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Tennessee baseball buzz is back with top 3 preseason ranking

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To no one’s surprise, Tennessee baseball has a lot of buzz ahead of the 2023 season. 

Returning their whole starting rotation, as well as bringing in one of the best transfer classes, has put the Vols at No. 2 in Perfect Game’s preseason top 25. The SEC had three of the top five teams with LSU at No. 1 and Arkansas at No. 4.

As for other SEC teams in the top 25, Ole Miss came in at No. 6, Florida at No. 8, Texas A&M at No. 10, Vanderbilt at No. 11, and Auburn at No. 17. 

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There will be no easy weekends in the SEC.

“In total, the SEC looks poised for dominance once again as 7 of the top 11 ranked teams are from the conference,” Perfect Game wrote. “The ACC and the Big 12 look super competitive and deep while the Big 10 gets one representative in the Top 25 in Maryland.”

Tony Vitello and the Vols lose a lot of talent from the 2022 team that saw a program-record 57 wins, an SEC regular season title, an SEC tournament title, and the No. 1 overall seed. 10 players, including all eight starters in the field, were drafted following the 2022 campaign.

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Returning the starting rotation is huge for the Vols going into 2023. Highly touted sophomore Chase Burns impressed many during his freshman season. He was named to Perfect Game’s preseason All-American first team. 

Burns finished 2022 with a 2.91 ERA in 80.1 innings pitched. He struck out 103 while only giving up 25 walks.

“The true freshman class of 2022 was immediately impactful but sometimes getting lost in the shuffle was Burns who was a true Friday night ace for a top SEC program right away,” Perfect Game wrote. “Early reports are that he’s only improved which is hard to imagine a 19 year old right-hander who already flirts with triple digits doing. It’s rare to see a true freshman do the things Burns did in season but that just makes expectations even greater for the second year right-hander.”

Chase Dollander joins Burns on Perfect Game’s preseason All-American first team. Dollander found a lot of success in 2022, and he was a staple in Tennessee’s rotation. 

Dollander finished 2022 with a 2.39 ERA in 79 innings. He only gave up 13 walks and struck out 108. Opponents hit just .179 off of Dollander. 

“It’s true swing-and-miss stuff and reports are that Dollander was routinely sitting 96-100 mph this fall,” Perfect Game wrote. “There’s five pitches here to miss bats with a put-away slider highlighting the arsenal. Dollander is likely the best pitching prospect to come out of the draft in a long time and is a true 1:1 candidate as well.”

The Vols brought in Alabama third baseman Zane Denton, Cincinnati outfielder Griffin Merritt, and Charlotte reliever Andrew Lindsey via the transfer portal. 

Tennessee’s highest-rated transfer is Kansas shortstop Maui Ahuna. Ahuna was named a Perfect Game preseason third-team All-American. He hit .396 in the big 12, finishing with eight home runs and 48 RBIs.

All four transfers will likely have an immediate impact for the Vols in 2023. Lindsey is expected to slide into the closer role for Tennessee baseball while Ahuna seems to be the favorite to be the starting shortstop. 

The Vols open the season on Feb. 17 when they travel to Scottsdale, Arizona to play in the MLB4 tournament. For the SEC schedule, Tennessee will host Texas A&M, Florida, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Kentucky while traveling to Missouri, LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, and South Carolina.

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