Change can be good or bad, but second-year head coach Dave Serrano believes it is a great thing.
With intrasquad scrimmages now at a close and the team’s focus shifted toward their season opening four-game road series against UNLV (Feb. 15-17), many new faces will be out on the diamond for the Vols this spring.
In fact, 18 out of the 32 roster members of “Team 104” are true freshmen that will be the foundation of the program's future for the years to follow.
“We have a lot of new faces and there’s nothing wrong with it,” Serrano said. “It’s all for the good. We’ve turned the page a little bit as we go forward in a new direction in the way I want this program to go.”
While the coaching staff believes they have a very talented group of newcomers, one of their other main goals was to find players with good character.
“You can go to a game and evaluate a baseball player and his talents, but it’s getting to know those kids and what type of character you want in the baseball program,” he said. “For the most part the coaching staff has pretty much nailed it with the players we’ve brought in.”
Like any sport the transition from high school to college will be a challenge and present bumps along the road for the team. But leadership can help the maturation of a young ball player.
Despite only two seniors on the team, Zach Luther (INF) and Zack Godley (RHP), they have helped lead the way.
“They’ve really helped me and taken me under their wing,” freshman shortstop A.J. Simcox said. “Since day one they’ve been doing everything they can to help us grow.”
Simcox, who was a standout at Farragut High School, will be one of many freshmen to start for the Vols. He will look to fill the gap left at shortstop by Zach Osborne.
Godley’s leadership isn’t the only major asset he brings to the team as he looks to be the ace of a young pitching staff.
While the Vols finished with a 24-31 overall record and 8-22 mark in SEC play last season, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound power pitcher went 4-2 and posted a 3.50 ERA in 11 starts. He has continued to grow since Serrano arrived with the program.
“He’s turned into the leader of this program,” Serrano said. “He’s turned into a four pitch mix guy and he couldn’t say that a year ago. A lot of it is due to his work ethic. He took it and ran with it.”
Another player expected to lead the way for the Vols offensively is sophomore Will Maddox, who has made the change from second base to third base.
Last season he led the team from the plate with a .297 batting average and will look to be the spark plug in the lineup this season from the leadoff position.
However, what has impressed his coaches more is how he has handled the change of positions.
“Will went from an average second baseman to a great third baseman within five months,” Serrano said. “He is as good a defensive third baseman I’ve been around in my career. It isn’t just the routine plays, it’s the spectacular plays. You want some grit and toughness at third and he will bring that every day.”
While the coaching staff believes they will put a very good team out on the field defensively with a deep lineup and with many left handed and right handed hitters. They ultimately believe that the strength is going to be the growth of the team.
The team is excited to get the season started and believe it will be a big step in the right direction for the program.
“I think this year will be the starting year for good things to come,” Godley said. “I hope we can be a part of the first team to get Tennessee baseball back where it needs to be and to help this program get going.”
The Vols' first game at home will be Feb. 22 against No. 22 Arizona State.