Tennessee Baseball 2021 Position Preview: Infielders & Catchers

UT Baseball / Credit: UT Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The 2021 baseball season is right around the corner and leading up to opening day, UTSports.com will preview each position group for this year’s team.

Next up are Tennessee’s infielders and catchers. Read about UT’s outfielders HERE.

The Vols will have tons of depth on the infield with all of their starters and key contributors returning. UT also brings back it’s primary starting catcher in preseason All-American Connor Pavolony.

More info on Tennessee’s infielders and catchers can be seen below.

INFIELDERS

Returners (Listed Numerically)

#2 Max Ferguson – Junior – 6-1 / 180 – Atlantic Beach, Fla.
Career Stats (2 Seasons): 47 GP, 35 GS, .267 AVG, 120 AB, 23 R, 32 H, 3 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, .358 SLG, 27 BB, 23 K, .414 OBP, 13 SB

Ferguson enters his junior season with lofty expectations after a great start in 2020 prior to the season being shut down. Ferguson has been tabbed as a preseason All-American by three different outlets and is essentially a lock to be an everyday starter for the Big Orange. On top of his elite athleticism, Ferguson is a versatile fielder with the ability to play second base, first base and the outfield. The Florida native batted .333 with 12 runs, two homers and .462 on-base percentage last season. Ferguson also finished the shortened season ranked second in the SEC with nine stolen bases despite missing four games.

On top of his preseason All-America recognition, Ferguson is also one of the top pro prospects in college baseball this year. The junior came in at No. 24 on D1Baseball.com’s Top 2021 College MLB Draft Prospects list. He is likely to open the season as UT’s starting second baseman.

#4 Liam Spence – Senior – 6-1 / 190 – Geelong, Australia
Career Stats (1 Season): 16 GP, 16 GS, .346 AVG, 52 AB, 13 R, 18 H, 3 2B, 1 HR, 12 RBI, .462 SLG, 12 BB, 10 K, .462 OBP, 2 SB

Spence joined the Vols prior to last season after spending two years in the JUCO ranks at Central Arizona College. Spence was UT’s starting shortstop last year and wasted no time showing why he won the job. The Australia native ranked third on the team with a .346 batting average and drove in 12 runs in 16 games played. Spence was also as reliable as they come defensively, committing just one error in 69 chances last season and leading the team with 56 assists while spending time at shortstop and second base. Spence is the frontrunner to be Tennessee’s opening day shortstop again this season.

#7 Jake Rucker – Junior – 6-1 / 195 – Greenbrier, Tenn.
Career Stats (2 Seasons): 78 GP, 71 GS, .290 AVG, 245 AB, 41 R, 71 H, 14 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR, 41 RBI, .400 SLG, 30 BB, 41 K, .375 OBP, 5 SB

Rucker enters the 2021 season as one of Tennessee’s most experienced infielders, having started 71 games over his two seasons on Rocky Top. After starting 54 games as a freshman, Rucker started all 17 games on the infield in 2020 before the season was canceled and was on pace to set career highs in nearly every statistical category. He led the team with 21 hits and ranked fourth in both home runs (three) and RBI (13).

The Greenbrier, Tennessee, native was named to the Round Rock Classic All-Tournament Team last season after helping lead the Vols to wins over No. 1 Texas Tech, Houston and No. 25 Stanford. Rucker was named a preseason third-team All-American by Baseball America last week and is expected to be a staple in the starting lineup while playing third base for the Big Orange. He has the ability to play shortstop and second base, as well. Rucker was No. 56 on Baseball America’s Top 2021 College MLB Draft Prospects list.

#13 Cortland Lawson – Sophomore – 6-2 / 200 – Potomac Falls, Va.

Lawson did not see action as a true freshman in the shortened 2020 season. The Virginia native was the 280th rated player in the nation by Perfect Game and the No. 2 ranked player in the state of Virginia coming out of high school. Lawson was named to the 2020-21 SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll last year and will look to earn some playing time on Tennessee’s crowded infield this season.

#21 Trey Lipscomb – Junior – 6-1 / 200 – Frederick, Md.
Career Stats (2 Seasons): 23 GP, 6 GS, .200 AVG, 40 AB, 8 R, 8 H, 1 2B, 1 HR, 10 RBI, .300 SLG, 7 BB, 3 K, .306 OBP, 2 SB

Lipscomb has seen limited action during his first two years at Tennessee but was productive in the 11 games he played in last season. The Maryland product hit his first-career home run with a pinch-hit grand slam in a win over George Washington on Feb. 28 and finished the season with nine RBI and eight runs scored. Lipscomb has had a solid offseason and will be in the mix to earn some playing time at third base this year. He was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll last season and was also a member of the 2019-20 VOLeaders Academy Class.

#30 Ethan Payne – Sophomore – 6-2 / 210 – Memphis, Tenn.

Payne did not see action as a true freshman during the shortened 2020 season. The Memphis native was a dynamic two-sport athlete at Germantown High School, where he was a star on the Red Devils’ baseball and football teams. He holds numerous Germantown High School records for the decade spanning 2010-2019, including: most runs scored (94), most hits (125), most triples (10), most RBI (62) and most walks (81). Payne has worked mostly at first base this offseason but can also play outfield if needed.

#40 Luc Lipcius – RS-Senior – 6-2 / 215 – Williamsburg, Va.
Career Stats (4 Seasons): 86 GP, 55 GS, .277 AVG, 202 AB, 40 R, 56 H, 14 2B, 3 3B, 6 HR, 37 RBI, .465 SLG, 42 BB, 42 K, .415 OBP, 7 SB

Lipcius looked to be on his way to a huge year in 2020 before the season was shut down. The Williamsburg, Virginia, native played in all 17 games (15 starts) and had already set career highs in doubles (seven), RBI (15) and walks (16). Lipcius was also on pace to set career highs in runs, hits, home runs, on-base percentage and stolen bases. His .525 on-base percentage led all UT players with five or more starts and he also led the team in walks, ranked second on the team in doubles and ranked third on the team in RBI. Lipcius is the frontrunner to start at first base this season and could be in for a big year.

On top of his stellar production on the field, Lipcius is one of the Vols most accomplished players off the field, as well. In 2020, he was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District first team, the SEC Spring Academic Honor Roll and the SEC Community Service Team. Lipcius was also a member of the 2018-19 VOLeaders Academy Class.

Newcomers (Listed Numerically)

#5 Logan Steenstra – Sophomore – 6-5 / 210 – Liberty, Mo.

Steenstra is one of the few newcomers in UT’s crowded and experienced infield group. Steenstra comes to Rocky Top after two years in the JUCO ranks at Cowley College, where he earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman in 2019. During that season, he batted .310 with nine doubles, two triples, three home runs and had 49 RBI and also scored 46 runs and drew 21 walks. He helped lead the Tigers to a 47-14 record and an appearance in the 2019 NJCAA Division I World Series.

#9 Jorel Ortega – Sophomore – 6-0 / 195 – Naranjito, Puerto Rico

While Ortega was with the program last season, he was not on the official roster as he was rehabbing from an injury he sustained during his senior year of high school. Now healthy, Ortega is ready to make his Tennessee debut in 2021. The talented infielder was one of the Vols’ most productive hitters in the fall and could see time as UT’s designated hitter this season while also mixing in at second base. Ortega was a Top 500 national recruit out of Spanish River High School in Lake Worth, Florida.

Originally from Puerto Rico, Ortega is a model student off the field, as well, earning SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll recognition in 2020. He is also a member of the VOLeaders Academy Class of 2020-21.

CATCHERS

Returners (Listed Numerically)

#10 Pete Derkay – Senior – 5-10 / 215 – Acworth, Ga.
Career Stats (4 Seasons): 171 GP, 143 GS, .273 AVG, 487 AB, 67 R, 133 H, 28 2B, 3 3B, 5 HR, 82 RBI, .374 SLG, 103 BB, 79 K, .415 OBP, 6 SB

Derkay enters his final season at Tennessee as one of the most experienced players in the SEC. He has appeared in and started more games than any player on UT’s current roster and will play an important role in the Vols’ success once again this year. Despite not being a consistent starter last season, Derkay was off to a red-hot start to the year, leading the team with an incredible .542 batting average in 24 at-bats. He had a handful of clutch pinch hits and drove in 11 runs in limited action. Derkay is one of Tennessee’s most versatile players, having seen time as a catcher, first baseman and outfielder during his collegiate career. The Georgia native enters the year ranked fourth all-time at UT in walks (103), needing 45 to become the program’s career leader in that category.

#17 Connor Pavolony – Junior – 6-1 / 195 – Woodstock, Ga.
Career Stats (2 Seasons): 56 GP, 45 GS, .259 AVG, 139 AB, 29 R, 36 H, 9 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 29 RBI, .468 SLG, 25 BB, 33 K, .392 OBP, 1 SB

Pavolony will serve as Tennessee’s primary catcher for the third straight season in 2021. The junior backstop put up respectable numbers while starting 34 games as a freshman in 2019 before getting off to a fantastic start to the 2020 season. When the season was called, Pavolony was tied for second on the team with a career-high four home runs and ranked second on the team with a .737 slugging percentage. He also ranked fourth on the team with a .342 batting average and fifth on the squad with 12 RBI despite playing in just 12 of the team’s 17 games. Pavolony is one of the top defensive catchers in the league, as well, boasting a strong arm and quick release.

The Georgia native has caught the attention of media outlets and scouts alike heading into his junior campaign, earning preseason second-team All-America honors from D1Baseball.com while also coming in at No. 39 on the organization’s top 2021 College MLB Draft Prospects list. He was recently named the third best catcher in the country by D1Baseball.com in their preseason power rankings of the position. Pavolony was named to the Round Rock Classic All-Tournament Team and was named to the 2020 Spring SEC Academic Honor Roll, as well.

Newcomers (Listed Numerically)

#14 Charlie Taylor – Freshman – 5-10 / 185 – Dunwoody, Ga.

Taylor comes to UT after a standout prep career at the Wesleyan School in Georgia. He was rated as a Top 500 player nationally by Perfect Game and was a two-time all-state selection for the Wolves. Taylor finished second in career doubles (40) in his high school’s history, just one shy of the school record despite not completing his senior season. Taylor may not make a major impact this season with three veteran catches on the roster, but he is someone to keep an eye on in the future.

#19 Jackson Greer – Senior – 6-3 / 220 – Knoxville, Tenn.
Career Stats (4 Seasons): 127 GP, 116 GS, .268 AVG, 429 AB, 68 R, 115 H, 24 2B, 1 3B, 24 HR, 82 RBI, .497 SLG, 62 BB, 127 K, .387 OBP, 24 HBP

A Knoxville native that grew up wanting to play for Tennessee, Greer will finally get his chance after joining the Vols as a graduate transfer from ETSU. He will provide a good deal of experience and depth behind Pavolony. During his four seasons with the Bucs, Greer evolved into the team’s top power hitter, blasting 24 career home runs, including 10 during his junior season in which he was a first-team All-Southern Conference selection. Greer was also a 2019 Cape Cod League All-Star and a 2020 Preseason All-SoCon first-team honoree.

-UT Athletics

Blogs