After three Vols heard their names called on the first day of the 2022 MLB draft (Drew Gilbert at No. 28, Jordan Beck at No. 38 and Blade Tidwell at No. 52), there’s been more orange and white in day two of the draft than drivers see from traffic barrels on Knoxville interstates.
Trey Lipscomb — Washington Nationals — Round 3 — 84th pick
Lipscomb was the first Vol to go on day two as he went early in the third round to the Washington Nationals. The Nats here, maybe more with Lipscomb than with other players, are making a ceiling play and hoping his one season of outrageous production is a sign of things to come rather than an aberration.
Lipscomb bided his time in Knoxville, registering just 70-ish combined at bats in his first three seasons as a Vol, despite being a top-5 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class, via Perfect Game. His patience paid off in a big way, as Lipscomb’s 2022 year was good enough for legitimate SEC Player of the Year contention. He got edged out by LSU’s Dylan Crews and Ole Miss’ Sonny DiChiara but finished first on Tennessee in home runs (21), hits (86), RBIs (80), and total bases (170).
Ben Joyce — Los Angeles Angels — Round 3 — 89th pick
Just five picks later, Ben Joyce, AKA, “The Volunteer Fireman,” — nicknamed coined by the one and only Pitching Ninja Twitter account — went to the Angels.
Joyce became an internet sensation this year, regularly setting and breaking NCAA (and MLB) pitch-speed records.
Ben Joyce's 105.5 MPH Fastball. pic.twitter.com/4a2R8iMw1A— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 1, 2022
I think this was the fastest one of the season — fastball that came in cooking at 105.5 MPH. For the ... record... Aroldis Chapman currently owns the mark for the fastest pitch in MLB history at 105.1 set back in 2010.
Joyce’s season wasn’t all flash and no substance: in 27 games, he pitched 32.1 innings, allowed 18 hits and eight earned runs, with 53 Ks to just 18 BBs. That 14.8 K/9 figure is just staggering. I could be wrong here, but near the end of the year, it looked like we started to see some two-seam movement on some of the heaters, too. That’s scary. The slider has the makings of a legitimate “out pitch,” but there’s refinement coming, somewhere, because, at times, Joyce was, well, vol...atile — indicated by his eight wild pitches and 3 HBP. He’s already had the seemingly prerequisite Tommy John surgery on that right arm and, according to folks who know much more about that stuff than me, his delivery shouldn’t scare anybody off.
Got some analysis videos back from our friends at @proplayai . Gave them high speed side angle video of 15 of the top 22 pitchers on my board and 4 more from my overall top 100— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) July 16, 2022
Best arm speed and longest stride length? Well of course: Ben Joyce pic.twitter.com/6JfhrPQ32q
Take the 105 MPH and figure the rest out later.
Will Mabrey — Arizona Diamondbacks — Round 6 — 168th pick
Somehow, quietly, Will was ... Mabrey... Tennessee’s most reliable arm out of the bullpen, aside from closer Redmond Walsh. He gave up just 34 hits against 158 total batters across 41 innings of work and allowed just 12 earned runs. The Cookeville, TN, native walked just five batters compared to his 52 punchouts (which led all UT bullpen pitchers), and while he doesn’t have the high-90s stuff that misses bats and grabs eyeballs, his control and toned-down mechanics are attractive to a D’Backs organization in need of any and all relief pitchers.
As attractive as the fireballers are, there will always be a place in the MLB for guys who can consistently put the ball where they want to. In three seasons with the Vols and through 53 total innings, Mabrey walked eight guys. That’s it. Eight.
#MLBDraft sleeper pick?— Pramana (@PramanaLabs) July 17, 2022
Take a look at @BaseballAmerica #436 LHP Will Mabrey (#Vols) - "plus-plus control" in his BA scouting report.
Here's the list of ALL previous times BA described a pitcher as having elite, premium, plus-plus, double-plus or 70-grade control. @jjcoop36 pic.twitter.com/uIF4g8PXuB
Jorel Ortega — Minnesota Twins — Round 6 — 174th pick
Ortega went off the board next and is another example of a player who waited his turn and then took full advantage. Ortega didn’t wait around as long as Lipscomb, but he sat out his entire freshman year rehabbing an injury and played sparingly last season.
He also had some big shoes to fill, replacing Max Ferguson — a guy who hit 12 HRs and stole 15 bases hitting mostly out of the two-hole. Ortega surpassed Ferguson’s stats and ended up one of the most productive hitters in the lineup. He slashed .323/.398/.672 and finished the year tied for second in HRs and total bases, with 18 and 158, respectively, and tied for third in RBIs with 61.
Ortega finished tied with Cortland Lawson for second on the team in fielding errors (10), but I’m not gonna pretend to know enough about baseball to tell you if his glove is gonna be an issue at higher levels of competition or not. Buddy can SMASH dingers, though, so, ya know, there’s that.
Seth Stephenson — Detroit Tigers — Round 7 — 207th pick
Tennessee’s part-time leadoff man and on-call speedster went next, and there’s plenty to like about Stephenson’s game. I remember watching him run and thinking “this guy may win a game for us on the base paths.” I don’t really know if that ever happened explicitly, his 25 steals in 30 attempts may still under-represent his speed, something that’s inherently more effective on offense when the player gets on base.
Stephenson finished the season tied for third on the team with a .339 average, which is terrific, but his walk numbers and on-base percentage indicate he needs a more discerning eye if he’s gonna hit leadoff at whichever Tigers affiliate he ends up on. He walked just 15 times all year — which ranked him dead last among any Vol who played with even a glimmer of consistency. He’s got power enough to pull HRs, but he’s not winning any HR derbies.
I imagine Detroit would like to try him in center field. where his wheels get the most utility.
Mark McLaughlin — Chicago White Sox — Round 7 — 221st pick
McLaughlin (27) was tied for second this season behind Kirby Connell (30) in most appearances for a Tennessee pitcher, and he posted a 2.01 ERA in those 30-ish innings. He’s a big guy, at 6-3, 205, but he doesn’t overpower hitters with a high-90s fastball. He’s touched mid-90s, but maybe he keeps filling out and makes that more regular.
Batters hit just .191 off him this year, and McLaughlin walked just 12 batters compared to 42 Ks.
Cortland Lawson — Washington Nationals — Round 10 — 441st pick
Lawson was the 10th — yes, the 10th — Vol selected in the 2022 MLB Draft and the second one heading to the Nats, joining Lipscomb.
Lawson hit at or near the bottom of the order all season and still managed 12 HRs, 45 RBIs and a .269 average. I don’t know where he projects moving forward, but he had a rough postseason in the field. Four of his 10 total fielding errors came in the NCAA Tournament, and some lenient scoring saved him from maybe another one or two. I’m not knocking the guy — shortstop is a ridiculously hard position to play. It was just unfortunate the way it all played out.
He’s 6-2, 200 pounds with a frame that looks like it will continue to fill out well if maybe the Nats want to fiddle around with trying him somewhere else. But then, if I remember correctly, he essentially led Tennessee in fielding percentage all season until the postseason tournament, so is it even fair to call his fielding that much into question? Whatever — I certainly don’t know.
Either way, Lawson’s from Virginia, so him getting drafted by the Nationals is a neat story, at least.