(CTN News) – I’m back. We’re ready for another unforgettable SEC baseball season from Opening Day to the College World Series.
1. What’s next for Tennessee?
Tony Vitello’s Vols surprised everyone in 2021 by winning 50 games. Expectations were high last season, and the Vols delivered. In the regular season and tournament, they won 56 games … and then they lost to Notre Dame in the regionals.
Vitello’s squad belongs at the top of the league. A year ago, UT’s bats were dazzling, but their SEC Baseball pitchers were a bit young … until they got on the mound. It’s a different story this year.
Pitchers are proven (maybe the most talented in the country), and hitters are young. Can they win when it counts? Can Chase Dollander and Chase Burns pitch UT to victory? No. 2 or No. 3 in most rankings, UT could end up No. 1
Let’s do this. LSU is even better?
Take LSU, for example. Paul Mainieri stepped down when LSU was fading into the middle of the SEC West. LSU had a 40-22 season with Jacob Berry following Johnson from Arizona and playing well.
Last year, they had plenty of hitting, but were thin on the mound and horrible on defense. A serious recruiting class was added to Johnson’s roster, topped by NC State slugger Tommy “Tanks” White.
3. Who’s the hottest SEC Baseball prospect next level?
It’s not Dollander or Burns in Knoxville, or Tommy Tanks in Baton Rouge. Dylan Crews is up there, but he’s not even the pick. Wyatt Langford is another guy in the running. However, the next big star is probably the defending champ. Gonzalez’s 2022 season wasn’t flawless. All in one.
4. What’s the most fun SEC player?
Probably Sonny DiChiara a year ago. His physique was that of a bowling league dad and he hit Ruthian blasts. A Samford transfer, he had an air of, “If you think you’re surprised, imagine how surprised I am.”
This year, don’t miss Enrique Bradfield, Jr. from Vandy. Exactly the opposite. Stolen bases are a thing of the past. Yet Bradfield evokes Rickey Henderson or Tim Raines.
5. This year’s Ole Miss-like surprise?
Again, Ole Miss. It’s a little less expected than LSU or A&M in the West. We’ll dig deeper. It was said that Auburn’s surprising run was thanks to Sonny D. Maybe not.
He’s not a rocket arm guy, but an experienced and crafty ace. Peirce and Foster have a solid track record. Don’t ignore Auburn. It’s still a rotten idea.
6. What can Florida do?
As a consensus top-5 team, Florida has been the most underachieving program in SEC baseball over the past couple seasons. This time, it might be better.
Last season, Wyatt Langford tied UF’s single-season homer record. But Brandon Sproat was almost certain to leave. The third-round draft pick returned to UF.
The Gators added Southern Miss transfer Hurston Waldrep, whose name sounds like a millionaire stranded on an island in a terrible show. The UF team has plenty of experience and talent.
7. Circling which series?
Conference play features must-see matches every week. Here are three that just jumped.
Of the opening SEC Baseball series matchups, LSU at Texas A&M (March 17-19) feels like the must-see. Of course, shortly thereafter, UT and LSU will face off in Baton Rouge on March 30-April 1. Vandy at Florida on May 12-14 might impact SEC Tournament seeding.
8. What will you be watching?
College SEC Baseball Showcase’s marquee matchup is Vandy-TCU. Watch Arkansas vs. Texas on that night as well. The UT team is in Arizona for MLB4. Jacob Wilson, a big-time prospect from Grand Canyon, will start for the Vols on Saturday. Arkansas and Vandy play each other on Saturday.
The Hogs play Oklahoma State on Sunday, while Vandy faces Texas. It’s obvious that big events are more challenging than home series. The bone isn’t hollow.
9. Will 2024 see a new coach hired?
Scott Stricklin may be out at Georgia. UT’s rise and COVID’s timing have combined to make 4th the de facto ceiling for the Bulldogs in 2018 and 2019. UGA might have to move in 2023 if South Carolina wins.
10. NCAA Tournament: Who will play? Where?
According to SEC Baseball America’s NCAA Tournament projections, 11 SEC baseball teams will participate. The only teams not on the field would be Georgia, Kentucky, and Missouri. UT, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, Vandy, and Ole Miss will host regionals, according to BA.
Both LSU and UT look talented. I predict UF to reach Omaha while Vandy just misses. Early predictions are that Auburn could be the surprise team in the SEC.