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VolQuest – On Deck: Looking ahead to Tennessee’s 2023 outfield

The 2022 MLB Draft has come and gone.

With the draft in the rearview mirror, Tennessee’s roster for next season is all but set. At Volquest, we’re looking ahead to what each position group will likely look like by the time next spring rolls around. We start with the Vols’ outfield.

Here’s a look at who is moving on, who is expected back and the newcomers to an outfield that will look brand-new in 2023.

Moving On

Tennessee’s going to feature a completely new starting outfield next season after each of its starting outfielders from this past season were drafted.

Starting centerfielder Drew Gilbert and right fielder Jordan Beck were each selected in the first round this past Sunday. Gilbert went No. 28 overall to the Houston Astros, while Beck was selected No. 38 overall by the Colorado Rookies in the Competitive Balance Round A portion of the first round.

The surprise in the outfield was starting left fielder Seth Stephenson. After one season on Rocky Top, the speedy Stephenson was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the seventh round with the 207th pick. Stephenson told Volquest that he will sign with the Tigers and move on to pro ball.

With all three starting outfielders moving on, the Vols must replace a combined production of 209 hits, 176 runs, 53 doubles, 33 home runs, 159 RBIs, 85 walks and 35 stolen bases.

Expected Back

Although Tennessee will lose its starting outfield from a season ago, it does return its reserves.

The most notable name returning is rising-junior Kyle Booker, who is primed to take over a starting position in the outfield. Booker flashed at times as a true freshman in 2021, but had his sophomore season somewhat derailed by an early season injury that he battled through.

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Still, Booker has played in 56 games, starting 18 of those contests. The Southaven, Mississippi native has the ability to be a breakout player in the SEC and for the first time on Rocky Top, the .272 career-hitter will be in position to do so.

The outfielder returning with the most experience for the Vols is Christian Scott, who is taking advantage of his free COVID year and returning for a fifth season. Scott has appeared in 116 career games and filled many roles whether it be as a starter, a key defensive replacement, a pinch-hitter or as a pinch-runner. Even if the Clarksville, Tennessee native doesn’t start, Scott is a valuable asset for Tony Vitello to have.

Other returning outfielders are soon-to-be senior Ethan Payne, redshirt-freshman Kavares Tears, and redshirt-sophomore Hunter Ensley.

Payne has been a reserve utility player for the Vols to this point in his career. The Memphis native has appeared in 31 career games and can play in the infield or the outfield.

Ensley has played sparingly the last two years, appearing in just 14 games, 13 of which were this past season. The Huntingdon, Tennessee native is having a good summer with the Santa Barbara Foresters of the California Collegiate League. In 15 games, Ensley is hitting .373 with one home run and 15 RBIs.

Tears is a very intriguing prospect who put on a show during batting practice last season as he redshirt in his first season with the program. The 6-foot outfielder who has as much power as anyone on the roster could also play first base or receive at-bats in the designated hitter spot.

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Rising redshirt-sophomore Jared Dickey who burst on to the scene last season as one of Tennessee’s best pure hitters could play in either corner outfield spot, but Dickey is working at catcher this offseason. Still, if he’s not catching, Dickey could find himself in the outfield.

Newcomers

Tennessee has several big time outfield prospects entering the program this offseason. Four of them to be exact.

The two most notable names incoming are Reese Chapman of Aurora, Colorado and Alex Stanwich of Tinley Park, Illinois. Both could have been drafted in this past week’s draft, but were set on coming to play for Vitello and had steep asking prices that teams weren’t willing to give them.

Chapman — the top player in the state of Colorado according to Perfect Game — has been a widely-known prospect for quite some time and the Vols are thrilled to get him on campus. In fact, they feel as if pro scouts missed on their evaluation of him. Chapman is already on campus for summer school and hitting baseballs off of the scoreboard.

Stanwich — the No. 127 overall player in the country — is viewed just as highly and in fact, his game has been compared to that of Beck’s. The 6-foot-2 outfielder has a big arm and unreal raw power that will be exciting to watch in hitter-friendly Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Tennessee is also set to bring in the No. 292 overall player in the country in Hays, Kansas outfielder Dylan Dreiling. He’s considered the second-best player in Kansas.

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Nearby Walters State outfielder Colby Backus is set to join the program and factor in heavily to the outfield competition. In 67 games, Backus hit .387 with 19 homers, 75 RBIs, 74 runs scored and seven stolen bases. He also hit 17 doubles as he was a First Team All-Conference member and Second Team NJCAA All American.

Backus played in the MLB Draft Summer League following the season and hit .333 in 15 games.

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