Tennessee baseball coach Tony Vitello met with the local media Thursday to discuss the conclusion of the Vols’ fall practice.
The Vols spent six weeks at Lindsey Nelson Stadium this fall scrimmaging Wake Forest and Memphis and holding an myriad of instrasquad scrimmages.
Here’s everything the sixth-year Tennessee coach said about the Vols’ fall practice.
On the arms that didn’t throw much in fall practice
“Andrew Lindsay finished in Jackson, Tennessee and we put him in a period of still throwing but individual work with coach Anderson. This is the time of year where guys will get looked at— what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses. Here’s some individual attention. Right or wrong I think it’s fair to them to give them the meat and potatoes of the fall to understand or to show us what they can or can’t do whether it’s repetitions in practice or more importantly in intrasquads and scrimmages. We’re kind of in that individual phase and (Seth) Halve(rson) is in the same category. Right now he’s throwing off the mound. Coach A is able to just work with him, nothing else going on, use the technology as he sees fit. Drew Beam is doing the same thing right now. Throwing a little bit. Chase Burns is in that category. Chase Dollander just threw his last bullpen and we’ll shut him down so you guys have been great about coming out to the park and I’m not on y’all’s sites and all that but I assume you’ve been publicizing what’s been going on but there’s a lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes too. I think Frank gives those guys a good amount of one-on-one attention but this time of year it’s even moreso.”
On if Seth Halvorsen is healthy
“He looks good. I don’t want to speak for him but he looks more physical and in better shape than he’s ever been. It’s coming out pretty good and for him I think the right thing to do was kind of ramp him up and gear him up towards an early start in January— our spring training period— and then continue to climb as opposed to ramp him up, take him back down, maybe ramp him up again for individual work. It’s a smooth path and a conservative path he’s on but we’re actually getting towards the more aggressive part of it if I can throw that word in there too.”
On Jared Dickey’s growth as a catcher and having last season to begin that transition
“I think anytime — especially if you’re a younger kid — you can check a box and say well I’ve done it or I’ve been there it helps your mindset. He’s a kid that has a special mindset to begin with so I think he’d be able to accomplish similar things if he didn’t have that experience to fall back on but he’s a different guy back there this year. Extra bounce to him. Extra leadership. The areas he’s much improved are kind of the catching category. What goes on behind the plate: blocking, receiving, coordinating certain things between coach A and the pitchers and then the throwing for him, like anyone that makes that transition, is kind of a work in progress but he’s shown signs of improvement there as well. I think more than anything he established in front of — I hope scouts because they were curious too — but us and his teammates he’s a real catcher. This isn’t a fun experiment.”
On the catcher depth this fall
“It was frustrating at the start because Ryan Miller’s been a work in progress back there. Recruited as an athlete, hitter who also catches. There’s a lot of kids that get recruited like that. Now it’s up to you to prove you can actually play that position. I don’t think — I know it’s only a short window — but I don’t think in August or September he had us convinced of that. Times have changed and he’s made a lot of progress and still has a lot left to do. At the beginning there were more question marks for him. Cal Stark wasn’t 100% ready to go so you’re kind of we recruited him. We know him well but what do we really have here and with Jared fluctuating between outfield and catching you could have made the argument we’re just sitting here with Chuck (Charlie Taylor) and Chuck only. That’s a pretty good one for us as well but as the fall went on Cal Stark showed he’s much more capable with the bat than we maybe originally thought in scouting and he started accumulating innings behind the plate and then Ryan Miller’s always been capable with the bat but he’s starting to show, as you mentioned, that he’s capable behind the dish too.”
On what he likes about his outfield and the newcomers there
“I always like competition and it may hurt you in recruiting if you bring up you like competition and it’ll make you better because everybody wants in some part of their thought process wants to be ‘the guy’ but what’s truly best for you is if you consistently have somebody pushing you. What I like right now about the outfield is no one is going to be able to go home over winter break and say ‘I’m out there for sure.’ There’s probably a handful of guys we know are going to make starts or might even be everyday guys in the lineup but it might be DH, it might be a corner outfield spot and they’re hoping to play center, so there’s a variety of options and a wealth of competition out there. That’s what I like. A really fun aspect of that, and again in recruiting these freshmen may not want to hear it. They probably want now, now, now, now but those three freshmen in (Dylan) Dreiling, Reese Chapman and (Alex) Stanwich did some special things. If you take a step back and look at your career as a whole, those three kids could have a pretty exciting career on the whole and they just need to make sure they keep making strides this freshman year.”
On managing this year’s team and how different the personalities are from last season
“I like that I may not have to deal with as much with some of those big personalities. I say that mainly in jest but good kids that spend a lot of time in the program and became awfully comfortable in their own skin which is our goal with these guys but that takes time. Those guys had that time built in. With some of these guys that are even older. Bryce Jenkins is a JUCO guy that just pops into my mind, or the freshmen, they haven’t had that time entirely yet to get comfortable with, know their surroundings, know what the best version of them is. It’s been very interesting. I don’t know why I’m thinking of this but it’s almost like tetris. You want all the pieces to fit perfectly and sometimes they don’t. It may take a few tries or just trial-and-error in general. We’ve gone through some different things of what should we tell these guys about leadership, should we have a practice where the players run it. I’m throwing out random thoughts but instead of being settled as it relates to leadership, locker room behavior, personalities it’s been a lot more of get to know, experiment, try and educate, try and cultivate those things. Last night there were some skits that the guys put on. Some of them were very brave considering the coaching staff was watching. I was impersonated but those were a good sign of progress just in general. Some of the camaraderie that was shown there and it’s gotten to the point where you could start to say we’re becoming a team.”
On Kavares Tears
“I think he still moves around. First, he’s probably more comfortable as a corner outfielder. He’s got a big arm. I think at the plate he is very sporadic in what he’ll try in the box during a game, in the cages. Most of the older hitters have a stance they stick to, an approach they stick to, a routine in the cages. Andre, by the time he was done here— Lipcius who is on the 40-man that’s why I mention his name. Andre’s day, I almost knew for sure depending on when I got back from lunch where he was going to be and what he was going to be doing. Tears is nowhere in that category yet but he’s a lot more mature in how he goes about his business and what his routines are and what his approach is. Consistency is a huge part of our game. He’s slowly gotten more-and-more consistent.”
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On how unique it is that former players come back and want to be around the program during their offseason
“It certainly goes on at other places, but I think unique is an appropriate word because it’s something we all crave as coaches. You want a little return on your investment and that might just mean a high-five in the morning or a smile, or getting to see a kid doing a drill you did with him, or maybe he’s just working hard and that’s what you try to instill in him. Those guys come back, they work with Q, they use our facilities. They’re all there until about lunch time, so then at lunch you kind of see our current players and the older players mesh and spend a little time together. That’s huge for our guys. I think they get a couple of things out of it, but two stick out. One, a little bit of looking up to those people — this is who I want to be or where I want to get, so they can ask for advice, ask questions, get a little bit of feel for how things are going for them. But then they also get to just hangout with them and realize, maybe a freshman — I just saw Reese (Chapman) in the hallway — as a freshman, maybe Reese grew up literally looking up to those guys because he was watching our team on TV and now he’s sitting, hanging out with them and he realizes they’re just dudes. And Reese might even be better in high school than some of those guys are, so it’s not a whole different world they’re looking at when they see a pro baseball player.”
On if this year’s team will be able to hit power
“I wouldn’t have thought it was going to go the way that it did last year. It’s a nice pleasant surprise. You can predict it in one way and it go in a negative way too. I stand by what I said about last year’s team. We’re going to need to be a more diversified offense. Last year’s team proved me wrong and maybe at times to a fault we relied on too much power in the lineup. There’s no other way to see it. There’s several guys that are capable. I don’t know that we’ll have that one through nine where you could flip the order or take the bottom and put it in the middle one day and it kind of all be the same. I don’t know that we’ll have that. Again, I’m all for them proving me wrong. As it stands now, I think we have a good amount of guys that can drive the ball. I don’t think it’ll equate to last year’s group in that category, so therefor, I think even more than last year, we’re going to need to diversify ways we can hurt an opponent when we’re on offense.”
On how much Christian Moore improved at second this fall and how much playing in the Cape Cod League helped him
“We quiz those guys on the Cape. It’s a heavy level of competition up there. There’s a lot of work. There’s a lot of experts that are coaches so you can get good information for a lot of different reasons. For C Mo, we asked about a lot. The thing that stuck out was how eager he was to get extra ground balls before, after — I don’t know that during, but the extra work up there. The fact that he wanted to be good up there is step one. That’s how it is for everybody. Take pride in something and be good at it. He clearly showed that, but he also started to tally up repetitions. When he came back, I joke with one of y’all, or maybe just a player, he wouldn’t like hearing our coaching staff’s thoughts about how far he’s come because he would say, ‘no, I was that good as a freshman.’ But if he was able to step back and see himself on video or from a coach’s perspective, it’s night and day from when he first entered here to what he is now. Therefor, the progress has been significant just this semester. I think there’s more to go as well. He bounces around. He’s a guy we could put at several different positions whereas last year, it was a little bit frustrating that this guy has a good bat, we’d like to put him in the lineup, but what position can he really play at an SEC level. Well now there’s no question that it’s second. I’m all for him getting better, but he probably could adjust to some other spots as well.”
On the depth guys like Austen Jaslove and Hunter Ensley can provide
“The coach in me wants to say as big of a part as they want to be because there’s so many ways you can help your team starting at the beginning of the day all the way to the end, and it doesn’t have to be hitting a home run or anything like that. One way they’ve helped our team is that they provide depth and internal competition because they’re two guys that kind of started out slowly, or the older guys who maybe weren’t the coaches, may look at them and say that they don’t how that guy is going to help us this year to the point now to where they’re in the conversation for possibly getting innings for us in the spring or possibly earning a starting spot. I don’t know. We haven’t even gotten that far yet at the end of this fall. We’re still going a little bit with practice, but those two guys have come a long way and have helped provide some depth and some internal competition to where they can do something for us.
“My challenge to every guy is find a way to help the team win. I just think there’s more ways that they can now do it. But it’s become part of the program. We’ve been here long enough now to where there’s a little bit of a rhythm and a cycle to things. Come in, learn the program, improve, get some experience, get a little more experience and then become a guy. For some players like Chase Burns and Drew Beam, it kind of happens almost it seems like that. For guys like Trey Lipscomb, Cortland Lawson, there’s a lot of things behind the scenes that you guys don’t see and then all of a sudden now you know who they are.”
On other pitchers competing for starting roles despite it appearing that Chase Dollander, Drew Beam and Chase Burns make up the rotation
“I think part of it is to give the other guys the attention and the work alongside of them. At this point in the year, you can’t separate guys. Now you talk about May, you probably need to key in on the starting third baseman a little more than the guy that’s third on the depth chart. I think there’s a wealth of guys that could start. We kind of tipped our hand a little bit with the fall world series with who some of those other guys could be. Then, part of the whole deal is that every pitcher wants to be the Friday guy, so that provides a little competition especially if you’re blessed to have a staff that could be four or five different guys, which it could be. Rather than counting this or counting on that, you might want to just fight everyday for what you can get, and then also have the understanding on the backend that it just might be the best combination in the coaching staff’s mind. This guy here or this guy there with a purpose. It doesn’t always necessarily line up where you go one, two, three and then four during a midweek game with your four starters. It might just be what’s the best roles for these guys. Last year, we showed that with Jorel (Ortega), Trey (Lipscomb) and Cortland (Lawson). I would have been fine with any one of those guys playing shortstop, any one of those guys playing third, anyone playing second, but we thought that was the best combination of where guys should be at.”