As fall baseball gets into full swing, the Tennessee baseball program has juice that it hasn’t had in over a decade. After second year head coach Tony Vitello led the Vols to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, the Big Orange have commonly been picked as a program on the rise.
“It’s awesome,” senior Redmond Walsh said. “Especially being from Knoxville and kind of seeing a lot of the struggles they had over the years, and then having this new coaching staff come in and really turn this program around is awesome to see.”
As 21 new Volunteers go through their first fall camp, the expectations have changed on Rocky Top as Tennessee looks for even more success in 2020.
“Now our guys have been to the postseason and they expect to and want to go back,” Vitello said. “I don’t think we change our mission every day, but there are some externalities that either need to be handled or ignored.”
While expectations are high, Tennessee lost four everyday starters in the field and three major contributors on the mound.
“There are a lot of staples that aren’t around,” Vitello said. “Guys like Andre (Lipcius), Jay (Charleston), Ammo (Justin Ammons) and some of the pitching too. Those guys were here for three years and contributed for three years and now they left a big void, but I think there is an awful lot of talent to feel those voids. In some cases, it’s going to take a few guys.”
At the plate no loss will be felt larger than Andre Lipcius. The third baseman became one of the SEC’s best bats by his junior season hitting .308 with 17 homeruns and 58 RBIs.
“I went on that rant last year and mentioned Trey Lipscomb as someone we really love over there at the corner because it’s so difficult to play defensively,” Vitello said. “Austin Knight is a guy that was hidden because we had some decent bats last year in the lineup and he can really hit. … Jordan Beck is a fun x-factor for us. He’s a really good athlete. He was a really good basketball player and the Red Sox drafted him and they actually worked him out at third base. Those have kind of been the three most popular names.”
Defense and pitching carried the Vols for much of the 2019 season and is expected to be a strength again; Tennessee’s offense has gained more depth in the offseason.
“Versatile,” Vitello said to describe the offense. “We have a couple more left handed hitters. … You could use a few different DH’s this year. I think there is more depth. … There are some guys that can run and guys that do different things. It’s going to be up to us as a coaching staff to kind of make it a melting pot of a lot of positives that can score enough to help what I think will be another pitching and defense-oriented team.”
On the mound, the Vols should be strong again despite losing three pitchers to the MLB Draft. Returners like Garrett Crochet, Sean Hunley, Redmond Walsh and Camden Sewell, as well as newcomers like Drew Gilbert should keep the Vols’ pitching staff in the top half of the SEC.
Tennessee will host Clemson on September 28th for a fall ball scrimmage at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.