Happy game week. Tennessee baseball opens up its 2024 season in just three days and we’re continuing our season preview. After looking at Tennessee baseball’s infield yesterday, today we move on to the outfield.
The Vols return just one starter from last season’s outfield but they have a number of returning players poised for breakout seasons and another transfer who’s firmly in the mix for a starting spot.
Let’s dive into the 2024 group.
What We Know
The Man In The Middle
Center fielder Hunter Ensley is the lone returning starter in Tennessee’s outfield. A season ago, Ensley wasn’t a favorite to win the center field competition, but he did just that.
Ensley was the steady man for the Vols. He didn’t have much prior center field experience, at least in college, but he was a solid defender and provided consistency at the plate.
The Tennessee native hit .280 with seven doubles, seven home runs and 31 RBIs over the course of the season but he was more productive in conference play where his .318 average was second best on the team and he totaled over half his doubles (four) and home runs (four).
Ensley is Tennessee’s starting center fielder without a doubt this season. The question is how big of a jump can he make from his redshirt sophomore to redshirt junior season. If he takes another step forward at the plate then the Vols’ offense could become extremely dangerous.
The Starting DH Likely Comes From The Outfield
This point ties directly into the incoming discussion about right field so I won’t discuss this too much here
But entering the season, Kavares Tears (.304/.379/.518 in 56 at-bats) and Missouri transfer Dalton Bargo (.279/.379/.442 in 165 at-bats) are the two most likely players to start at designated hitter for Tennessee.
It’s hard not to really like the two bats and they’re both going to have a great chance to be a big part of Tennessee’s lineup. My bet is that one ends up starting in right field and the other ends up getting the most starts at designated hitter.
The potential exceptions here are when Cannon Peebles isn’t starting at catcher and if Zane Denton ends up playing this season.
This Group Is The X-Factor For The Offense
In fairness, this is more of a prediction than something we know.
But four of the five starters in Tennessee’s infield have already been a full time starter either in the ACC or SEC, and while they can improve their production we have a decent feel for what the Vols are going to get from them.
But the outfield includes one returning starter and a number of players who have been effective bench bats but haven’t stepped into major roles yet. That makes it hard to predict how productive they’ll be.
More on that in a bit.
More From RTI: Tennessee Baseball 2024 Infield Preview
Questions Entering The Season
Who Starts In Right Field?
More on the right field debate. Bargo and Tears seem the two most likely candidates here but I’m not ruling out sophomore Reese Chapman either.
Chapman was a highly touted prep recruit and has more range in the outfield than either Bargo or Tears. He struggled a bit at the plate in the fall but is still a talented hitter and has a high ceiling.
But Bargo and Tears both seem ahead in the competition, in my opinion. After redshirting his freshman season and being a reserve bat last year, Tears is poised for a breakout season. Bargo showed his hitting prowess as a freshman at Missouri last year and has more growing room.
One big question is how good the two can be defensively. Tears came to Tennessee position-less and has worked extremely hard to improve as an outfielder. His arm is as strong as any outfielder Tennessee has had under Vitello. His range is the question but that isn’t as big of a concern at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
My prediction is for Tears to win the starting right field job but I think he and Bargo are both going to have serious roles.
How Good Can The Returning Players Stepping Into New Roles Be?
Apologies for being this far into the article before mentioning Dylan Dreiling. The left-handed outfielder hit .295 with seven home runs, 15 extra-base hits and 20 RBIs in just 95 at-bats during his freshman season.
Dreiling is going to be Tennessee’s starting left fielder this season and as a draft eligible sophomore, this could be his last season in Knoxville. The Kansas native is extremely talented and was incredibly impressive as a pinch hitter last season.
He has an extremely high ceiling and could be a real difference maker for the Vols this season.
Tears is another highly-talented outfielder who has been in the program for multiple years and could now step into an even bigger role.
How effective these two guys can be at the plate is a major question for this Tennessee team. It’s why the outfield could be the X-factor for the Vols’ offense this season.
Who Provides Meaningful Depth?
Behind Ensley, Dreiling, Bargo, Tears and Chapman there’s a decent sized gap. So who provides depth for Tennessee in the outfield.
In the corner spots it’s likely Chapman if he doesn’t end up in the starting lineup. Bargo is also fully capable of playing left field.
Centerfield is where I’m truly not sure who the backup is. Christian Moore has worked at center field some this offseason but the junior moving to the outfield would leave some real questions in the middle infield.
Former junior college transfer Colby Backus redshirted last season but impressed me more in the fall and in the preseason, particularly with his ability to play center field.
Freshman Holden Brauner did some impressive things defensively in the fall but Brauner as well as fellow freshman Jeremy Comer are more likely to be midweek guys in their debut college seasons.
Million Dollar Marco lays $200,000 on Tennessee Volunteers to win March Madness
Million Dollar Marco is throwing down wagers on March Madness.
Putting his bet down on DraftKings, Marco Piemonte, formerly of Betr Media, laid down a big wager on the Tennessee Volunteers to win the college basketball national championship.
His $200,000 wager at 14/1 will win $3 million if Tennessee does make it through the gauntlet of top teams in front of them.
KenPom has the Volunteers ranked No. 7 overall in adjusted efficiency margin, behind Alabama, Auburn, Arizona, Connecticut, Purdue and Houston.
The odds don’t exactly showcase those respected rankings, though, as Tennessee still has the fifth-best odds on the board for the March Madness Tournament.
Auburn actually comes in behind Tennessee at 18/1 despite having the same 20-6 overall record as the Volunteers.
Alabama understandably sits as the lowest of the group in terms of odds at 20/1, despite undoubtedly being talented.
Their 19-7 record could provide some seeding problems for the Crimson Tide once mid-March rolls around.
Piemonte is known to be fearless when firing from the hip on these bets.
You may remember when the Rams won the Super Bowl in 2022, he had a $117,750 bet on the Rams to win the Big Game.
That wager won him $1,118,625, and just like that, “Million Dollar” Marco was born.
His 2023 March Madness Tournament results left much to be desired, as Piemonte claimed to end the college basketball season down $105,000.
“Ended “March madness” down 105k,” Piemonte wrote in an Instagram post.
Betting on College Basketball?
“Had a lot of W’s & a lot of L’s, but I’ll NEVER ever let losing control my emotions- we had pictures scheduled for tonight & even though Texas lost I went outside & smiled for family pictures ❤️
On to the next bet – next game – next million-dollar win! Melt down hurt bad, though I won’t lie to you.”
He looks to reverse his fortunes and then some with this sly bet on the Volunteers.
Tennessee ranks 10th in fatal crashes due to poor road design, study says
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) – Tennessee has the tenth most car crash deaths due to poor road design in the country, according to a new study by Dismuke Law.
The Florida-based law firm analyzed the latest National Highway Travel Safety Administrate (NHTSA) data on fatal crashes where poor road design, such as inadequate warning of exits, obscured pavement marking and inadequate construction, was recorded as a contributing factor in the crash, according to a media release.
Between 2017 and 2021, Tennessee had 36 fatal crashes involving poor road design out of 5,304 total fatal crashes, ranking the state 10th in the country on the list for percentage of fatal crashes caused by poor road design.
Arkansas had the highest percentage of crashes caused by poor road design, followed by Alaska and North Dakota.
“This data is a reminder of the dangers that people face when on the road, and it’s not just other road users that we need to be aware of, but also the conditions of the road itself,” David Dismuke, Attorney at Dismuke Law said in the media release.
The study found more than 100 fatal accidents in America every year had inadequate road design listed as a related cause or factor.
Copyright 2024 WSMV. All rights reserved.
Jacksonville State earns 76-68 victory against Middle Tennessee
JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (AP) — Matt Mayers scored 18 points and Jacksonville State beat Middle Tennessee 76-68 on Wednesday night.
Mayers added six rebounds for the Gamecocks (13-14, 5-7 Conference USA). KyKy Tandy scored 11 points while shooting 2 for 15 (0 for 3 from 3-point range) and 7 of 7 from the free throw line. Ivan Reynolds was 3 of 9 shooting and 4 of 7 from the free throw line to finish with 10 points.
The Blue Raiders (11-16, 5-7) were led by Jared Jones, who posted 19 points and seven rebounds. Justin Bufford added 12 points and two blocks for Middle Tennessee. Elias King also put up 11 points and five assists.
The Associated Press created this story using technology provided by Data Skrive and data from Sportradar.
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