Baseball vs JMU

Jared Dickey (17) rounding the bases after hitting a home run against JMU at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on March 9, 2022.

The days of Evan Russell behind the plate are over for Tennessee Baseball. The outfielder-turned-catcher was a staple in the Vols’ lineup during their historic 2022 run.

With the 2023 season approaching quickly, Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello is still undecided about who will fill Russell’s shoes.

Jared Dickey, the redshirt sophomore utility player, seemed poised to make the move to catcher. Dickey spent much of his time over the offseason working on his defense behind the plate.

An offseason injury limited Dickey’s work during the fall, and likely contributed to Vitello “steering” him back toward the outfield. Regardless of where Dickey plays, he will find his way into the lineup.

“We have guys like Jared Dickey who can run, he can pinch-hit, he can play the outfield and he’s gotten better behind the plate,” Vitello said.

Dickey slashed .380/.484/.690 last season. The Mount Juliet, Tennessee, native hit seven doubles and eight bombs before injuries curtailed his season. Now, he’s looking to become a leader on a team that lost all eight of its defensive starters.

“I think Jared Dickey has been itching to be that guy,” Vitello said of Dickey’s developing leadership.

Charlie Taylor returns from last year and has taken ownership of the catcher position preseason. The redshirt sophomore got into 22 games in 2022 while backing up Russell.

Taylor will be a defensive improvement from Russell a year ago, but he won’t be the big bat. He possesses an above-average arm and likely will steal strikes with his receiving ability.

Taylor slashed .056/.306/.083 in 36 at-bats last season. When Taylor was thrust into the lineup to fill in for Russell in the NCAA Regionals a season ago, it gave the 5-foot-10 catcher a chance to build confidence.

“Charlie has certainly taken ownership,” Vitello said. “Last year, him being called upon in the Regional and the reaction he got from the fan base and how well he played, too, gave him a lot of confidence.”

Vitello didn’t confirm a starter behind the plate, but he assured Taylor would see playing time on opening weekend.

“By no means is he our starting catcher on Opening Day, but he will start in Arizona at some point,” Vitello added. “I feel confident in that.”

Vitello also is for the idea of having multiple catchers, particularly two. He’s done it before with Landon Gray and Connor Pavolony.

“If a guy does well, he’s going to play, and at that catching spot, you can only have one guy, but we like to use two,” Vitello said.

While Taylor seems to be the favorite, the Vols have a couple of other guys capable of seeing innings at catcher as well.

Cal Stark, a transfer out of Weatherford Community College, had a solid fall behind the dish. Stark slashed .380/.524/.713 while at Weatherford last season.

The Farragut native plays above-average defense and has a lot of experience at the JUCO level.

“Cal can do a lot of different things that we feel are good matchup-wise,” Vitello said.

Redshirt freshman Ryan Miller is another guy learning the catcher position, but can give the Vols some depth. The early enrollee redshirted his freshman year but has impressed thus far.

“Then you throw in Ryan Miller, who is still learning the position,” Vitello said. “He is athletic enough to play corner infield, and he probably takes the most impressive BP out of anyone we have.”

Having four catchers allows the Vols to experiment with different lineups. They also have more versatility to adjust for matchups compared to last year.

“It is kind of nice that each guy is different,” Vitello said. “If you see two guys as very similar, you kind of steer towards the guy that is the better version of Player ‘A,’ but it is a nice complement of guys we’ve got back there.”

At a position known for injuries, Vitello touted how good depth is to have come May and June.

“We’re not NBA guys, so we don’t need the load management, but at that position where you’re squatting, depth is crucial,” Vitello said. “It’s very challenging to go through a whole year just being healthy… It’s tough to go a whole year without missing a game because something pops up here and there. Depth is huge.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.