Max Ferguson is among a dying breed of baseball players. He does not strikeout much, and he does not hit many home runs — two outcomes that are becoming more and more common, as terms like launch angle are preached from young age.
Ferguson, a junior infielder/outfielder for the Tennessee baseball team, brings an old-school, throwback approach, if you will, to a modern age of baseball.
Ferguson has led off every game this season and batted near the top of the order for most of his career. He fits into the traditional leadoff mold – a contact hitter with little power, who gets on base and starts something for his teammates.
“I’m trying to be a table setter for the team,” Ferguson said. “And try to find a way on, and start a mess for everyone. Kind of just set the tone for the game.”
Ferguson has succeeded with that goal to begin the 2021 season. He’s started three of Tennessee’s four games with a leadoff walk. In the one time he got out, it was after long at-bat, battling to a full count.
Getting on-base at a high rate has been a staple of Ferguson’s time at UT, and he owns a .408 career on-base percentage to back it up. In 13 games of the pandemic shortened 2020 season, Ferguson got reached base at a ridiculously high .462 clip. It was largely thanks to his batting average, a cool .333, but he also walked eight times and was hit by a pitch twice in 42 at-bats.
On top of all of that, Ferguson has added a new weapon in his arsenal this year, power. He had hit just two home runs in his time at Tennessee, before this year — both of which came last season.
Ferguson put a tremendous amount of work with Quentin Eberhardt, Tennessee’s Director of Baseball Sports Performance, over the last year and has added plenty of muscle.
“I think (power) is a new part of my game.” Ferguson said. “Just from the amount of weight I’ve put on over the last couple of years. And just continuing to work with Coach Elander and Coach Vitello and Coach Kivett in the cage, to get my swing to feel the right way, and allow me to tap into every ounce of power that I do have.”
In a recent media availability, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello praised the progress Ferguson had made.
“And now he’s a lot stronger,” Vitello said. “Coach (Eberhardt) always calls him ‘little guy.’ He’s not a ‘little guy’ anymore. He’s got a little more pop in that bat.”
The early dividends of his hard work have paid off. Ferguson hit his first home run of the young season yesterday.
When Ferguson does get on base, you can expect him to be running. He has elite speed and great situational awareness. He stole four bags as a freshman in 2019 and nine in 12 games last year. He added one more yesterday, his first of the season.
At a time in which stolen bases are not as prominent, Ferguson still sees his speed as a major strength.
“I’m always looking to run,” Ferguson said. “That’s something that I’ve always enjoyed doing.”
His goal is to steal as many bases as Jay Charleston, an outfielder who swiped 41 bags during Ferguson’s freshman year.
“My goal is to get around where (Charleston) is at,” Ferguson said. “But it all depends on game flow and what the pitcher is doing.”
Ferguson’s speed gives him the versatility to play a multitude of defensive positions. He was recruited from The Bolles School in Atlantic Beach, Florida as an outfielder. When he came to Tennessee, a crowded outfield forced Ferguson to pick up the infield, and his natural athletic ability helped him thrive.
In the early stages of this season, Ferguson has contributed with his versatility. He started two games at second base and one in centerfield. He was also the designated hitter in yesterday’s game.
Ferguson’s throwback approach is less common in baseball today, but it is exactly what the Vols need at the top of their order to complement power hitters like Jake Rucker and Jordan Beck.
Ferguson’s game has worked well for him. One of Tennessee’s best overall players, he entered the 2021 season with a plethora of honors — Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, D1Baseball.com Preseason First Team All-American and Baseball America Preseason First Team All-American, just to name a few.
Ferguson, a humble, hard worker, is not concerned with awards. He brushed aside the mention of his numerous honors and remained focused on the team’s ultimate goal.
“It’s definitely cool to get those accolades,” Ferguson said. “But I’ve never really been too worried about that kind of stuff. That’s all good and that’s all fun, but the goal this year is to win as many games with this group, and we’ll see where we end up in June and July.”