MLB Draft follow-up: Tennessee baseball makes more history on Day 3

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After having a historic five players selected in the first 10 rounds of the 2021 MLB Draft on Monday, Tennessee baseball followed suit on Tuesday as two more players, one commitment and one signee were selected in the final 10 rounds.

Overall, this year marks the fifth time in program history that Tennessee has had at least seven players picked in the MLB Draft. The other four years with at least seven selections were 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2006. Tennessee’s most-ever selections in program history came in 1992, when eight Vols were drafted.

There is one stark difference between now and then, though, per another report from Wilson: each of those previous historic drafts featured 50 rounds.

This draft was only 20 rounds, which conveys the amount of talent accumulated by Tony Vitello on the Vols’ first College World Series team since 2005. 

Moreover, seven 2021 draftees ties Tennessee with Arizona, Florida, Florida State Louisville, Texas and Vanderbilt for sixth-most in this year’s lottery, per a tweet from D1 Baseball’s Kendall Rogers.

Right-handed pitcher Jackson Leath missed the majority of this season with a hamstring injury suffered on February 28, but the Texas Rangers still nabbed him with the 344th overall pick in the 12th round.

After the injury, Vitello mentioned that Leath turned down the draft twice for a shot to pitch in the SEC. Now, Leath is officially headed to the pros.

According to a report from Mike Wilson of the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Rangers fit for Leath because their team doctor, Keith Meister, performed Leath’s Tommy John surgery when he was in high school.

He was also a confidante when Leath suffered his hamstring injury early this season.

After Leath came a fitting bookend for Tennessee’s pitching staff. While UT starter Chad Dallas was the first Vol off the board, composed senior reliever Sean Hunley was the last Tennessee player taken in the draft. The Tampa Bay Rays snagged Hunley in the 19th round, with the 581st overall pick. 

Hunley, a Mount Juliet native, made UT history this season with a program-record 35 appearances to lead the SEC. He held opponents to a .229 batting average with nine saves, seven wins and a 3.36 ERA with 77 strikeouts.

Hunley’s composure led to several memorable moments this season. Arguably, though, no moment was greater than his closing performance in Tennessee’s first Super Regional game against LSU.

As was the case on Monday, though, current Tennessee players weren’t the only Vols selected. 

Missouri pitcher and UT commit Seth Halvorsen was also taken on Tuesday, as was Beech (HS) pitcher and Tennessee signee Chase Burns.

Halvorsen went to the Philadelphia Phillies in the 19th round at No. 565 overall, while Burns — who affirmed his commitment to the Vols via Twitter on Monday — was taken by the San Diego Padres at No. 581 overall, also in the 19th round.

Halvorsen went 4-3 in his 2020 season at Mizzou, with a 6.00 ERA. Burns, meanwhile, could see immediate starting experience at Tennessee, as the 6-foot-5 righty was ranked as the No. 47 prospect by MLB.com coming into the draft.