Junior college shortstop Chase Valentine committed to Tennessee baseball Thursday, the Arizona native announced on Twitter.
“For me, it was first off the relationship with the coaching staff,” Valentine said on why he committed to Tennessee. “The staff was just awesome to me and my family during the recruiting process. When I got to the facilities it was a no brainer. When I got to see the football game, the town of Knoxville there’s really nothing wrong with Knoxville or the University of Tennessee.”
Valentine, a Phoenix, Arizona native, graduated from high school last spring and planned on playing his collegiate baseball at Texas A&M. However, the Aggies fired longtime coach Rob Childress at the conclusion of the 2021 season.
That caused the No. 322 prospect in the 2021 class to be “uncertain of what my role would be” under new head coach Jim Schlossnagle.
Instead of heading to College Station, Valentine elected to play a season of junior college baseball. Luckily for Valentine, one of the best junior college programs in the country, Central Arizona College, is 51 miles from his hometown of Phoenix.
That’s where Tony Vitello and Tennessee entered Valentine’s recruitment. Vitello watched Valentine play at a Central Arizona scout day in August and began recruiting the 6-foot, 175 pound shortstop before he played a college game.
Valentine came to Knoxville last weekend for a visit, touring the Tennessee campus and taking in Vol football’s wild matchup with Ole Miss.
“I came in for the Ole Miss football game last Saturday and it was a really great experience,” Valentine said. “Obviously, the football game was really electric. (I’m) kind of a part of history now with that pretty crazy fourth quarter. We got to see the facilities and campus and got to see a scrimmage at the baseball field, so it was a really great experience. The staff treated me— and my mom came with me— they treated us very well and I was very grateful for that.”
Valentine committed to Tennessee just days after returning from his visit, cancelling a scheduled visit to South Carolina while spurning other suitors including Oklahoma State, California- Santa Barbara and San Diego State.
As much as Valentine liked Knoxville and the UT campus, it was his relationship with Vitello that led him to shutting his recruitment down in mid October.
“The thing that stood out to me is he’s a really big players coach,” Valentine said. “He’s a really big players coach. He’s not going to be your typical old school, cookie cutter, style of coaching. He’s going to let people be themselves especially with the day-and-age we’re in now where people like to have a little more flair and a little more flavor to their game. He’s able to let them do that and still go out and be good people and good teammates and win ball games.”
Since Vitello arrived, Tennessee has had great success with junior college transfer shortstops. Ricky Martinez (the 2019 starter) previously played at Texas’ Grayson College and Liam Spence (2020-21 starter) played at Central Arizona.
“It kind of is a really cool thing,” Valentine said. “I talked to coach Vitello and the main thing they like about junior college guys is just a little more experience under their belt so when they get to D1, four year school, next level they’re able to make an impact right away more than a high school guy. Sometimes they’re a little raw and need to mature a little bit.”
Ironically, Valentine saw Liam Spence the day he committed to Tennessee. Spence was doing instructs in Arizona for the Chicago Cubs system when he visited his former team’ scrimmage.
Spence’s advice to Valentine about playing at Tennessee and for Vitello?
“Be ready to win and be able to work really hard,” Valentine said.
With his recruitment in the rearview, Valentine is focusing on his freshman season at Central Arizona and improving his game.
“My biggest strength in my game is definitely my defense,” Valentine said. “I have pretty good hands, pretty for sure hands and I’m very prideful in my hands.”
Where does Valentine feel like he has the most room to grow?
“Just gaining size and a little more maturity in my body,” Valentine said.
The shortstop will arrive in Knoxville following the 2022 season with three years of eligibility remaining. Valentine will be eligible for the MLB Draft following his second season at Tennessee.