Moderator: Baseball America national college baseball writer Aaron Fitt chatted about Week 2.
John Manuel: I’m here to pinch-hit for Aaron until he gets through airport security. Wear it, TSA, you can’t stop the College Monday chat!
Matt (GA): Aaron, better job by Georgia Tech over the weekend to finally put some runs on the board, but this season certainly won't be confused with some of Danny Hall's recent power-laden clubs. Is this a team that can do enough at the plate to contend in the ACC?
John Manuel: It is not a juggernaut, but usually Tech hasn’t fared so well as a juggernaut! Short version is the Jackets got back on the winning side of the ledger by sweeping UNC Greensboro, but they also went 1-3 opening week and has some real questions in the lineup. Pitching coach Jason Howell and Coach Hall have to hope Matt Grimes keeps working his way back into important innings by the time the tough ACC slate gets started. For me this was a borderline regional team starting the season; we had them as a 3 seed entering the year.
Jake (Atlanta): The Mercer Bears don't get a nod in your top 25 yet? Sitting at 8-0 with the best RPI in the country. I know it's early and RPI isn't a true representation quite yet, but at least should be getting votes. What are your thoughts on this 2013 regional club?
John Manuel: Who would you drop, Jake? We talked a little at the end of the podcast about Mercer, Aaron is high on coach Gibson’s team and we like their combination of physicality, offense and reliable, if not flashy, defense. It’s a good start but we don’t have votes, so Mercer didn’t get any. It’s on the worksheet for our rankings meeting and also projected as a regional team preseason, also as a 3 seed.
Eric Oetken (Wayne, Nebraska): What do you think of the University of Iowa baseball team? 6-1 is the best start since 1985.
John Manuel: Long been a fan of Coach Rick Heller who did a fine job at Northern Iowa and then at Indiana State. If anyone can make Hawkeye baseball relevant, it would be him. Nice way to start the year beating a rebuilding Austin Peay team, that’s a consistent program and winning a series there is a good sign for Iowa.
Bob (Chicago): How concerning is Indiana? The pitching team seems questionable after Denato. Big bats are not performing as well.
John Manuel: We certainly had a long Indiana debate in the rankings meeting. Big picture, as Aaron explained in the podcast, Indiana being ranked after a 2-5 start is quite a sign of respect. Also big picture, we’re not worried about this team’s bats; the Hoosiers will hit. I do think the weather is a factor, but other teams have handled it better so far. I think we are more concerned with the starting pitching and defense at this point, but we’re not hopping off the IU bandwagon yet.
Bill (San Diego): Is USC that good or is their undefeated record a byproduct of playing poor teams on the weekends?
John Manuel: Because you’re from San Diego, I think you mean Southern California. The biggest part, certainly Bill, is the schedule. Any team in Southern California (or in Trojans uniforms) should sweep Northwestern and North Dakota State. But Aaron says the buzz on the Trojans has been good with scouts and opposing coaches in the preseason and now that the season has started. Dan Hubbs has talent to work with; they key is to parlay the confidence that comes with seven straight wins into some consistency the rest of the season. Huge measuring stick next week against Cal Poly.
Matt W. (Leesburg, VA): I normally don't put too much emphasis on streaks and records especially in the beginning of the year since it is normally against teams that aren't as talented. Having said that, what do you make of the Gamecocks' shutout streak knowing that it isn't just the starters that have dominated but the entire pitching staff?
John Manuel: The caliber of competition does not inspire awe, certainly, but 51 scoreless innings is 51 scoreless innings. I was pretty high on Wil Crowe in last year’s draft out of Tennessee and expected him to step right in and compete well, but no earned runs through two weeks is pretty special. Jordan Montgomery is just very, very good, a harder-throwing version of Michael Roth, and Wynkoop has pitched well also. That team has no real obvious hole; very strong team on paper and certainly playing that way through two weeks. Aaron will see them vs. Clemson this weekend and I know he’s looking forward to it.
Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, thank you for the chat today and hope all is well. With Josh Sborz moving to UVA's starting rotation (and doing so with aplomb) I couldn't help but take notice of Connor Jones and what he's done thus far. Having a Branden Kline flashback of an young, athletic righty with an electric arm stepping into the closer's spot - do you see it possibly shaping up that way as well?
John Manuel: Don’t do that to Connor Jones … I think of Branden Kline and I think of a modest junior season and injury-plagued pro start. I am sorry that I am not thinking of 2011 stud closer Kline. Jones certainly could thrive in that closer role, with a big arm, life on the fastball. His fastball command might be good enough even as a freshman to emerge as a starter, but coach O’Connor is playing the long game here … he knows he has an Omaha roster and is playing to win now but also down the line. I like the comp from a role standpoint, but I think Jones will be better than Kline.
Brad (Toronto): Tyler Beede s start to this season, fact or fiction? Has he made the adjustment that will allow him to maintain his Friday night status as well as a possible top 20 draft pick?
John Manuel: Sounds like fact. There were plenty of national-level scouts at the Rodon game last Sunday, and the buzz from them on Beede’s start to the season (including scrimmages and fall practice) was strong. No one had him outside the top 20, not even after last summer’s struggles with the Collegiate National Team. Seems like the delivery is more in sync this spring, better direction to the plate, and so far better results in terms of command. The stuff is plenty live.
John Manuel: Update from Aaron in Miami: “This airport is an outrage! No rhyme or reason to this layout!” Somebody bring that man a Mark Light Shake in the terminal please …
Sean (Texas): Coach Serrano has a young Vols team off to one of the best starts in TN history coming off of a sweep of UNLV this weekend. How do you see them stacking up in the SEC?
John Manuel: We didn’t have Tennessee as a regional team, but sweeping UNLV certainly helps their case for getting off a theoretical bubble. The talent level for the Vols is up significantly in the last couple of seasons, now coach Serrano is getting that team to figure out how to win. I don’t expect a 40-win season or anything like that but breaking even in SEC play would help get the Vols a regional bid, which would represent a huge step forward. The SEC East has 2 obvious powerhouses in South Carolina & Vandy, with Florida likely next, but Georgia is rebuilding, Mizzou to an extent, Kentucky looks good … just no getting around it, Tennessee will have to grow up quick to get to .500 in the SEC, but I think it can.
John Manuel: Aaron should be jumping in now. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, lots of great questions in the Q for Aaron to hop in and answer.
Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, thanks to John for filling in today, hope I don’t get Wally Pipped! I’ll chat right up until my flight boards, maybe 40 minutes or so.
Jeremy (Coral Gables): I'm worried about the Miami defense. 18 errors in 7 games. Do you see it getting corrected?
Aaron Fitt: I’m not too worried about it. Alex Hernandez has done a nice job at short, but the defense will be better once Brandon Lopez comes back to play short and Hernandez slides over to second. First base has probably been the biggest issue; Brad Fieger is not great there, and Zack Collins is still learning the position. Thompson is OK at third but won’t be a standout. Kennedy is a veteran catcher who does a nice job but doesn’t have a gun behind the plate. The outfield should be fine. I think it will be a solid-average defense when everybody settles in.
Daniel (Arkansas): Thoughts on the Hogs so far? Anderson and Benintendi look like potential AAs through 2 weekends.
Aaron Fitt: I’m very high on Anderson, and so are scouts (remember, big league scouting directors voted him onto our preseason All-America team). Love Benintendi too—I would bet on him being a freshman All-American. His game and intangibles are pretty similar to Austin Cousino’s. I’ve been very encouraged by the way Chris Oliver has pitched in the rotation — thought he was a big key. And Jalen Beeks has done a fine job filling in for Trey Killian on Fridays, not that I’m too surprised—Beeks is legit. I’d say Hog fans have reason to feel pretty good so far.
Brad (Cary, NC): Is there a better pitcher in the country than Aaron Nola? I mean the guy is throwing seven different kinds of smoke every game.
Aaron Fitt: He’s incredibly good. I obviously still believe in Carlos Rodon, but if you wanted to make a case that Nola will beat him out for national Player of the Year honors, you might just wind up being right.
Windywave (Chicago): Tulane is off to a solid start. Is it too early to start getting my hopes up for making regionals or do I have to put on my Cubs hat and wait til next year?
Aaron Fitt: I’ll tell you what, Tulane has had some RPI issues in recent years, and I think it will be fighting an uphill RPI battle this year too based on the first few weeks of its schedule. I do like Tulane’s talent—feels like there is good depth on this pitching staff and a lot of exciting freshmen in the lineup. But I’m not ready to pronounce it a regional team yet.
Evan (San Diego): What are your early impressions on Cal? Seems like they have a ton of arms.
Aaron Fitt: Daulton Jefferies certainly seems like the real deal, Theofanopoulos pitched well this weekend, and I do like their bullpen depth too. That was a pretty nice recruiting class this year—just outside our Top 25 classes, and I have a feeling we might have been light on that group.
Nick Melotte (Atlanta, GA): Hey Aaron, thanks for the chat. Has there been a player that came out of nowhere to really impress you so far?
Aaron Fitt: Slater Lee at Cal Poly. I really didn’t know what to expect from him, but he’s been a stud as the Saturday guy through two weeks. Two-hit shutout at UCLA in your first career road start, a week after beating a super regional team in your debut? That’s quite an entrance.
Justin (Chicago): Which freshmen have impressed you the most to start the season? Who do you anticipate being in the conversation for the top pick in a couple years assuming they stay healthy?
Aaron Fitt: Well, I got a look at a pair of top-five freshman classes this weekend in Coral Gables, and I think both Florida’s and Miami’s classes are legit. Willie Abreu and Zack Collins really do change the complexion of that Miami lineup, helping bring that power element—and Bryan Garcia was terrific at the back of the bullpen, potentially giving them a real shut-down closer. I think Brett Morales and Logan Shore and Dane Dunning and John Sternagel are all going to be good for Florida, but the guy who made the biggest impression on me was A.J. Puk—a 6-foot-7 lefthander throwing 92-94 with no effort, with a nasty 84-86 slider. Good grief. He also has big-time thump in his bat, although Kevin O’Sullivan did not start him this weekend against those three tough Miami lefties, because he didn’t want to destroy Puk’s confidence at the plate. Shows you a little about how much he respects that Miami staff.
jb (SC): South Carolina's pitching has been "lights out" so far this season against teams with virtually no offensive pulse. They are unbelievablely talented and deep...how do you see this weekend's series going against what seems to be a higher quality Clemson team? Thanks!
Aaron Fitt: I think South Carolina is the complete package, and I expect the Gamecocks will continue to perform at a very high level this weekend against Clemson. That said, South Carolina hasn’t exactly been lighting up the scoreboard against teams you’d expect it to put up more runs against. I think the Gamecocks are definitely better on the mound than Clemson, but Clemson’s lineup is very intriguing, and might have a chance to be better than S.C.’s. I’ll obviously get a better feel for how they stack up after taking in those three games this weekend. But heading into it, I like S.C. to win the series.
Steve (San Diego): Can Cal Poly threaten Fullerton for the title of "Best in Cali"...is their ceiling a legit Omaha team or more of a super regional with an outside shot an Omaha?
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, I think they can threaten the Titans. Cal Poly will be the best offensive team in the West, I predict, and so far its pitching also looks stellar. Obviously no team out there will pitch better than Fullerton, but Poly could wind up being the more complete of the two teams. Right now, I’m sticking with the Titans—but it’s a legitimate question, and it will be fascinating to monitor this spring.
Rob (Orlando): What did you think of AJ Puk this weekend? He has some great stuff and looks like something special who could develop into top 10 pick caliber player.
Aaron Fitt: I’ll say this again, just for emphasis: He is going to be a beast.
Steve - Beaver Believer (Corvallis): Should Beaver Fans be worried with the play of our middle infielders or is it just beginning of the season jitters?
Aaron Fitt: Freshman shortstops will always have their ups and downs, but I do believe in Morrison’s talent. You just seldom see teams with freshmen shortstops win national titles, so it is definitely a question worth asking. I don’t know what’s gotten into Andy Peterson—I expected him to be rock-solid, and he has not been. Still feels like an aberration…
VUHawkTalk (TN): Aaron, Has any starting trio in the nation burst out of the gate as well as Vandy's Tyler Beede, Jared Miller and Tyler Ferguson? Combined, they are 6-0 with a 0.51 ERA and .096 BAA. Almost as impressive, they've got a 38:5 strikeout to walk ratio. They've set the tone for a staff that has an NCAA-leading 0.43 ERA (followed by South Carolina, Houston and TCU at 0.86) and an amazing .139 BAA.
Aaron Fitt: Certainly, the Commodores, Gamecocks and Cougars strike me as the staffs that have gotten off to the best starts so far, with Ole Miss in that discussion too. Heard great things about all of those staffs—I think the Rebels’ rotation is legit, as Ellis, Trent and Sam Smith all have looked strong.
Dave (New York City): With A.J. Reed's historic weekend, where do teams that are looking at drafting hime see him playing as a pro: First Base or Pitcher?
Aaron Fitt: I think that’s still TBD. Monster weekend with the bat though. Our Jim Shonerd will have a piece about him and Cousino coming up this week.
Jim (Atlanta): Given the early results, looks like Mercer and Ga. Southern may be the best two teams in Georgia. And, UGA, with new skipper, Scott Stricklin ... oh my!. Your thoughts on the teams in Georgia?
Aaron Fitt: I’ll go with Mercer as the best team in that state—and how about that statement? Come to think of it, we had Mercer ranked highest internally in that state in the preseason too. Georgia is going to struggle this year, but I promise you, Stricklin will get that program going in the next couple of years. No doubt in my mind.
Aaron Fitt: OK folks, my flight is boarding. Have a great week!