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Tennessee Fall Baseball Notes And Observations

Tennessee Baseball Zane Denton
The Tennessee baseball team warming up in the fall. Photo by RTI/Ric Butler.

Tennessee baseball is nearly four weeks into its six week fall practice period. I’ve had the chance to watch six Tennessee intrasquad scrimmages to this point in the fall. I didn’t watch Tennessee’s scrimmage against Wake Forest as I was traveling back from Baton Rouge so I’ve only had the chance to watch the Vols face off against one another.

Still, there’s an abundance of new players I’ve been able to watch on this Tennessee team a handful of times this fall.

Here’s my notes and observations on Tennessee baseball as the Vols reach the final stretch of fall ball.

Let’s start in the field where there’s a myriad of questions. Tennessee lost all eight of its starters in the field from last season’s 50-win team.

While the Vols lost all eight position starters from last season’s team there are a handful of impact position players back and that starts with Jared Dickey.

The utility man Dickey is poised to be Tennessee’s starting catcher after Evan Russell’s graduation and Austin Peay transfer Jack Alexander spurning his commitment to Tennessee for a MLB undrafted free agent deal.

Dickey has not been a lifelong catcher and more of a utility man after losing 75 pounds after arriving at Tennessee. However, Dickey’s move to catcher isn’t as radical as Russell’s last season. While Russell made the move to catcher, Dickey did as well.

While the redshirt junior missed time last season with a foot injury, he spent plenty of time at catcher last fall and even got some game action.

Dickey’s not perfect behind the plate but should be a step up from last season. Injuries continue to plague Dickey as he’ll miss the remainder of the fall after undergoing a right hand surgery. The injury isn’t very serious and Dickey’s even gotten some work in during practice catching ball with a cast on his right hand.

Behind Dickey is Charlie Taylor and Ryan Miller. Taylor was Russell’s back up last season while Miller was a redshirting freshman. Taylor’s still not lighting the world on fire with his bat but has been competent with the bat this fall.

Transfer infielders Zane Denton and Maui Ahuna have had up-and-down falls. Denton has been slightly underwhelming at the plate though he has showcased strong power— hitting multiple homers including in the first at-bat I watched him.

Ahuna’s bat has been inconsistent but his glove has not. The highly touted shortstop looks as impressive in the middle infield as anyone I’ve seen since I’ve been covering Tennessee. I have no concern about his inconsistency at the plate due to his success at Kansas.

Redshirt freshman infielder Austen Jaslove has been as impressive as nearly anyone at the plate this fall. The CAK standout has been torching the ball, hitting three extra base hits while posting as strong an average as anyone else.

Jaslove hasn’t been the most impressive bat because of Blake Burke. The sophomore first baseman is raking and looks as impressive as he did as a freshman. Burke hit home runs in back-to-back at-bats earlier this week including a line drive homer that was still rising when it cleared the video board in right field.

Redshirt freshman Kavares Tears continues to impress with his bat just as he did last fall. Then, Tears was a pudgy freshman and a year in a college weight room has turned that fat into muscle.

The lefty is one of the more impressive bats on this team though his fielding prowess is still a question. Tears has spent most of the fall at first base also gets some work in the corner outfield spots. Earning a starting spot in the field could be difficult but I imagine Tears will be a factor at designated hitter this spring.

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The competition in the outfield is fierce with little separation in the scrimmages I’ve watched. After a slow start, Cincinnati transfer Griffin Merritt has been extremely impressive. The reigning AAC Player of the Year has flashed strong power and contact hitting and is the one outfielder that’s shown much separation in the outfield.

The main returners are Christian Scott, Kyle Booker and Logan Chambers. Chambers was disappointing a season ago after transferring in from junior college but has had a nice fall at the plate.

Chambers is a utility man and while he could end up in left field he could also play third or second base.

The true freshmen Dylan Dreiling, Reece Chapman and Alex Stanwich have all had their strong days and poor days. There hasn’t been much separation in that group but I’d give a slight edge to Dreiling as the most impressive to this point.

Let’s move on to the pitchers where there’s much less to discuss due to the abundance of returning starters.

I haven’t watched Chase Burns or Drew Beam any this fall but Chase Dollander was dominant in the two innings I’ve seen him throw.

There were roughly 35 scouts there watching the day Dollander threw, a true sign of how far Tony Vitello’s program’s grown.

Perhaps the most impressive player I’ve watched all fall if sophomore LHP Wyatt Evans. Evans had a small role in Tennessee’s bullpen last season and looks poised for more this year. I’ve watched him pitch twice and wouldn’t be surprised if he pushes for a starting spot.

Junior college transfer and former Hardin Valley standout Bryce Jenkins has been solid on the mound. In two appearances I’ve watched, Jenkins has allowed two runs— Chambers and Burke solo home runs.

Fellow junior college transfer Jacob Bimbi has been perhaps the most impressive newcomer on the mound. He hasn’t given up a run in either of his two appearances I watched earlier this fall.

Watched freshman J.J. Garcia for the first time Wednesday and after getting hit around pretty well in his first inning, the tall right-hander responded well in his next two innings.

Of the returners, there’s been good-and-bad from most including Kirby Connell, Hollis Fanning and Jake Fitzgibbons.

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