Tennessee baseball improved last season, with a few breaks and a little luck the Vols were close to making the SEC Tournament.
While that didn’t happen, fourth year head coach Todd Raleigh saw improvement last spring, but more importantly vast improvement this past few months of fall baseball.
“We had a great fall season,” Raleigh told Rocky Top News and InsideTennessee.com .”We made a lot of big strides this fall. We will have a lot of new faces this season.”
Consistency this past season, especially on the mound was one of the key factors that kept the Vols from taking that next step.
“We really pitched well this fall,” said an excited Raleigh “We will finally have depth at that position as well as at other places on the field.”
One of the Vols most consistent performers on the mound was junior lefty Steven Gruver.
“Steven will play a major role for us this spring,” Raleigh said. “He was one of our best pitchers last spring and he will even be better this season.”
Another name that makes Raleigh smile while talking about his throwers is true sophomore Drew Steckenrider. The talented athlete will see a lot of action in the Vols rotation this spring.
“Drew is getting stronger all the time,” Raleigh said. “We are expecting big things from him.”
Steckenrider was a starter for the Vols in the outfield last spring and pitched on a limited basis. This spring those roles will be reversed.
Red-shirt freshman Jon Reed is another reason that Raleigh is smiling more these days.
Add the return of senior Rob Catapano and the addition of Jerrod Peper and Raleigh has the makings of an all-star cast.
Defense is expected to be another strong suit for the Vols this spring.
With most of the infield returning things look bright.
The infield will be led by short stop Zach Osborn Matt Duffy at third, and senior Khayan Norfolk at second.
The two biggest changes will be at first base and at the catcher position.
“Losing Cody Hawn and Blake Forsyth isn’t easy but I think we will be ok at those two spots,” Raleigh said. “Davis Morgan at first and we will count on Matt Ramsey at the catcher position.”
Ramsey, who was last year’s closer will also see action in that role. Others expected to battle for the first base position will be Tyler Horne and Josh Lyles.
Andrew Toles, a true freshman is expected to play center, Chris Fritts at left and either Charlie Thurber or Josh Lyles in right.
The biggest change for this year’s baseball team may come from another source other than the roster.
According to Raleigh the changes that the NCAA and SEC has made in the bats will cause the biggest noticeable change in the game that he has ever seen.
“The bats are totally different,” Raleigh stated. “Everyone in the country home run number’s were down. No one will hit 80 home runs this season.”
The bats have been changed to help avoid major injuries.
“The college game will really change this spring,” Raleigh said. “It will be more like a wooden bat game than ever before. It will be interesting to see how it affect the league. It’s going to be more of a defensive type game all the way around. A lot more strategy will be involved, speed will play an important factor in your success.”
Raleigh also realizes that his Vols are in perhaps the toughest league and division in the country.
“Florida returns everyone, South Carolina is going to be really good, they just won the National Championship,” Raleigh said. “Vanderbilt bring backs a lot of guys and I like our chances as well.”
That’s just the east division run down.
The West Division is also going to be interesting.
“Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss, are always good,” Raleigh said. “Mississippi State will be better. We have the best teams in the country in this conference, this season it may be the best its ever been.”
East Division Predictions