The stuff of dreams

Tennessee's baseball team was picked fifth in the East Division of the SEC. Garth Iorg knew better. The former Major League baseball player, coach and minor league manager saw the Vols practice in the fall and sensed something special was on the horizon.

``I basically watched the pitchers,'' Iorg said. Iorg was impressed by freshman left-hander James Adkins, Sean Watson and All-American Luke Hochevar. He liked the way Craig Cobb battled. He applauded coach Rod Delmonico's move of Watson to the bullpen.

All that was needed was for a few bats to emerge. They did, led by Eli Iorg, Garth's son, and Chase Headley, the transfer from Pacific.

Eli Iorg hit .381 to rank third in the SEC and led the Vols with 15 home runs and 72 runs batted in. Headley led the SEC with a .387 average; he also topped the league on on-base percentage (.530), walks (63) and runs scored (82). Catcher J.P. Arencibia came through to hit .322 with 14 home runs and 71 RBI and earn Freshman All-American honors.

``I think friendly competition amongst teammates was a very good thing for them and spurred all three of those guys to have great years,'' Iorg said after watching the Vols reach the College World Series for the third time under Delmonico's tutelage.

Last season, Iorg hit .324 with four home runs and 36 RBI. Headley hit .295 with two homers and 23 RBI and scored 18 runs. Asked if Eli had a better year than he thought, Garth said the target was .400. ``I know that's a lofty goal but I thought he was capable of it,'' Garth Iorg said. ``I thought at the end, he pulled off some balls trying to the ball out of the ballpark. But I thought it was a good year, a very solid year.''

Garth Iorg was lavish in his praise of Headley. ``Chase made bigger strides over the course of the season than any player,'' Garth Iorg said. ``He just had a fantastic year. I would bet my home that Chase Headley will play in the big leagues.''

Headley was a second-round pick of the San Diego Padres who signed recently. ``He has a good eye at the plate and I think that's really helped him,'' Garth Iorg said. ``I wish Eli would get a little bit more of that. He's a little anxious. Chase has a lot of confidence in his swing. He'll take pitches; he sees a lot of things happening at the plate and I think that will bode well for him down the road.''

Garth Iorg was blown away by Adkins, who went 10-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 127.1 innings. He was UT's most effective pitcher during the postseason. ``James' big out pitch is a nasty slider,'' Garth Iorg said. ``It's probably as good a slider as I've seen in college baseball and possibly in pro ball. It is a devastating Major League slider.''

Garth Iorg has no doubt Hochevar will be a good Major League pitcher. He said fatigue affected Hochevar down the stretch. ``Luke had a long year, playing for the USA national team, then UT,'' Iorg said. ``I think the Dodgers plan after they sign him is to shut him down completely and give him the rest of the year off. I think that's what needs to happen because he is a rag arm right now. He's absolutely worn out. He needs to get rested and healthy. Once he does that, we'll see the Luke we saw … when he was throwing in the mid-90s and had the nasty slider working.''

Iorg said he thinks Hochevar put pressure on himself late in the season because he knew his draft stock was falling because of his agent, Scott Booras, who has a well-deserved reputation of playing hardball during negotiations.

Garth Iorg envisions Eli being a centerfielder in pro ball. ``He can run and covers a lot of ground and he has a good arm,'' Garth Iorg said. ``I think you want a guy like that handling the ball as much as possible. I see him being a first-rate outfielder.''

Eli Iorg almost signed after last season with the Chicago Cubs, who drafted him in the 14th round. He stuck around, in part because Hochevar called him from Japan and convinced him the Vols could make it to the College World Series and Iorg could be a first-round draft pick.

Hochevar was right on both counts. ``The money from the Cubs was never anything we took seriously, although Eli did want to sign and I was trying adamantly to discourage him,'' Garth Iorg said. ``Luke's phone call solidified the problem.''

Iorg's youngest son, Cale, was the starting shortstop for Alabama as a true freshman. Cale hit .280 (fourth on the team). He led the team with 15 stolen bases (in 21 attempts) and was second in hits (66) and RBI (38).

``He went through a drought during the season,'' Garth Iorg said. ``They tinkered with his swing a little bit and it really hurt him. He came to Knoxville, we worked a little while, and after that, he went back (to Alabama) and started hitting the ball like he's capable of. I thought he'd hit .300.''

Cale attended the College World Series and wore an orange UT jersey in support of his older brother. ``He looked outstanding in orange,'' Garth Iorg said. ``It would have been nice to have them both (at Tennessee) all year. It would have been easier on the budget and miles on the car. But Cale had a great year.''

Garth said Alabama recruited Cale harder than UT. Cale left this summer for a two-year Mormon mission to Portugal. Eli, who signed with Samford, went on a mission, and when he returned, transferred to Tennessee. Could Cale take the same route?

``I don't know what's going to happen,'' Garth Iorg said. ``Who knows who the coaches will be at Tennessee and Alabama when Cale gets back. There are so many things that can happen, so many variables. He's wide open right now.

``If you asked him today, he'd say he plans to go back to Alabama. He loves his teammates, his coach, the school, everything about it. But going away for two years, I'd like to have him closer (to home). It would be nice for me.''

Garth's oldest son, Issac, who attended Brigham Young, left the Atlanta Braves' minor league system earlier this year because he has a son who was born with a birth defect and had to have a leg amputated. ``Issac chose family over baseball,'' Garth Iorg said. ``I applaud him for that.''

  • The Vols signed 18 players, five of whom were picked in the 2005 Major League Baseball draft.
  • Two have signed pro contacts – shortstop Ivan DeJesus, son of former major leaguer Ivan DeJesus, and right-handed pitcher Bobby Mosebach. DeJesus was a second-round pick by the Dodgers, Mosebach a ninth-round pick by the Angels.
  • Two right-handed pitchers, Duente Heath and Josh Lindblom, have told the Vols they will attend college. Heath, a 23rd pick by the Angels, wanted $1.5 million and was offered $300,000. Lindblom was a third-round pick by the Astros.
  • Left-handed pitcher Patrick Caldwell, drafted by the Yankees in 2004 and 2005 in rounds 22 and 26, respectively, has academic issues and will remain at a junior college.
  • The Vols have three signees who were picked in the 2004 draft: shortstop Chris Siewert, left-handed pitcher Ryan Tabor and catcher-designated hitter Brian Van Kirk.

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