Tony Vitello Tabbed to Lead Tennessee Baseball

 

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Vice Chancellor/Director of Athletics John Currie will introduce Tony Vitello (pronounced: VIE-tell-oh) as the Volunteers’ head baseball coach during a press conference Friday. Details on time and location are forthcoming.

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Vitello arrives on Rocky Top following four seasons as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at Arkansas. His rise to the head coaching ranks also includes stops at Missouri (his alma mater) and TCU. He has earned a reputation as one of the elite recruiters on the college baseball landscape, having assembled eight top-15 signing classes—including America’s top-rated crop of talent in 2014.

In November 2016, D1Baseball.com ranked Vitello No. 2, and tops in the SEC, on its list of the top 30 recruiting coordinators in America.

During a Division I coaching career spanning just 14 years, Vitello has signed and developed six first-round MLB Draft picks and a dozen players who advanced to the big leagues. That list includes Andrew Benintendi, Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Gibson, All-Star Aaron Crow, Gold Glove Award winner and four-time All-Star Ian Kinsler and four-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

“We are thrilled to bring Coach Vitello’s passion for baseball, relationship building and student-athlete development into the Tennessee athletics family,” Currie said. “Proven experience evaluating and recruiting at the highest level and in the grind of the SEC was an absolute prerequisite, and Coach Vitello checks all the boxes. He has a track record of helping to build healthy and competitive programs—from those earliest relationships formed during the recruiting process through the development of young men into major league ballplayers. Coach Vitello has been to a dozen NCAA Tournaments, and he’s been part of a staff that led a team to Omaha. He knows firsthand what it takes to win in the Southeastern Conference, and he has triumphed in recruiting battles for elite prospects in our SEC footprint and other talent-rich areas across the country.

“Throughout this process it has been inspiring to talk to many of the people who are passionate about Volunteer baseball—I believe that Coach Vitello is the right person to build our program into a perennial contender and bring championship baseball back to Knoxville.”

Vitello has agreed to a five-year contract with an average base salary of $493,000.

“This is as good of an opportunity as there is in the country,” Vitello said. “I consider myself incredibly blessed to be a part of the athletic department at the University of Tennessee. It’s the ultimate combination of an elite conference, a state school with great in-state players, a phenomenal city and outstanding tradition that exists not just with baseball, but across all sports.

“It’s no coincidence that it’s been a place where so many great coaches have been leaders in their sport. I want to work like crazy to uphold that standard.”

The 38-year-old Vitello already boasts the incredibly rare distinction of having mentored both a National Hitter of the Year (Benintendi) and National Pitcher of the Year (Crow). Benintendi won the 2015 Golden Spikes Award as America’s top amateur baseball player after batting .376 with 20 home runs, 57 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. Crow—who Vitello shepherded during his tenure on staff at his alma mater, Missouri—claimed the 2008 Roger Clemens Award following a campaign in which he won 13 games, posted four shutouts, totaled 127 strikeouts and at one point threw 43 consecutive scoreless innings.

Crow became the highest MLB Draft pick in Mizzou history when the Washington Nationals selected him ninth overall that summer.

Benintendi—drafted seventh overall by the Boston Red Sox in 2015 and the recipient of a $3.6 million signing bonus—is a prime example of Vitello’s abilities in player development. From his freshman to sophomore season, Benintendi improved his batting average by 100 points and hit 19 more home runs. En route to National Player of the Year honors in 2015, he became just the third player in SEC history to lead the league in home runs and batting average. Just 421 days after being drafted, Benintendi was promoted to the Majors.

Arkansas stood among the most competitive programs in the nation during Vitello’s four seasons in Fayetteville, averaging nearly 38 wins per year, winning 40 or more games three times, appearing in three NCAA Tournaments and advancing to the 2015 College World Series. That 2015 squad set a school record with a stellar .975 team fielding percentage. This season, Arkansas belted an SEC-best 83 home runs en route to 45 wins.

Vitello coached 16 Razorbacks who were selected in three MLB Drafts (this year’s draft takes place later this month).

Vitello’s tenure with the Razorbacks was preceded by three seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at TCU (which was a member of the Mountain West in his first season [2011] before joining the Big 12). Prior to that, he was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri (then a member of the Big 12) for eight years.

In his three years at TCU, Vitello lured some of the top players in the country to Fort Worth and helped the Horned Frogs to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Super Regional berth in 2012. The Horned Frogs started seven freshmen, recruited by Vitello, in the Super Regional at UCLA. His final recruiting class at TCU was ranked 17th in the country, and three student-athletes he signed also played for Team USA.

During Vitello’s eight years at Mizzou, the Tigers made the postseason seven times. He served as the pitching coach, while also working with the team’s hitters and serving as the first base coach. Vitello’s 2008 Missouri recruiting class was ranked No. 11 nationally by Baseball America, and he had top-25 recruiting classes in three of his final four years in Columbia.

During his time as a Tiger assistant coach, Vitello recruited and developed 19 players who were drafted by major league teams, including major leaguers Kinsler, Scherzer, Crow, Gibson, Nick Tepesch, Doug Mathis and Justin James.

A three-year letterwinner at Missouri (2000-02), Vitello earned Academic All-Big 12 Conference honors as a senior and was named to the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll twice. Following his playing career and the completion of his management degree at MU, Vitello joined the Missouri coaching staff as a volunteer assistant in 2003 and completed his course work for his master’s degree in Business. In 2004, he was elevated to full-time assistant coach.

Vitello served as the associate head coach for the Salina Packers of the California Collegiate League in 2002. The Packers finished 50-14 and earned their first trip to the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kansas.

VITELLO’S COLLEGE COACHING HISTORY
Tennessee, 2017-present – Head Coach
Arkansas, 2013-17 – Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
TCU, 2010-13 – Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Missouri, 2003-10 – Assistant Coach/Recruiting Coordinator
Missouri, 2002-03 – Volunteer Assistant Coach
Salinas Packers, 2002 – Assistant Coach

VITELLO’S NCAA APPEARANCES
2017 NCAA Fayetteville Regional
2015 College World Series
2014 NCAA Charlottesville Regional
2012 NCAA Los Angeles Regional
2011 NCAA Fort Worth Regional
2009 NCAA Oxford Regional
2008 NCAA Coral Gables Regional
2007 NCAA Columbia (Mo.) Regional
2006 NCAA Fullerton Super Regional
2005 NCAA Fullerton Regional
2004 NCAA Fayetteville Regional
2003 NCAA Starkville Regional

VITELLO’S YEAR-BY-YEAR HIGHLIGHTS
2017 – ARKANSAS (Postseason: NCAA Fayetteville Regional)

In Vitello’s final season at Arkansas, the Hogs posted 45 wins, advanced to the SEC Tournament final and hosted an NCAA Regional. The Razorbacks’ offense led the SEC and ranked among the national leaders in home runs with 83. Catcher Grant Koch, shortstop Jax Biggers (a Brooks Wallace Award semifinalist) and outfielder Dominic Fletcher each earned All-SEC recognition. Fletcher also became the third Vitello recruit to make the SEC All-Freshman team during Vitello’s four seasons in Fayetteville.

2016 – ARKANSAS
In 2016, Vitello helped Arkansas’ offense rank among the most potent in the SEC and the country. Redshirt sophomores Carson Shaddy and Luke Bonfield each hit better than .300 and combined for 16 home runs and 74 RBIs to lead a team that finished fourth in the SEC in home runs (49). Two of Arkansas’ six draftees in the 2016 MLB Draft were pupils of Vitello. Utility player Clark Eagan went in the ninth round to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Eagan batted .298 during his junior season with 37 runs scored, 67 hits, seven home runs and 37 RBIs. He hit .280 or better in each of his three seasons as a Razorback and totaled 60 or more hits and 30 or more RBIs in both 2015 and 2016. Shortstop Michael Bernal was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 29th round. Vitello’s 2016 recruiting class was ranked No. 6 nationally by Perfect Game.

2015 – ARKANSAS (Postseason: College World Series)
Vitello was instrumental in Arkansas’ run to the 2015 College World Series, as the Razorbacks rebounded from a 15-15 start to win 18 of their final 25 regular-season games. Working primarily with hitters and serving as the team’s third base coach, Vitello helped the Razorbacks slug their way into the postseason, finishing fifth in the SEC in hitting (.288) and fourth in home runs (53). Three Arkansas position players signed professional contracts following the 2015 season, including Andrew Benintendi who was selected No. 7 overall by the Boston Red Sox. Third baseman Bobby Wernes improved his slugging percentage by 202 points from the 2014 to 2015 seasons and was selected in the 30th round of the MLB Draft, while outfielder Tyler Spoon improved his average 71 points and drove in 17 more runs in 2015. Spoon was drafted in the 35th round by the Boston Red Sox. Vitello’s second full recruiting class at Arkansas garnered national acclaim, as it was ranked No. 1 in the country by Perfect Game USA and No. 4 in the nation by Baseball America. The class, which took the field in 2015, featured 20 players, including 14 true freshmen and six junior college transfers.

2014 – ARKANSAS (Postseason: NCAA Charlottesville Regional)
In his first season at Arkansas, Vitello signed the nation’s top class for the Razorbacks in 2014. He also made an immediate impact working with the program’s hitters, as the Razorbacks improved their batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage from the previous campaign. Arkansas also enjoyed a boost in total hits, triples, home runs, RBIs and runs scored. The offense helped lead Arkansas to its 13th straight NCAA Tournament appearance at the NCAA Charlottesville Regional, and the Razorbacks advanced to the Regional final. Vitello saw two hitters from that 40-win squad selected in the top 20 rounds of 2014 MLB Draft: Brian Anderson (third round, Miami Marlins) and Eric Fisher (17th round, Miami Marlins).

2013 – TCU (Postseason: Big 12 Tournament)
In 2013, 11 TCU newcomers from an 11th-ranked recruiting class saw time on the field for Frogs. A pair of Horned Frog freshmen earned Freshman All-America honors, as Boomer White hit .314 with 27 RBIs, while Alex Young was 7-4 with five saves in 22 appearances, 20 in relief. Despite featuring four new faces, TCU’s pitching staff ranked among the Division I top 20 in most pitching categories during the 2013 season.

2012 – TCU (Postseason: NCAA Los Angeles Regional)
Despite TCU’s youth in 2012, the squad enjoyed success on the field, winning the Mountain West Conference regular-season championship and advancing to Super Regional play before falling to UCLA. Four Horned Frog hitters earned All-Big 12 accolades, and six TCU players were selected in the MLB Draft. Vitello’s 2012 recruiting class was ranked in the top 10 nationally by Baseball America, and the group paid immediate dividends for the Horned Frogs as 16 players made their debut during the season. Freshman Preston Morrison was named the Mountain West Pitcher and Freshman of the Year and also was selected as a third-team All-American and a Freshman All-American.

2011 – TCU (Postseason: NCAA Fort Worth Regional)
In his first season at TCU in 2011, Vitello worked with an offense that finished the season with a .306 batting average and averaged 6.7 runs per game. The team hit 141 doubles on the season, which ranked fourth all-time in school history. The Horned Frogs totaled 43 victories and advanced to an NCAA Regional. Five offensive players earned All-MWC honors, and four offensive players were selected in the 2011 MLB Draft.

2009 – MISSOURI (Postseason: NCAA Oxford Regional)
Kyle Gibson was the 2009 Big 12 leader for strikeouts, with a school-record 131, and he ranked second in the league with 11 wins on the year (second-most in school history). Gibson finished his career at Mizzou with 28 wins and 304 strikeouts, which both ranked second in program history. A first-team All-Big 12 honoree, Gibson was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the first round of the 2009 MLB Draft, joining Aaron Crow as a first-round selection the year before (after not signing the previous year, Crow was again drafted early in the first round, taken with the 12th overall pick by the Kansas City Royals).

2008 – MISSOURI (Postseason: NCAA Coral Gables Regional)
During the 2008 season, Aaron Crow had a stretch of 43.0 scoreless innings pitched from Feb. 29 to April 11 that was the fourth longest streak in NCAA history. Another member of Vitello’s pitching staff, Ian Berger, put together a string of 36.1 scoreless innings pitched from March 9-29. Crow became the second MU pitcher in four years to be named the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year. A first-team All-American, Crow also was the recipient of the Rogers Clemens Award, which is given to the nation’s top collegiate pitcher. He finished 2008 with a 13-0 record, setting a school record for wins in a season, and had an ERA of 2.85. The Washington Nationals selected Crow with the ninth overall pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, but he opted not to sign and re-entered the draft in 2009. Vitello’s 2008 recruiting class was ranked among the nation’s top 20 by Collegiate Baseball, and Baseball America rated the class 11th best nationally.

2007 – MISSOURI (Postseason: NCAA Columbia [Mo.] Regional)
The 2007 Missouri pitching staff ranked fourth in the Big 12 with an ERA of 4.25. That staff included an All-Big 12 first-team selection in Aaron Crow and a second-team honoree, Rick Zagone.

2006 – MISSOURI (Postseason: NCAA Fullerton Super Regional)
In 2006, Vitello’s Missouri pitching staff recorded seven shutouts and held opponents to two or fewer runs in 19 games. The staff’s 3.36 ERA led the Big 12 and was 11th-best nationally. In the NCAA Regional, freshmen Rick Zagone and Aaron Crow recorded back-to-back complete game victories, each allowing just one run on six hits as Mizzou went on to claim the Malibu Regional Championship. Vitello helped mold Max Scherzer into the 11th overall pick in the 2006 MLB Draft. Scherzer had a 2.25 ERA despite fighting injuries much of the season and was one of five Missouri pitchers were selected in the 2006 draft, with two selected in the first four rounds.

2005 – MISSOURI (Postseason: NCAA Fullerton Regional)
With Vitello serving as pitching coach, Missouri had a stretch of 26 innings without allowing a run after putting together a 23-scoreless-inning stretch earlier that season. Against Texas Tech in April, Missouri recorded the school’s first no-hitter since 1981. Sophomore Max Scherzer was named the 2005 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year after posting a dominant 1.86 ERA. He led the Big 12 in ERA, strikeouts (131) and opponents’ batting average (.163). Under Vitello, the Tigers’ ERA consistently ranked among the best in the Big 12, highlighted by a 3.17 mark in 2005.

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