Tennessee was off to a hot start in 2020 and looked sure to make a postseason again. They return the bulk of the offense. First round pick Garrett Crochet is no longer available, but the Vols played most of last year without him anyway. Head coach Tony Vitello has another solid roster for 2021.
2019 Record: 40-21 (14-16)
2020 Record: 15-2
Perfect Game Recruiting Class: 12th
Tennessee was off to a very hot start last year winning the first 13 games of the season. This easily vaulted them into the top 25 especially after huge wins against then No.1 Texas Tech and No.25 Stanford. They went 3-0 in the Round Rock Classic and outside of a struggling series against Wright State, they were among the SEC’s hottest teams.
The Vols did it with a mixture of power from the bats and consistency from the pitching staff. As mentioned above, Friday night ace Garrett Crochet was largely unavailable, getting some new faces on the mound for some key experience that should help in 2021.
One of those new faces was senior Jackson Leath. The JUCO product came out firing for the Vols last year leading the team with 29 strikeouts, and 6th in the SEC in strikeouts per nine innings. He mostly pitched extended bullpen outings in 2020 and finished 4-0 with a 1.45 ERA. He’s slated to take over the Friday night slot this season.
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Behind him should be Chad Dallas. Dallas returns with the most starting experience. The junior put up a 3-0 record with a 2.53 ERA working out of the weekend rotation. He pitched five innings of two run baseball against the number one team Texas Tech and struck out eight of the Red Raiders in the win.
The Sunday spot is probable to go to junior Elijah Pleasants. Pleasants has worked almost entirely out of the bullpen in his first two years with Tennessee, but did have a strong start last year. He pitched five innings against Charlotte and allowed just one run. He finished the season with a 1.42 ERA in seven appearances.
Tennessee’s lineup is going to be one of the better in the conference. They return seven of nine starters of a lineup that ranked atop the SEC in most categories in 2020. The bats led the SEC in slugging percentage (.556), on-base percentage (.442), runs scored (180), RBI’s (160) and was second in homeruns (31).
The middle of the lineup is going to be tough for opposing pitchers. Veterans like Jake Rucker, Connor Pavolony and Luc Lipcius put together a mean heart of the lineup. All three were hitting over .325 when the season ended. Pavolony is one of the best hitting catcher’s in the league and leads returning Vols in homeruns with four.
Once you get past those guys though the lineup still hits at a high level. Senior Liam Spence was hitting .346 out of the nine hole last year, best among returning starters. Newcomer Jorel Ortega should get a crack at a starting position after missing last year due to injury. The coaches dubbed him as the most consistent at the plate during fall ball.
Tennessee enters the season at No.19 according to D1Baseball. It’s a bold prediction but with the soft non conference schedule it’s not out of the question for them to be undefeated to enter conference play. The lack of competition will be good for the rotation to meld together and find a groove.
The batting lineup comes in with some of the most experience and veteran leadership in the SEC. They have powerful, quick bats one through nine and will be a headache for opposing arms. Expect the Vols to be another team to battle for regional host contention.
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