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Bold Predictions for Tennessee Baseball in 2023

Bold Predictions for Tennessee Baseball in 2023
Tennessee Baseball before the Knoxville Super Regional. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.

Baseball season is officially three days away, as Tony Vitello’s squad will begin 2023 action on Friday at 8 p.m. ET against Arizona in Scottsdale.

Tennessee is looking to build off the success of the previous two seasons and further plant themselves among the top teams in college baseball. The Vols are ranked second overall in five of six preseason polls and are a unanimous top-five team.

The Vols don’t have the luxury of returning any members of the eight starters in the infield or outfield, but they do have the luxury of returning the entire starting pitching rotation. Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam are all entering year two at Tennessee, and top bullpen arms Camden Sewell and Kirby Connell also returned. Tennessee has plenty of power at the plate just like in recent years, but their top-end pitching talent and bullpen depth are the reason thy enter the season as one of highest-ranked teams.

More From RTI: Tennessee Baseball 2023 Season Preview: Position Players, Lineup

Ahead of Tennessee’s season, Rocky Top Insider’s Ryan Schumpert and Jack Foster make bold predictions on what could happen in year six under Tony Vitello for the Vols.

Jack Foster

Blake Burke Wins SEC Player of the Year

We all saw Blake Burke’s sheer power at the plate last season. Tony Vitello has said multiple times that Burke was good enough to start as a true freshman at first base, but he had to wait a year behind Luc Lipcius. Now, it’s the California kid’s time to shine.

Burke had incredible numbers as a freshman, hitting 14 home runs in just 95 at bats, finishing the season with a .821 slugging percentage.

Burke’s potential is sky-high now that he will have a definitive, large role with Tennessee, so my first bold prediction is that he will win SEC Player of the Year.

LSU’s plethora of talent, including projected No. 2 overall pick Dylan Crews in the 2023 MLB Draft, makes the prediction bold. Burke will likely have to lead the SEC in home runs, but given his efficiency as a true freshman last season, it’s definitely possible he could lead the league in long balls.

Jacob Bimbi Becomes a Top Bullpen Arm

Although Tennessee’s starting rotation is set, there are a lot of uncertainties on who will stand out in Tennessee’s bullpen, especially among the newcomers.

From Andrew Lindsey, Bryce Jenkins and J.J. Garcia to Zach Joyce, Andrew Benke and Jacob Bimbi, a lot of new names are being floated around as possible contributors this season. But perhaps none more than JuCo transfer left-hander Jacob Bimbi.

Both head coach Tony Vitello and Friday night ace Chase Dollander have raved about Bimbi’s performances this offseason. “Jacob Bimbi is pretty good. The last few times out, yeah, the last four times out, in my mind, and we’ve tried to ramp up the kind of game like scenarios where they have to come straight out of the pen and things like that so he’s certainly done well,” Vitello said Tuesday.

There will be plenty of competition in the bullpen, especially among the left-handers, but if Bimbi can keep impressing on the mound, the opportunity is there for the junior to become one of Tennessee’s top bullpen options. What makes this prediction bold, though, is the depth of the bullpen. Camden Sewell, Kirby Connell, Zander Sechrist and Wyatt Evans are all retuning, and Seth Halvorsen is entering the season fully healthy, so Bimbi is a name that is far from a favorite to be among the top bullpen arms for Tennessee.

But as Vitello has said multiple times leading into the season, Bimbi has the talent to be a significant contributor for Tennessee.

Ryan Schumpert

Tennessee Lands Four On First Team All-SEC

Tennessee tied for the second most amount of players on the Preseason All-SEC First Team with starting pitchers Chase Burns and Chase Dollander representing both starting position spots. Only Texas A&M, which had three players make the list, had more.

The Vols landing four on the first team at the end of the season is my prediction. That would one-up the three players Tennessee’s extraordinarily talented 2022 landed on the first team. There’s an abundance of players who could fill the spots. In addition to Burns and Dollander, Camden Sewell and Maui Ahuna landed on the Preseason Second Team.

I love Sewell’s chances to land on the first team because I believe he’s going to be Tennessee’s most used reliever but is unlikely to be a starter due to the three returning starters and even Seth Halvorsen’s experience as a SEC weekend starter could see him earn starts over Sewell if anyone got injured.

But Sewell’s production will be elite and his usage will be high.

Jared Dickey and Blake Burke are two players that didn’t earn preseason All-SEC accolades but it would not surprise me if they worked their way onto the first team. Burke hit a ridiculous 14 home runs in 95 at-bats. With a bigger role this season, it would shock no one to see Burke hit 20 long balls. While first base is stacked in the SEC including LSU star Tre Morgan, Burke could rake enough at the plate to earn the honor.

Dickey was extremely impressive at the plate while in-and-out of the lineup with injuries last season. The elite contact hitter with power hit 8-of-13 in Tennessee’s weekend scrimmage and admitted the baseball looks “like a beach ball” right now.

Any of those six players landing on the First Team would not surprise me. I think at least four do it. If you made me pick four I’d take Dollander, Burke, Dickey and Sewell,

Tennessee Improves Upon Last Season’s Nation Best ERA

Tennessee ran away with the nation’s best ERA last season, posting a 2.51 team-ERA which was a full 0.78 better than the nation’s next best Southern Miss.

The logic says there’s nowhere to go but down for Tennessee’s pitching staff. To quote Lee Corso, “not so fast, my friend!”

The entirety of Tennessee’s elite weekend rotation is back and I have complete confidence Dollander and Burns will, at the worst, be as good as they were last season. I expect Drew Beam to be somewhere in the middle of what we saw the first three months of the season and the final month when he seemingly physically broke down.

While Tennessee lost an abundance of important bullpen arms, I think they’re more than fine there. I touched on my confidence in Sewell last section but power right handed arms Seth Halvorsen, Andrew Lindsay and Zach Joyce provide top end velocity and talent.

Kirby Connell is the only left-handed bullpen arm with extended experience but I have plenty of trust that a few of Wyatt Evans, junior college transfer Jacob Bimbi, Jake Fitzgibbons and Zander Sechrist will make a sizable step forward.

There’s talent, there’s depth and Frank Anderson is still at the helm. It may seem improbable, but I think Tennessee’s team-ERA will improve from where it was last season.

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