No. 2 Draft prospect fans 7 for Vols in Desert Invitational
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Chase Dollander enters the 2023 season with about as much pomp and circumstance as a college pitcher can have, drawing superlatives that have put him in a class with Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg as it pertains to his skill at the collegiate level.
Dollander’s first time taking the mound during his junior year for the University of Tennessee came at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on Friday night during the Desert Invitational against the University of Arizona, which took a short bus ride up from Tucson. The night was crisp and featured a solid bright orange Volunteers contingent. Then, Dollander, the No. 2 Draft prospect per MLB Pipeline, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise up Draft boards since transferring from Georgia Southern, drilled his first batter of the season.
“You erase it and move on, to be honest,” Dollander said with a laugh postgame. “You have to live pitch by pitch as a pitcher. That's kind of how we're taught here at Tennessee and you know, if you can't do that, you're not going to be able to pitch very well because you're going to get down on yourself. Being able to move forward to the next pitch is the big thing.”
Even with some early hiccups, the reason for the hype around Dollander’s stuff was apparent. He struck out a pair of batters in each of his first three frames, the first trio coming on heaters, with the subsequent triumvirate all coming via his slider, his superior offspeed offering.
“I feel like almost everything was kind of working,” Dollander said following Tennessee’s 3-1 defeat to Arizona. “I give a lot of credit to that lineup, they were fighting hard.”
Dollander, the reigning SEC Pitcher of the Year, has premium stuff – including a 70-grade fastball (on the 20-80 scouting scale) that tops out in the shadow of triple digits. He routinely sat in the mid-90s against the Wildcats, although he added velocity as his start went on. The combination of weather and it being his first start of the year saw him depart after just 81 pitches, having struck out seven batters over 4 2/3 innings while scattering three hits and one walk with two runs allowed.
One year ago, Dollander joined the Tennessee rotation a season removed from pitching at Georgia Southern, which he faced in his season debut – he promptly whiffed 11 and kickstarted a dominant 10-0 campaign that saw him post a 2.39 ERA with a 0.80 WHIP and potent 8.3 K/BB ratio.
Fast-forward 363 days and the 6-foot-2, 200-pound righty took the hill in a nationally televised Power 5 contest at the Spring Training home of the D-backs and Rockies. While he recognized that pitching on a big league field was a stark difference, he embraced the changes that come with his track record of success.
“You just kind of have to change your mindset a little bit,” Dollander said of entering the year as the preeminent pitching prospect in the Class of 2023. “You're going to have a lot more people coming up to you and talking to you and people that you usually wouldn't talk to; you're going to have a lot of more media coverage. You're going to have people tweeting at you and stuff like that … you kind of have to move on and keep going at it with the team.”
Opposite Dollander was Arizona right-hander T.J. Nichols (MLB Pipeline’s No. 69 Draft prospect), who similarly yielded an early run but bowed his neck to keep a potent Volunteers lineup under wraps. The 6-foot-5 Friday night starter retired 10 of the final 11 batters he faced, working around a late defensive miscue to yield just one run over his six innings.