Tennessee Baseball Roster Update Following MLB Draft Signing Period

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The Aug. 1 deadline for high school and collegiate players to sign professionally has passed and Tennessee baseball’s 2023 roster is starting to come into frame.

Tennessee lost all 10 players selected in the 2022 MLB Draft but its recruiting class faired well in the draft and the Vols have restocked their roster in the transfer portal.

Let’s take a look at the signing bonuses for Tennessee’s players off to professional baseball while detailing where the Vols’ roster stands at the start of August.

Pitching

Tennessee returns three of its four weekend starters from a season ago as SEC Pitcher of the Year Chase Dollander has one more season before he’s draft eligible and Chase Burns and Drew Beam have two more seasons before they’re draft eligible.

Blade Tidwell was the fourth player to earn consistent weekend starts a season ago and is off to professional baseball. The New York Mets selected Tidwell in the second round of last month’s draft before signing him for $1.85 million— over the slot value of $1.475 million.

The Vols’ bullpen took a major hit, losing four of its go-to arms from a season ago.

Tennessee all-time saves leader Redmond Walsh is out of eligibility while Ben Joyce, Will Mabrey and Mark McLaughlin all forwent their remaining eligibility to sign professionally.

Joyce signed with the Los Angeles Angels for $1 million— over the $702,100 slot value.

Mabrey signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for $225,000— under the $284,200 slot value.

McLaughlin signed with the Chicago White Sox for $150,000— under the $205,800 slot value.

Tennessee transfer commit Reggie Crawford figured to play a major role in Tennessee’s pitching staff but is off to professional baseball after the San Fransisco Giants selected him in the first round and signed him for $2.97 million.

Back in Tennessee’s bullpen is left-handed relievers Kirby Connell, Jake Fitzgibbons, Wyatt Evans and midweek starter from a season ago Zander Sechrist as well as right-hander Seth Halvorsen.

Halvorsen missed the entire 2022 season due to injury.

The one player still up in the air is RHP Camden Sewell. Sewell was the Vols’ most used reliever a season ago, posting a 2.52 ERA in 50 innings pitched. No professional team selected the senior in the MLB Draft and Sewell decided not to sign an undrafted free agent deal.

Sewell has one more year of eligibility due to NCAA COVID-19 relief and can return to Tennessee. The Vols expect Sewell to return to school for a fifth college season but are working through the details as Sewell can no longer receiver the Hope Scholarship as a graduate student.

The Cleveland, Tennessee native returning for his final season would be a massive boost to Tennessee and a bullpen going through turnover this offseason.

The Vols weren’t overly active in the transfer portal at pitcher, but did add a pair college bodies from outside the program. Zach Joyce — the twin brother of Ben Joyce — played at Walters State with Andrew Lindsey in 2020.

Both players didn’t play baseball a season ago while dealing with mental health issues. Both are back playing baseball and in Knoxville. Joyce — who was a student at Tennessee the past two years — is rejoining the baseball team (Joyce originally signed to play baseball out of Walters State with his brother).

Lindsey — a Volunteer State native — is transferring from Charlotte to Tennessee after posting a 6-2 record and 4.89 ERA in 2021.

In the prep ranks, Caden Marcum is coming to school after the Texas Rangers selected him in the 13th round of the MLB Draft. Marcum underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring and was the only prep commit than a MLB team drafted.

RHPs Hunter Sloop and Dillon Orr are Tennessee’s other top prep pitching signees.

More From RTI: Tennessee Fall Camp Observations: Practice Two

Infield

Tennessee lost all five starters in the field from a season ago, however, there are seemingly clear replacements for at least four of them. Don’t get me wrong, there will be heated competition in the fall and winter but many of the options are obvious.

Luc Lipcius and Evan Russell both ran out of eligibility. Russell signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Angels while Lipcius didn’t sign with anyone. Second baseman Jorel Ortega, shortstop Cortland Lawson and third baseman Trey Lipscomb all were selected in the MLB Draft and signed.

Lipscomb signed with the Washington Nationals for $758,900— right at his slot value.

Ortega signed with the Minnesota Twins for $250,000— under the $301,200 slot value.

Lawson signed with the Nationals for $125,000.

Blake Burke is bound to slide into Lipcius’ starting first base spot after hitting .326 with 14 home runs as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Kavares Tears and transfer Griffin Merritt — more on him in a second — could also play first but this is Burke’s job to lose.

Second base will be perhaps the biggest competition on the infield entering next season. Christian Moore hit .305 with 10 home runs and 36 RBIs mostly designating hitting. Moore worked at left field some as a freshman but he came to Tennessee as a middle infielder and spent most of his first fall at second base.

Moore will have competition there, however, most notably Logan Steenstra who has been a strong reserve middle infielder the last two seasons.

Kansas transfer Maui Ahuna is the crowning jewel of Tennessee’s strong transfer class and is a near shoe in to be the Vols’ starting shortstop next season. Ahuna was an All-Big 12 selection a season ago, hitting .396 with eight home runs, 16 doubles and 48 RBIs.

Alabama transfer Zane Denton started at third base for the Crimson Tide the last three years and will have a fantastic chance to win the Vols’ starting job. Denton hit .263 with 13 home runs and 48 RBIs last season for Alabama.

Former junior college prospect Logan Chambers struggled in his first season in the SEC but could factor at third base or in the outfield next season.

Things got dicey at catcher this offseason for Tennessee. The Vols added Austin Peay standout Jack Alexander to fill the role Russell left. However, Alexander signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Kansas City Royals, spurning the Vols.

Tennessee heavily pursued Air Force transfer Paul Skenes but he committed to LSU over the Vols.

Charlie Taylor is back, as is redshirt freshman Ryan Miller. However, utility man Jared Dickey could earn more innings behind the plate than anyone else.

Outfield

Much like Tennessee’s infield, the Vols’ outfield will have a seriously different look in 2023 then it did in 2022. Seth Stephenson, Drew Gilbert and Jordan Beck all signed with professional baseball teams after being top 10 round draft picks.

Alexander not making it to campus will likely lead Dickey to spend more time behind the plate than the outfield.

Gilbert signed with the Houston Astros for $2.5 million— slightly under the $2.6 million slot value.

Beck signed with the Colorado Rockies for $2.2 million— over the $2.05 million slot value.

Stephenson signed with the Detroit Tigers for $300,000— over the $229,800 slot value.

Tennessee has more potential replacements returning in the outfield then the infield. Kyle Booker struggled as a sophomore but has flashed high potential in his two years in Knoxville. Christian Scott has been a reliable reserve outfielder and is back for his fifth season.

Ethan Payne and Tears will also have opportunities to compete for starting spots in the outfield.

Tony Vitello and his staff added an abundance of talent in the outfield through different means starting with Griffin Merritt.

Merritt played some first base at Cincinnati as a sophomore before playing exclusively in left field a season ago. Merritt hit .274 with with 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 38 RBIs in 2021 on his way to earning AAC Player of the Year honors.

Walters State standout Colby Backus is transferring to Tennessee after starring for the Senators a season ago.

Two of the Vols top signees — Alex Stanwich and Reese Chapman — are outfielders who will have a chance to factor right away in Knoxville. Both players rank as top 200 prospects nationally according to Perfect Game.

Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.