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Transfer Eric Rataczak Talks Committing To Tennessee Baseball, Upcoming MLB Draft

Photo by Jeffrey T Barnes/ Niagara Gazette

Niagara first baseman Eric Rataczak became Tennessee baseball’s third transfer commit of the offseason on Monday when he committed to the Vols over Wake Forest and others.

Why was Tennessee the right spot for Rataczak?

“‘Why is it not?’ would be an easier question,” Rataczak told RTI on Monday. “The place is amazing. Obviously, let’s start with the easy stuff. Their pedigree the last seven years under Coach V and that whole staff is out of this world. On top of that, I think the way they go about trying to bring in guys that are not only high quality players but high quality character wise.

I can probably go on for hours about different good things about them, but at the end of the day it’s the highest level of baseball with what seems like the highest quality of people and that’s all you can ask for.”

Rataczak committed to Tony Vitello and the Vols’ staff shortly following his weekend visit to Tennessee— the second of two visits that he took after entering the transfer portal following his redshirt junior season at Niagara.

A multitude of things about Tennessee stood out to Rataczak but the college town feel in a small city was near the top of the list.

“We went out to dinner in downtown Knoxville a couple of times and it’s a really cool college environment because it’s a college town but it’s not like a small town either,” Rataczak said. “It’s a good combination of a lot of people there but not so many that the college doesn’t matter. … So there’s a lot of people that are really fired up about the school so it’s a great place and you can feel the energy walking around. Especially if you’re walking around with Tony V. That guy is a rock star around there.”

A 6-foot-3, 215-pound first baseman who can also play corner outfield, Rataczak hit .396 with 17 home runs, 32 extra-base hits and 71 RBIs while earning conference player of the year honors last season at Niagara. Rataczak’s bat is a strength of his game as he flashes major power while also having stout bat-to-ball skills.

More From RTI: Former Tennessee Baseball Star Named MLB All-Star

In his lone season at Niagara, Rataczak posted an 8.7% strikeout rate and walked six more times than he struck out.

“I am pretty confident in all my abilities offensively,” Rataczak said. “Driving the ball, ideally over the fence. Left-handed bat for power is my game plan. I think an underrated part of my game is the battle mode with two strikes. I try to do everything I can not to strike out and try to keep my walks above my strikeouts which went well this year.”

Rataczak, who graduated with a Biology Degree and wants to pursue exercise science following his playing days, hit it off with Tennessee Director of Baseball Performance Quentin Eberhardt. The way the two hit it off was a big part of why Tennessee baseball was the right program for Rataczak.

“Another thing that was a big separator for me with Tennessee was Coach Q, their strength guy. Not a lot of places advertise that component too much,” Rataczak said. “Not only will he be super valuable in getting me right and getting all of our guys right on the field in terms of strength, mobility and conditioning but he also kind of presents me with the possibility of being another contact that I can have professionally outside of baseball potentially in that line of work. There are probably a lot of things I can learn from him not only that will get me right on the field but that I could take into my own career once baseball is over.”

Balancing his professional future is a big deal for Rataczak in the upcoming week. The left-handed first baseman is eligible in the upcoming MLB Draft and it’s a real possibility that the reigning MAAC Player of the Year will get drafted.

After a whirlwind college career, Rataczak is already 23-years old and turns 24 in January. Deciding whether he should start his professional career now or try and improve his draft stock by competing in the SEC is a tough question he’s facing.

“Playing in the SEC and playing for Tennessee would be very very beneficial for me for a lot of reasons,” Rataczak said. “But the problem is with my age is that another year older is another year less valued draft wise in the scout’s eyes. While I think it would be a slam dunk to go to Tennessee and play there and then join up with the pro ball route, not everyone that is making the professional decisions sees it that way.

“What I’m going to have to do in the next couple days here is me and my advisor are going to sit down with a long list of hypotheticals and how we’re going to approach them and kind of figure out what we’re looking for in terms of a cutoff whether it’s a round or a signing bonus type deal to try and figure out those numbers so we can figure out a better idea of how we’re going to go in the draft game plan wise.”

The 2024 MLB Draft begins on Sunday night and continues through next Tuesday. Monitoring Rataczak’s status will be one of the biggest storylines in what will be a busy draft for the Vols.

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