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Vols dodge baseball draft bullets

Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player draft came and went the past three days, and it didn’t seem to leave Tennessee much damage in its wake.

Tennessee signee Kyle Serrano, a pitcher from nearby Farragut (Tenn.) High School

A couple of Vols’ signees — right-handed pitcher Kyle Serrano from nearby Farragut (Tenn.) High School and slugging first baseman Nathaniel Maggio from the Atlanta-area Blessed Trinity Catholic High School — were selected in Sunday’s later rounds, but Tennessee coach Dave Serrano didn’t seem overly concerned with the situation.

Kyle Serrano, Dave’s son, was projected by many analysts as a first-round pick but fell all the way to the 29th round because of “signability” issues, and Dave said again Saturday night that his hard-throwing son would play at Tennessee.

A similar situation happened last year with shortstop A.J. Simcox, one of Kyle’s former Farragut teammates and future UT teammates. Simcox was projected by many to go in the first three rounds, but he let everyone know he fully planned on playing at UT and slipped all the way to the 32nd round — and, ironically, also to the Rockies.

Kyle Serrano’s situation was at least a bit different — he certainly would have skipped college for the right price — but Dave Serrano said the end result will be the same as Simcox’s and that his son will play at Tennessee.

“I’m very excited that Kyle had his name called by the Colorado Rockies today,” Dave said. “We realized that there would be a chance he would fall after the first round because of his asking price and signability concerns, but I am proud of how well he has handled this process.

“And we are all excited about his future as a Vol.”

Maggio, a raw, 6-foot-4 first baseman with big-time pop from the left side of the plate, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in Saturday’s 32nd round, but UT sources were confident that Maggio would still be a Vol next season.

UT also dodged at least two other bullets during the draft.

Tennessee signee Jonathan Youngblood, a Kentucky native and outfielder from Meridian (Miss.) Community College

Bret Marks, a right-handed, side-arming pitcher from Wallace State (Ala.) Community College, signed with UT in the fall but was at least a mild concern heading into the draft. The former Mississippi State pitcher was drafted by the New York Yankees in last year’s 22nd round but chose to return to Wallace State, and he finished this season with a 2.14 ERA after finishing with a 1.80 as a freshman. But he wasn’t drafted, leaving little doubt that his future will be with the Vols.

Jonathan Youngblood, a speedy Lexington, Ky., native who played outfield the past seasons at Meridian (Miss.) Community College and signed with the Vols this week, has been drafted twice — including in the 15th round last year by the Pittsburgh Pirates — but wasn’t drafted this year, leaving little doubt that his future also will be at UT.

This year’s draft went better for Tennessee than the Vols than the past two.

And it went worlds better than last year’s.

The Vols lost two big-time junior college arms — Tyler Smith and Adam Giacalone — last year to the Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers, and Serrano expected both to enroll at UT. Giacalone’s late decision to sign with the Brewers was the most stunning to the UT’s coaches, who sorely missed him and Smith last season while struggling in SEC play with a young pitching staff.

While the 2011 draft wasn’t great for UT — highly touted infield signee Mookie Betts from the Nashville area was nearly 100 percent of playing in college before getting a very late (and very much improved) offer and signing with the Boston Red Sox minutes before the deadline — last year’s was significantly worse, because it took away two-thirds of the Vols’ projected weekend pitching rotation before the season even started.

This draft was a different story, though, and it left several in the program breathing a bit easier and feeling they’d finally gotten a good break after a frustrating few years.

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