In a normal world, Tennessee baseball would have just finished up its last non-conference game of the season on Tuesday against Belmont. The Vols then would have turned their attention to Arkansas as they looked to conclude the regular season with a three-game conference series before beginning SEC Tournament play the following week.
Instead, there is no baseball. In fact, college baseball won’t be played for another nine months. But that isn’t stopping publications from writing about the 2021 college baseball season.
Baseball America released their ‘Never Too Early’ Projected 2021 College Top 25 on Monday. The publication ranked Tennessee at No. 18 overall in the country.
“There are still a lot of unknowns all around, but reasonable projections can be made for the 2021 season,” Teddy Cahill of Baseball America wrote. “This is just our first attempt. We will update these rankings a few times over the offseason months to come to reflect the latest developments.”
The Vols were one of six SEC teams ranked in the top 25. Florida was the top-ranked team in the country and the SEC while Ole Miss came in at No. 4, LSU at No. 6, Vanderbilt at No. 7, Arkansas at No. 11, and Mississippi State at No. 15.
“The Gators were No. 1 at the end of the abbreviated 2020 season and while righthanders Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich figure to be drafted, they still will have a wealth of returning talent, especially in the lineup, in 2021,” Cahill wrote about the Gators. “Another standout recruiting class will arrive in Gainesville this fall, giving Florida a deep, talented roster worthy of a national championship favorite.”
Tennessee’s potential magical season came to a screeching halt just 17 games into the 2020 season. The Vols were 15-2 and a consensus top 25 program by every major collegiate baseball poll heading into SEC play. But because of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the SEC canceled the season after the NCAA decided not to hold the College World Series this season.
The stats supported the Vols’ hot start to the season and provided reason for optimism that they were legit.
At the plate, Tennessee ranked first nationally in runs scored (180) and runs per game at 10.6 per contest. It ranked second in home runs (31), on-base percentage (.442), and in slugging percentage (.556). The Vols ranked third in hits (193) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.89), fifth in batting average (.320), and sixth in doubles (43).
On the mound, Frank Anderson’s pitching staff was nearly just as dominant. Tennessee had the fifth-best ERA (2.00) in the country and ranked second in WHIP (0.94), which measures walks plus hits allowed per innings pitched. The group ranked third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.89) and walks allowed per nine innings (2.06), and they were also 16th in hits allowed per nine innings (6.41).
Defensively, the Vols ranked in the top 20, coming in at No. 17 with a fielding percentage of .981.
Tennessee didn’t get to prove themselves fully in 2020, but Baseball America believes they’ll pick up where they left off in 2021.