KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee baseball team last season reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, but its performance in the Chapel Hill Regional left it wanting more.
A loss to Liberty in the opening game of the regional was followed by a season-ending loss to North Carolina two days later — a pair of losses that didn’t feature strong efforts and prevented the Vols from playing deeper into the summer.
“It’s one of those things that as soon as you get off the bus, you want to go out there and start working on a new pitch or try to get better in any aspect you can,” Tennessee redshirt junior and Alcoa alum Redmond Walsh said. “It stinks having to wait the whole year to get back, but it’s one of those things that you have nine months to get better and prepare for the next season.”
The first step to redemption is underway as the Vols are working through their fall ball schedule, which includes a scrimmage against Clemson at noon Saturday inside Lindsey Nelson Stadium. UT returns a sizeable amount of talent from last season’s team, but it is also tasked with replacing the likes of Andre Lipcius, Garrett Stallings, Zach Linginfelter, Ricky Martinez and Jay Charleston — all of whom were selected in the 2019 MLB Draft in June. Enter upwards of 20 newcomers — a class that has shaped Tennessee’s roster to head coach Tony Vitello’s liking as he enters his third season at the helm of the program.
“I think this is the final wave of basically trying to create our own roster — take ownership of the whole deal, make sure we have enough of what we think is important, balance out the left-handed (and) right-handed pitching and all those things,” Vitello said. “There’s a lot of staples that aren’t around. … They leave a big void, but I think there’s an awful lot of talent to fill those voids.”
Freshmen Jordan Beck and Drew Gilbert have stood out in the early stages of the fall, according to Vitello. Beck, who can play both corner infield and outfield spots, opted to play collegiate ball despite being picked by the Boston Red Sox in the 14th round of the draft. He is listed at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds — a frame that projects power potential from his right-handed swing.
Gilbert was described as a “maniac” by redshirt junior first baseman Luc Lipcius because of his spastic personality, but Vitello added that the left-hander “has the stuff to pitch in the SEC right away.”
There are also several junior college transfers the Vols are leaning on to make an impact, including right-handed pitcher Jason Rackers and outfielder Matt Turino.
“They’re going to find out that some of the stuff they did in high school works here, and some it they’re going to have to tinker with,” Vitello said. “That’s why we need to play these innings to give them reps and let them figure it our for themselves, but also observe as coaches and address those issues when the fall is over.”
An influx of talent has the Vols thinking about another postseason run — one that can last longer this time around.
“We hold ourselves to a high standard, and I think the fans should, too,” Walsh said. “Every day is a new day for us to get better, and I think with the new talent we have and the guys we have coming back, it should be a really good season for us.”