By: Eric Cain / @_Cainer
The Tennessee baseball team took a giant step forward this season under coach Tony Vitello in his second season at the helm. A 40-win season and a trip to regional postseason play for the first time in 14 seasons are just a few of the bases cleared.
With every successful stint, repercussions are soon to follow – a product of good fortune. Vitello has emerged as one of the nation’s brightest up-and-coming head coaches and many members of the squad have garnered recognition for their play.
“It’s been incredible [playing for Vitello]. Coach V. has done an incredible job with this program and he will for years to come,” pitcher Garret Stallings said during an interview with The Starting Lineup’s Tyler Ivens and Will West Thursday morning. “The No. 1 thing is he brings confidence in his players and he brings it every single day. He did raise expectations.
“When we play our game, we can perform with the best of them. Tennessee baseball is going to be scary for years to come.”
There is no greater proof of that than witnessing the Vols’ success in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Stallings, along with five other Volunteer juniors, were taken in the three-day period – four of which who went in the first nine rounds. UT’s six draftees were the most since 2015 and the four selected in the opening nine rounds was the most since 2001.
Stallings said during the interview that he plans to go through with the selection and sign with the Angels.
“It’s something that I’ve worked for my whole life. It seems to be a great opportunity in front of it and I’m going to take advantage of that,” Stallings said. “After talking with my friends and the coaching staff, it’s in my best interest moving forward to take my shot at a pro career.”
Stallings, the second UT player off the board, was taken by the Angels with the 14th pick of the fifth round (151st overall) and 24 spots ahead of his player-ranking. The right-handed pitcher’s slotted value is $353.70K as the junior experienced a breakout season in Knoxville, going 8-5 in 16 starts with a 3.33 ERA, 106 strikeouts and two shutouts in 102 2/3 innings pitched.
The Chesapeak, Va. native displays an array of pitches that consists of a mild fastball – complimented by a changeup, slider, cutter and curve.
A teammate who could be joining Stallings in the Angels organization is fellow pitcher Zach Linginfelter, who was drafted for the third time on Tuesday. The Sevier County native was taken with the 271st overall pick – a ninth round selection – after being selected in the 19th round by the Nationals in 2018 and in the 16th round by the Yankees out of high school.
A righty, Linginfelter started a career-high 16 games on the year as either the second or third weekend starter. The pitcher tossed 68 2/3 innings this season and amassed six wins – fanning 71 batters in the process.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler was also the college roommate of Stallings.
“Zach is one of my better friends. He gave me a text right before his name was called. I couldn’t be happier for Zach and for all he’s put in,” Stallings said. “It will be great knowing a few people going into the organization. Being able to bounce ideas and go through the process with someone will make it that much better.”
Stallings’s brother played volleyball at Long Beach State, so the new member of the Angels organization is at least familiar with the west coast area.
“I’ve been out there a couple of times, but I know my brother knows it better than me,” Stallings laughed. “He’ll have to come out and visit. It couldn’t be a better place to be a part of.”
The organization has two stateside rookie teams – the Angels of the Arizona League based in Tempe and the Orem Owlz of the Pioneer League based in Utah. In being college juniors, it is likely that Stallings and Linginfelter (if he signs) will begin their pro careers as an Owl.
The duo would then climb the ranks to A-Ball in Burlington, Advanced-A in San Bernardino, Double-A in Mobile and finally Triple-A in Salt Lake City.
“I’m very excited to be a part of this organization. They do an excellent job of developing players,” Stallings said. “It’s somewhere where I can likely be myself. It’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to keep working hard and give it my best.”
Other UT draftees included infielder Andre Lipcius (Tigers – 3rd Round, 83rd overall), pitcher Andrew Schultz (Phillies – 6th round, 180th overall), infielder Ricky Martinez (Diamondbacks – 18th round, 542nd overall) and outfielder Jay Charleston (Royals – 26th round, 796th overall).
“It’s every little kid’s dream to get their shot to play and to make it to the big leagues,” Stallings said. “I’m forever grateful for the organization to see an interest in me and to take an interest in me moving forward.
“I’m very thankful to all the people who have helped me along the way like my friends and family, all the coaches and the beautiful city of Knoxville for just being able to represent the university and help me get to where I am today.”
Check out the full interview here.