .071.
Luc Lipcius, 1B: Lipcius had a short but productive 2019 season. He played in just 16 games, but had a slash line of .347/.459/.649 with 3 home runs, 14 RBIs and 10 walks. His season was cut short due to a foul tip that hit off of his back foot, which fractured a bone.
Max Ferguson, INF: Ferguson’s freshman season was cut short due to a fractured forearm. During the 2019 season, he played in 34 games and got 78 at-bats which were good for a .231 AVG. The sophomore drove in nine runs, scored 11 runs and walked more than he struck out, 19 to 14, respectively. Ferguson will see time at first and second base.
“I think it was really good to get that experience,” Ferguson said. “I had a great time doing it. Obviously, I was pretty bummed when I got hurt, because we were getting in the thick of things in SEC play. I was happy though to be traveling with the team, and still being there with them in the dugout.”
Pete Derkay, INF: Derkay split time between first and catcher during 2019. In his 51 appearances, Derkay hit .228 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in 114 ABs. His strikeout and walk numbers were even at 20. He also got on base at a .353 rate.
The Vols have to replace Jay Charleston and Justin Ammons, both of whom moved to the professional leagues. Charleston is with the Kansas City Royals and Ammons is with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Here are the returning outfielders.
Alerick Soularie, OF: Soularie led the Vols in batting average (.357), slugging percentage (.602), on-base percentage (.466) and runs scored (52), during his first season with Tennessee. He also ranked second in hits (70), home runs (11), RBIs (46) and total bases (118). Going into the 2020 season, Soularie has been presented with preseason All-America honors from Baseball America, D1Baseball.com and Perfect Game.
Zach Daniels, OF: Daniels had limited playing time last season. He appeared in 31 games, but only started in 10 of them and only got 60 at-bats. His line was .200/.262/.417, with four home runs and 10 RBIs. In the outfield, he committed two errors and finished with a .667 FLD%. He will look to get more playing time in a crowded outfield.
Evan Russell, OF: Russell played in the outfield and spent some time at DH. He set a few new personal bests which include batting average (.274), runs (30), hits (46), home runs (six), RBI (39), walks (30), slugging percentage (.446) and on-base percentage (.382).
Christian Scott, OF: Scott played in a limited amount of games during his freshman year, but he showed promise. The left-handed slugger’s slash reads .321/.486/.429 in 21 games, seven starts. He also had a perfect fielding percentage.
Here are the new outfielders.
Matt Turino, OF: Turino comes to Tennessee from Jefferson College in Jefferson City, Missouri. He led the Vikings in batting average (.356), hits (74), doubles (21) and stolen bases (30).
Jordan Beck, OF: Beck was a 14th round pick by the Boston Red Sox in the 2019 MLB Draft. Perfect Game named him the No. 1 rated outfielder in Alabama.
Zane Keener, OF: Kenner was named the No. 5 outfielder in the state of Tennessee after his time playing prep baseball for Christian Academy of Knoxville.