Right handed pitcher AJ Russell committed to Tennessee baseball Sunday over Alabama and mid major suitors.
“I met them (Tennessee’s coaching staff) a few times and loved them,” Russell said. “I loved their pitching coach, strength coach as well— I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. The pitching coach is pretty legit as everyone knows. He’s sent I think 35 or 36 guys to the big leagues. That’s like my overall dream to get to the big leagues. Pitching under him would be pretty special and it was a big driving factor.”
The Franklin High School standout is a three-star in the 2022 signing class, according to Perfect Game.
The 6-foot-6, 185 pound right hander bolsters a upper 80s fastball, a slider that he considers his best offspeed pitch, as well as a curveball and a changeup.
22 uncommitted RHP @AJRusse63736553 throws a 4 inning no-hitter with 9ks for 17u platinum as they advance to the gold bracket of the @PG_Tourney National Elite. #RepTheK @PG_Uncommitted pic.twitter.com/0t1JmhHX6O
— KNIGHTS BASEBALL (@KNIGHTS_BASEBTN) July 1, 2021
Russell visited and camped at Tennessee the week before the College World Series and impressed Tennessee’s coaching staff with his body control and location.
“I came down and pitched and they kind of showed me around the facility and I loved it,” Russell said. “I loved the stadium and everything so that kind of submitted everything. I wanted to see if Vitello was going to stay and then I found out he was and I was like alright I know.”
Russell was impressed by Tennessee pitching coach Frank Anderson and his long past of developing MLB talent.
Anderson compared Russell to Vol great Garrett Crochet, showing him film of the Chicago White Sox’s left hander throughout his college career.
“He’s done crazy things with players— like Garrett Crochet,” Russell said. “I’m not trying to compare myself to Garrett Crochet at all, just coming into Tennessee we’re similar. Very tall and lengthy guys, both in the upper 80s. Granted, he worked really hard and came out the other end throwing 100 and pitching in the big leagues. Just seeing the little things he was doing with Garrett Crochet. He was showing me videos of him adjusting his hips and arm path and stuff like that. Just the little things he talked about what he saw in me and could change and just listening to that made me know this guy knows what he’s talking about and would be a good guy to pitch under.”
Russell moved to the Volunteer State from Lake Oswego, Oregon in September of 2020 but it didn’t take the tall right hander long to notice Tennessee’s success on the field and Vol Nation’s adoration of Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello.
“The town loves Vitello,” Russell said. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about him. The program is on the up and from everything I’ve heard the coaching staff and such is amazing.”
The 2022 prospect is playing travel baseball this summer with Middle Tennessee’s Knight’s Baseball. After not playing his junior season after the cross country move, Russell plans on playing basketball at Franklin High School this winter before his senior baseball season.