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Catching up on Tennessee Baseball

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Would you like to see more coverage?

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 01 Div 1 Championship Chapel Hill Regional - Tennessee v UNC Wilmington Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, here in the past at Rocky Top Talk, we’ve not really covered the Tennessee baseball team. Essentially, the team wasn’t good, so people didn’t care and when people don’t care, we don’t put time/resources into that providing that content.

BUT — we think that’s in the process of changing.

Tennessee fired Rod Delmonico in 2007 after an 18-year run as the BaseVols manager. Delmonico, overall, was more successful than any other manager in Tennessee baseball history. He had just two losing seasons in 18 years and managed the team to three- straight SEC Tournament Championships. His career as Tennessee’s baseball manager ended when Mike Hamilton fired him after the team missed the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons in ‘06-’07.

The program withered under Delmonico’s two subsequent replacements, Todd Raleigh and Dave Serrano, for the next 10 seasons. Serrano had a lot of success at Cal State Fullerton, and that probably explains why Tennessee kept him for six seasons even though the team finished with a winning record in just three times during his tenure with the Vols.

Serrano was replaced by Tony Vitello, even though Vitello had never been a manager before. He had stints at Missouri, TCU and Arkansas as an assistant manager, but he had zero experience as a team’s head coach. It was a gamble, but at that point, what did the Vols really have to lose?

Vitello’s turned out to be a great hire — he finished with an overall 29-27 record in his first season and a 40-21 record with a third-place finish in the SEC and an NCAA Tournament appearance in his second season.

In his third season, Tennessee came out of the gates to a Usain-Bolt-like 15-2 record. Unfortunately, the season was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Besides the immediate improvement in Tennessee’s seasonal records, Vitello’s effect on the program is apparent because good teams require good players, and Vitello is getting those good players. In 2018, his first season, Vitello finished with the seventh-best recruiting class in the country. His finished seventh in 2019, 12th in 2020 and has the Vols ranked fourth for the 2021 class with four top-100 players.

Those good players get drafted and end up in Major League baseball’s farm system.

The best example, most recent example: Garrett Crochet.

Crochet was a freshman for UT in 2018 and was drafted 11th in the first round by the Chicago White Sox. Most guys get drafted and sometimes spend their entire careers in the minor leagues. But not Crochet. He became the 22nd player ever to skip all three tiers of MLB’s farm system and go straight from draft pick to playing in the big leagues. If you’ve seen his stuff, you’d know why. But if you haven’t, let’s all revel together in the beauty that is Crochet’s “Fantastic Four - Johnny Storm’s “FLAME ON,”” left arm.

Watch the video, and then watch it again — this time paying more attention to the placement of the catcher’s mitt before the pitch is thrown. That tells you where the ball is supposed to be going, and notice how the catcher’s glove doesn’t any on some pitches and hardly moves on others. It’s a good indication that not only does Crochet throw extremely rare heat, but he also puts it where he wants to. That accuracy is just as, if not more important than the speed of the pitch.

He’s not a one-pitch wonder, either, Check the wicked, buckle-your-knees slider he throws, too.

(NOTE: if you enjoy baseball and watching pitchers make hitters look silly follow @pitchingninja.)

Tennessee had six players drafted in the 2019 draft and three players taken in the 2020 draft. If Tennessee’s baseball team had stock options, I’d be kicking myself for not buying shares earlier on.

Now, the SEC is notoriously competitive in collegiate baseball, overshadowing the SEC’s dominance in football. And with the global pandemic looming and showing no real signs of going away, I don’t know what effect that will have on the spring sports like baseball.

But, with the Vols becoming a better baseball program, and getting guys like Crochet into the Majors, would more coverage of the BaseVols appeal to you guys, our readers? I’m asking for genuine response and interaction here, because if y’all will read about it, we’ll find a way to write about it.

Let us know in the comments section how you feel.

P.S.

Here’s a neat story about Crochet pitching just two weeks after getting his jaw broken.