If you were worried that the Tennessee Volunteers wouldn’t be able to reload (as opposed to a rebuild) after losing plenty of talent from a roster that bolstered a record-breaking season in 2022, you can probably shelve those concerns — for now.
With a top-15 recruiting class coming in and a number of big-time transfers joining the program this summer, Tony Vitello’s ballclub is considered the No. 2-ranked team in college baseball ahead of the 2023 season, according to Baseball America's “Never Too Early 2023 Top 25”.
The deadline for MLB Draft picks to sign with their respective professional teams has passing. The transfer portal (finally) quieted down, even though it hasn’t officially closed quite yet. So, this means that the rosters across college baseball are starting to take shape, and the Vols’ roster is loaded once again.
As far as the SEC is concerned, Tennessee trails only LSU in the way-too-early rankings, with nine total SEC teams in the top 25 which also includes three of the top four teams on the list and five teams in the top 10. The SEC had four of the eight teams in the College World Series this past season, which lends some credence to the notion that the SEC might be the premier college baseball conference in the country. Then, of course, despite making the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid, Ole Miss brought home the College World Series Championship. That doesn’t hurt, either.
Back to LSU: the Tigers rank first on BA’s list despite notching just a 17-13 record in conference play and a 40-22 record overall. Second-year manager Jay Johnson, formally of Arizona, returns a bunch of talent from this past season and added a handful of some of the top players in the transfer portal, too.
Although the Volunteers lost plenty of talent to the MLB Draft, Vitello and company have done their best to make up for their losses by adding a number of key players via the transfer portal, including first-team All-Big 12 shortstop Maui Ahuna (Kansas), third baseman Zane Denton (Alabama), outfielder Griffin Merritt (Cincinnati), and pitcher Andrew Lindsey (Charlotte). Unfortunately, two of Tennessee’s top targets in the portal, Tommy White (NC State) and Paul Skenes (Air Force) both chose LSU over the Vols.
Tennessee lost plenty of firepower in their lineup and a number of key pitchers, but the Volunteers return all of their now award-laden, weekend starters. Pair that with a number of key additions in the portal and it’s the main reason Vitello’s Vols are considered to be one of the best teams in college baseball next season.
After spending much of the last two months of the season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Tennessee was upset by Notre Dame in the Super Regionals to end what was still a special 2022 season. If the rankings tell us anything ahead of next season, the Volunteers have a chance to be dominant on the field once again.
Only time will tell, but the fact that the Vols lost all of that talent and are still considered to have the No. 2-ranked team ahead of the 2023 season says a lot. Vitello and company are building something special in Knoxville, a team that reloads — not a team that rebuilds.