Entering his third season of rebuilding the Tennessee baseball program, head coach Todd Raleigh believes this year’s team will be the most successful year he has had since arriving in Knoxville. A big reason will be the addition of 13 new Vols who make up the 14th-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to Baseball America.
This class includes eight freshmen, four junior college players and one transfer.
“We’ve added a lot of talent and depth to our roster with this class,” Raleigh said. “(The incoming players) have helped to create an even more competitive atmosphere in our practices.”
The top newcomer could be Matt Duffy, a transfer from Vermont who came to Tennessee after the Catamounts cut its baseball program after last season. Duffy will play third base for the Vols after spending the past two seasons at shortstop. Raleigh is extremely high on the All-American and 2009 American East Player of the Year after he hit .388 with 13 home runs, 57 runs scored and 57 RBIs last season.
“Matt is pretty good,” Raleigh said Tuesday at the team’s Media Day. “When you have an opportunity to get somebody who’s already established in college baseball, that’s the best indicator to me of success because he’s already achieved it at this level. … He’s tremendous defensively, and he’s a guy who would probably hit third or fourth in the order for most teams in the country.”
Freshman Cody Stubbs, a 29th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2009 MLB Draft, is another newcomer that Raleigh feels will climb his way up the batting order.
“I do feel like we have arguably one of the top freshmen in the country (in) Cody Stubbs,” Raleigh said. “He’s certainly going to push (Cody Hawn at first base) and be that (designated hitter) for us.”
Chris Fritts, a freshman from Texas, is battling P.J. Polk for playing time in left field.
“He’s an SEC Player of the Year type of kid down the road,” Raleigh predicted. “I think he can help us right now (too).”
Another freshman outfielder, Drew Steckenrider, is a switch hitter from Georgia who will also see playing time after being one of the top high school players in the country last season.
Khayyan Norfolk, a junior college transfer from Jackson State, is competing with Cody Grisham for time at second base.
“(Norfolk) brings a lot of speed,” Raleigh said. “He brings an element we haven’t had since I’ve been here. … He brings a lot of excitement.”
Pitcher Alan Walden, a 43rd round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves in the 2009 MLB Draft out of Chattanooga, is considered a “wild card” by Raleigh because he missed all of last season with an injury.
“He has a chance to be a very special player one day,” Raleigh said. “I don’t want to thrust too much on him right now, but he’s a player who could be pitching on the weekends for most teams in the country because he’s that outstanding.”
Rob Catapano, a left-handed pitcher from Knoxville, transferred to UT from North Carolina following the 2008 season and will be eligible this fall after sitting out last season.
“Rob is doing well,” Raleigh said. “I think Rob is only going to get better when the weather gets better and the more he gets out there (on the mound).”
Raleigh considers his Vols a top 25 team this year. He believes they are more athletic, physical and deeper than his past teams, due in large part to the newcomers on the roster. All-American Cody Hawn tends to agree.
“We’re going to have a good mix of new kids, who are going to come in and do a lot for us,” Hawn said. “They’re really going to bring another dimension to what we have now.”