UT MARTIN BASEBALL LOOKS TO VETERAN PRESENCE AS WELL AS YOUTH IN 2018
February 9, 2018
2018 Baseball Media Guide
MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin baseball program is just one week away from kicking off the 2018 season. Interim head coach Ryan Jenkins is ready to lead the program just one year after the team won 25 games, the most for the program in the Division-I era.
The 2018 squad features 20 returners and 11 newcomers. Jenkins feels that the veterans are prepared to lead this team.
“The biggest strength of our team is definitely the older, more experienced guys on our squad,” Jenkins said. “Especially on the defensive side of the ball and with Dalton Westfall on the mound, I feel that those guys will pull the younger guys in the right direction.”
Elevated to his current role of interim head coach on Dec. 11, Jenkins has learned a lot about his squad in his short time at the helm.
“The biggest change has been seeing the younger guys getting the at-bats they need and to see how far along they have come in such a short amount of time,” Jenkins said. “All of the team is really turning a page to be offensive minds at the plate. We look to start a fairly young infield with a freshman backstop, first baseman and middle infielder. I have been pleasantly surprised with how these younger guys have closed that gap so quickly and the offense is so seamless that it only plays to our advantage.”
On the field, Jenkins and his coaching staff have concocted a lineup that features a mixture of seasoned veterans and young talent. His coaching philosophy is very simple: he wants to shape minds and bodies that are willing to be shaped and are willing to put in the hard work and dedication required while still having plenty of fun on the diamond.
“I think the game was intended to be fun and there are people who are lucky enough to play it for a long time,” Jenkins said. “Everybody’s career will be different as far as the lifespan of it. My goal is to make sure these guys are graduating while also having a good time on the field. I don’t want practice or games to feel like work. I want to be sure that we have guys coming in here having an appreciation for the game. We have a lot of guys right now who enjoy learning.”
Ethan Whitley, a 2017 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper High School All-American, has claimed the role of starting first baseman for the Skyhawks.
“First base is a new position for Ethan, transferring from shortstop out of high school to where we need him to play,” Jenkins said. “He’s looked really polished after fall practice, giving us a very athletic guy at first who can also swing the bat.”
Tyler Albright led the squad in on-base percentage (.422) and tallied the second highest batting average on the team (.343) last season at second base.
“Tyler had a lot of success at second base last year,” Jenkins said. “We hope that he will have some of the pressure taken off of him this year since we have plugged in some good guys around him.”
A talented defender who won a Gold Glove Award at the high school level, Casey Harford has earned the starting nod at shortstop.
“Casey has been somewhat of a surprise so far,” Jenkins said. “He has done a lot of things to change his body since he got here. He’s gotten a lot stronger and has a better feel of the infield now. He has a lot of bat speed as well.”
One year after sporting a .303 batting average, Ben Aslett is ready to take on the everyday job of manning the hot corner.
“Ben is a guy who will shock a lot of people this year with how he has changed up his swing,” Jenkins said. “He has been really good all fall and during the spring for us.”
An outstanding athlete from Crandall, Ga., Blake Davis won the starting job at catcher after an impressive showing during spring practice.
“Blake is a young guy and it may be tough for him at first what with the speed of the game and with the system we have in place,” Jenkins said. “I think he is a great player and his ability to catch and throw will give us a great advantage going forward. He has done a good job of handling our pitching staff so far and seems to be getting ahold of our system.”
A talented transfer out of Tacoma Community College, Jordan Stoner provides UT Martin with a solid glove in the outfield to go along with his quick gait. He is expected to start in left field for the Skyhawks.
“Jordan is going to be a guy who can help us with his speed,” Jenkins said. “That being said, our outfield as a whole is going to be very fast this season. Stoner has done a lot this fall to improve himself as a hitter and he’s starting to understand this level of competition and the changes he’s had to make coming from junior college.”
After leading the Skyhawks in triples last season (six) and providing one of the biggest pops on the team (.548 slugging percentage), Creighton Eldridge gives UT Martin an experienced left-handed bat in the outfield.
“I feel like Creighton will be one of the better hitters in the league this season,” Jenkins said. “He has become a little more consistent from last year by changing his swing and simplifying some things. “
Although Collin Edwards was used as a pitching option out of the bullpen last year, he gave the Skyhawks good at-bats as he appeared in 25 games in the outfield in 2016. The all-around athlete looks to make an impact as UT Martin’s starting right fielder this season.
“Collin is just a big, physical guy who can move and throw really well from the outfield,” Jenkins said. “He’s done a lot of things to change up his swing. He has been really consistent this fall and early spring.”
On the mound, Jenkins will turn to Westfall to lead the Skyhawk rotation. Last season, Westfall led UT Martin in strikeouts (81), innings pitched (80.2) and opposing batting average (.261) while snagging five victories.
“Dalton is an experienced guy who has had a lot of success in our conference,” Jenkins said. “We’ve done some things to simplify his mechanics so we can get the best out of him at all times.”
Jenkins also expects a trio of hurlers to have big seasons in 2018. Sophomore Winston Cannon tallied five victories last year while getting the starting nod in 10 games, piling up 59 innings and 47 strikeouts. Peyton Cain also brings a lot of experience over from last season as the senior tossed 72.2 innings of work (good for second on the team), ringing up 48 batters while picking up one save during the year. The return of Zack Denney (missed entire 2017 season due to injury) gives the Skyhawks a long-relief arm out of the bullpen.
“Winston has done some things to solidify his role in the rotation,” Jenkins said. “Peyton is a workhorse who gained very valuable experience in a variety of roles last season. Zack is going to be a healthy option for us out of the bullpen and we will see him eat up a lot of innings.”
Even though winning is the ultimate ambition, Jenkins wants to be sure that his players are ready to take on life after baseball as well.
“I just want to make sure the guys have a good experience here at UT Martin,” Jenkins said. “We want to teach these young guys to improve from game-to-game and week-to-week. I want to be sure to set attainable goals for our players to be able to build confidence as they face a new opponent each week. We want to be sure that the kids coming from high school to Division-I baseball can make that transition. For me, its teaching a winning culture and that we are going to strive to do better than the day before. We’re not going to measure success through wins and losses. Our goal is to play hard and to be sure we do the basic things right. As we go into the Ohio Valley Conference schedule, we are going to strive to win one game at a time, not go in on Friday and look to win the series before things kick off. I want the guys to feel like they can leave here better people as well as ball players. We want to teach them life lessons and hopefully we can see guys getting drafted again too.”
The Skyhawks kickoff the 2018 schedule as they travel to Troy for a four-game set on Feb. 16-18.