Iorg, Headley spark explosive lineup
Here's an in-depth look at the Tennessee Volunteers, one of the eight teams competing in the College World Series, which starts Friday at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
Coach: Rod Delmonico (16th season)
CWS History: Fourth trip to Omaha (last in 2001), no titles
How They Got Here: Won the Knoxville, Tenn., regional in three games, beating Wichita State in the final. Swept Georgia Tech on the road in the super regional.
Players to Watch: Jr. RHP Luke Hochevar (15-2, 2.09, 151 strikeouts), Fr. LHP James Adkins (10-4, 3.22, 127 strikeouts), Jr. RF Eli Iorg (.385-15-71, 27 steals), Jr. 3B Chase Headley (.391-13-63, .536 OBP).
Scouting the Volunteers: Tennessee's club is similar to Georgia's 2004 squad, which made it to Omaha. The experienced Vols have weathered the tough times and are now enjoying some success. However, they do not have a lot of depth. Tennessee has nine position players and three or four pitchers and all those guys are good.
Right-hander Hochevar has nasty stuff and is a great competitor. He reaches 90-94 mph with his fastball. He also throws a very good cutter/slider breaking ball at around 88 mph. Adkins can throw four pitches for strikes. His 85-87 mph fastball is more of a show-me pitch. Adkins uses his curveball for strikes. When ahead in the count, he just buries it. Adkins throws his curve at the back foot to right-handers and is very tough on lefties with his slider. The key for any team is to lay off the curveball in the dirt, which is hard because Adkins throws it for strikes in neutral counts. Watson has a very loose arm and a very good 82-83 mph slider, which he uses at any time and on any count. He goes right after you with a fastball in the 91-94 range. His 87 mph cutter is a good pitch on lefties. Cobb is the most hittable pitcher on the staff, but he really competes. He throws any pitch on any count.
Tennessee has the best hitting team in the league. It's a contact club with power, and the lineup complements each other. There are runners and bunters up top supported in the middle by Iorg and Headly, who are as good as any pair of hitters I've seen. That duo combined with freshman Arencibia allows the Vols to really do some damage. You're supposed to get inside on Iorg, but he does a good job and isn't afraid to take one on his elbow brace. Once you hit him, he'll steal second base. Headley has no holes. We used some changeups to get him, but those guys adjust. You've got to pitch to your strengths.
Alley is a catalyst for the Vols and Eric King is having a great year. I never thought King would play short, but he's been tremendous. They've got as a good a left side as Florida. Alley is solid defensively, and Iorg and Julio Borbon can cover ground.
Omaha Outlook: Few predicted Tennessee's second-place finish in the Southeastern Conference before the season, though coach Rod Delmonico himself might not have been able to foresee statistical improvement for nearly the entire roster and standout performances from a trio of freshmen.
While juniors Chase Headley and Eli Iorg emerged as All-Americans in the middle of the order, Josh Alley and Eric King improved to enjoy great seasons as table setters. Freshmen J.P. Arencibia and Julio Borbon stepped right in to complete a explosive starting lineup that leads all CWS teams in batting (.333) and ranks behind only Tulane in runs per game (8.1).
James Adkins joined Luke Hochevar as an ace who can rack up the strikeouts (151) while keeping opponents off the scoreboard. After them, third starter Craig Cobb and closer Sean Watson are the only real dependable arms on a top-heavy staff.
That lack of pitching depth means the Volunteers could win their first two games before bogging down thereafter unless the offense wins some slugfests. Delmonico called this the best club he's coached at Tennessee. His two previous trips to Omaha with the Vols ended in a 2-2 finish, which seems about right for this club as well.
Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.
Editor's note: Baseball America contacted college coaches familiar with the teams for analysis. Anonymity was granted in exchange for their candor.