Tennessee baseball is at the midway point in fall practice.
Fall practice is extremely important in college baseball. The comparison to spring football one is an easy one but not accurate. Fall baseball is six weeks compared to the limited three-to-four weeks of preseason practice in the middle of the winter. Fall baseball often carries more weight for coaches than what happens in the preseason. So while we’re still four months away from Tennessee baseball’s season opener, what’s happening in fall practice has a great impact on the starting lineups you’ll see on opening day.
Tennessee is three weeks into fall camp and just played its first of two scrimmages against other opponents this fall when they faced Virginia Tech in Greeneville. I was traveling back from the football game in Tuscaloosa so didn’t make it and don’t have any stats from it though both GoVols247’s Ben McKee and The Daily Beacon’s Caleb Jarreau were in attendance and had updates.
I have been able to make eight intrasquad scrimmages so far this fall (including five since my last update) and with the help of other media members have obtained unofficial stats for all 12 Tennessee intrasquad scrimmages.
That’s enough preamble. Let’s get on to the notes and observations.
Let’s start with the highly touted transfers.
Clemson transfer Billy Amick and North Carolina State transfer Cannon Peebles have both fully looked the part.
Peebles has been perhaps Tennessee’s best, most consistent hitters this fall. The catcher is hitting over .400 in the fall and has shown real power from both sides of the plate. One thing that’s stood out about Peebles is his contact hitting while still flashing power. He has not struck out often and has been incredibly solid. I’m not a defensive catcher expert so I won’t presume to be one. While I think Peebles bat is more impressive than his defensive ability, he’s been more than serviceable behind the plate.
Amick hasn’t been as consistent at the plate but he’s still been consistent. His power is obvious and is tied with Peebles and Kavares Tears for the fall home run lead. The Clemson transfer is a high strikeout, high walk hitter. Where Amick plays defensively will be interesting. He was a DH and first baseman at Clemson and has mostly played third base this fall. He hasn’t been awful at the spot but I wouldn’t call defense his forte.
Missouri transfer Dalton Bargo is the third power five transfer and came to Tennessee with less hype than Amick and Peebles. Bargo hasn’t been spectacular at the plate but is no slouch either. What stands out most about Bargo is his versatility. He’s worked at a myriad of spots this fall including catcher.
Speaking of catcher, Cal Stark returned from injury two weeks ago and has been productive at the plate. Believe it or not, veteran catcher Charlie Taylor has been one of Tennessee’s better hitters at the plate this fall. While he doesn’t have an extra base hit, he’s hitting .400.
One final catcher note, it’s hard to see freshman Stone Lawless earning a big role this season but he’s the most impressive freshman catcher I’ve seen at Tennessee since Connor Pavolony. He’s going to be a good player in time.
Let’s move on to one of the biggest stories of fall— the shortstop competition. There’s been four players getting the lion’s share of the work at shortstop: Christian Moore, freshman Ariel Antigua, freshman Dean Curley and junior college transfer Alex Perry.
All have been solid defensively. Honestly, better than I anticipated defensively. That doesn’t mean they’ve been perfect and error free but there’s definitely been less fall mental lapses from that group and you can tell they’re dialed into the competition.
Moore has been good defensively and while he’s finally started to play some second base along with centerfield, he’s still spending most his time at shortstop. Antigua has much better range than I expected at shortstop but has been a little bit more inconsistent on the defensive end. While Antigua has hit well at the plate, especially in clutch opportunities, he’s striking out at a high rate.
Both Perry and Curley have been solid at the plate this fall and there’s not one guy in the competition that’s been a liability offensively. Strikeouts have been an issue for Perry as well as Antigua. Curley is one of the most impressive freshmen on the roster. He moves well and does a lot of little things well. He also has the ideal shortstop build. I don’t know if it’s at the shortstop, but I’m confident Curley is going to help Tennessee in some role this spring.
Bradke Lohry was also getting some work at shortstop before suffering an injury that’s expected to sideline him for a few weeks.
In my last update, I talked about the number of freshmen getting off to hot starts. Guys have predictably slowed down but a number are still very much holding their own including outfielder Holden Brauner, infielder Blake Grimmer, first baseman Robin Villeneuve and outfielder Jeremy Comer.
Brauner has been particularly impressive to me and has made a handful of impressive defensive plays as well.
Dylan Dreiling got off to an ice cold start to the fall, starting 0-for-12 with six strikeouts. He started making better contact a few weeks ago but was getting some poor luck for a stretch. But it finally feels like he’s returning to form. The sophomore is four-of-12 with a home run and double since the poor start. He also impressed against Virginia Tech on Sunday with this piss missile home run.
Staying in the outfield, Kavares Tears continues to be one of Tennessee’s best hitters this fall and is making it hard to picture an opening day lineup without him in it. Hunter Ensley and Reese Chapman have both had some struggles at the plate this fall but are going to be in the outfield competition all the way to the start of SEC play.
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We’re getting deep enough into fall practice where we have a pitching sample size large enough to draw some observations.
Drew Beam and Zander Sechrist finally made their fall debut last week and both pitched well. Beam was in classic form getting a lot of weak contact early in counts. Sophomore AJ Russell is the only major pitcher who hasn’t made his debut yet this fall.