Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody! Had an awesome weekend at the South Carolina-Clemson series, which was every bit as compelling as I expected. Let’s chat college baseball.
eight26 (Fullerton): Does CS Fullerton's weekend sweep in Eugene say more about the Ducks or more about the Titans?
Aaron Fitt: I think it says more about the Titans. We all felt Fullerton was a truly elite team heading into the year, and we obviously did not deviate from that opinion while the Titans got off to just a bit of a slow start, as we kept them in the top five. This weekend you saw why. I just think Fullerton is the better team. Oregon has great pitching, but Fullerton has even better pitching. And Fullerton has more firepower in the middle of the lineup. The Ducks are still going to have a very good year. They just aren’t as good as the Titans.
Duke (Columbia, SC): Hey Aaron, if you could throw away preseason ranking bias and start from scratch at this point in the season, based on every team's record and progress to this point who would be your top 5? Thanks!
Aaron Fitt: See now, I object to the premise of your question. What you call “preseason ranking bias,” I call “research.” We form opinions about how good teams are going to be heading into the season based on tons of conversations with coaches and scouts across the country. I think that starting point is important. If we just regarded all teams as being equal and then started the rankings in Week Three, would we then have to regard Iowa’s 9-1 start the same as Florida State’s 8-1 start? I mean, we form judgments about each team based on talent. Beating La Salle isn’t the same as beating LSU. We know that because we have already gathered information about each team’s talent heading into the year. From there, we make adjustments as the action unfolds — the longer the season goes on, the more information we have, and the more performance is weighed over talent. It’s a sliding scale. In the preseason, it’s 100 percent talent. In the postseason rankings, it’s 100 percent performance. It slides gradually from talent projections to performance over the course of the year.
Russell (Austin, Texas): Hey Aaron, What was your impression of Texas this weekend? I think they did a outstanding job, however there hitting is still not there. What do you think they need to work on the most?
Aaron Fitt: Great weekend for the Longhorns. Especially liked the resilience on Sunday, coming from behind in the later innings against a very confident and hot Sam Houston State team. Texas obviously has elite pitching, and I do believe its offense is improved, and will only get better as the year progresses. It’s still not an explosive offense at this point, obviously, but I like the talent and I like how they have executed in big spots, which is something we expect Augie Garrido teams to do but something they did not do last year.
chad thompson (atlanta, ga): After these first few weeks of ball, Do you think Georgia Southern has a good chance to make the field of 64 and Win the Conference???
Aaron Fitt: Still a little too early to say, as the Eagles haven’t played a lot of great teams yet (clearly Georgia is not going to be great this year, and Georgia Tech is decent but not great either). I do like Georgia Southern’s athleticism and team speed, and I’ve been surprised by how many home runs the Eagles have hit so far, but let’s see if they can sustain that pace against better pitching. I’m very high on Sam Howard, a marquee Friday starter, and some of their juco transfers have improved the pitching depth, led by Eric Alonzo. I still like Western Carolina the most in the SoCon, but I expect the Eagles to be very competitive.
JD (SC): Thoughts on the Carolina-Clemson series, please. Was the sweep more on Carolina being better or Clemson being uptight and losing it?
Aaron Fitt: Well, certainly I thought South Carolina was the better team—as I thought in the preseason and as I thought heading into the series. Both teams have very good lineups, but South Carolina is better defensive and better on the mound—especially in the bullpen, I think. That said, Clemson really was in position to win Friday (with a five-run lead in the fifth inning) and Sunday (with a two-run lead and two outs in the ninth), and the Gamecocks still found a way to sweep the series. Maybe this run of futility against South Carolina is in Clemson’s head a little bit. It’s obviously an emotional series for both teams, but Clemson did not seem to do as good a job controlling its emotions. I think the Tigers just want to beat the Gamecocks so bad that it is counterproductive. It’s like Augie likes to say: “When you try, you die.”
Harry (Pearl, MS): How bout them Dawgs? Sure was nice to see Coach Cohens get back on track after losses to Memphis State, West Carolina, and a couple to Holy Cross. My question is what are you thinking about this weekends road trip and looking down the road, what are my Dawgs chances of repeating last year's run in Omaha? Thanks brother, I'll bring it and ring it this weekend in my double wide. GO DAWGS!!
Aaron Fitt: Great bounce-back weekend for Mississippi State against a couple of pretty solid Northern teams. Good to see Dakota Hudson pitch much better this week, but I’m still waiting for Brandon Woodruff to consistently turn in strong outings—he is still a big key for that team. Love that the Bulldogs are going out West this weekend to face Arizona and UC Santa Barbara. They don’t often leave the friendly confines of Dudy-Noble in the nonconference season, but I think this trip will help them heading into SEC play. I do think MSU is the best team in that field, and I think its style of play is well suited to Hi-Corbett, which has a spacious outfield just like Dudy-Noble.
Pat (Chicago): How will my Greenies do this weekend in San Francisco? Marked improvement in competition with Cal, Arkansas and San Francisco. Who do you like? Thanks. Pat
Aaron Fitt: Yep, first big test of the year for Tulane — that is a neat little tournament field out there on the West Coast. I think Tulane is probably in the same category as Cal and USF — all teams that I had outside my preseason regional projection, but not too far outside. Cal and Tulane have very intriguing talent in the freshman classes; USF is more of a veteran club. Arkansas should be the best team in that field, but the Hogs are coming off a disappointing series loss to South Alabama. That should be a wide-open tournament this weekend.
Aaron Fitt: Quick break — have to take a phone call from a coach.
Aaron Fitt: Sorry about the delay. I’m back.
Jeff (D.C.): With its OOC SOS and the struggles of the SEC so far, does LSU have any chance to get back into national seed consideration? (current WarrenNolan RPI of 121 and SOS of 226)?
Aaron Fitt: Hah, well done…
Brad (Cary, NC): Which of these would you choose? Nola: 3-0 0.00 ERA 19 IP, 9 H (only 1 extra base hit - a double) 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 24 SO. .136 BA against. Rodon: 1-2 2.14 ERA 21 IP, 12 H, 10 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 23 SO. .162 BA against.
Aaron Fitt: Which stat line would I choose? Nola’s, obviously. Which pitcher would I pick if I had to win a big game tomorrow? Tough one — I might take Nola for that too. Which pitcher would I pick if I had to win a big game in June? Probably Rodon—he has a history of getting stronger as the season progresses, and he clearly relishes the big stage. Nola is also a proven big-game pitcher, of course — we’re talking about two elite guys here, and you can’t go wrong with either.
Rovert (Corvallis, OR): What do you think of the beavers loss in their second game on Saturday? Will this loss affect their position in the rankings rankings, and how do you compare this team to last years, who went 15-0 to start the season?
Aaron Fitt: Oregon State had a 3-1 week, and most of the time that would be enough to keep them right where they are in the rankings. In this case, we dropped them behind Cal State Fullerton after the Titans had a particularly great weekend, going on the road and sweeping a top-10 team. Big-picture, I like Oregon State’s team a lot—still think it will be an Omaha team, and a strong national title contender. I don’t put much stock in starting 9-3 vs. starting 12-0.
Jeremy (Houston): What are your thoughts on Texas A&M going out to Fresno and getting swept? They really struggled to score runs.
Aaron Fitt: They did struggle to score runs, and that will be the lingering concern about the Aggies until they really get the bats going. We thought A&M would be somewhat better offensively this year than it was last year, but still didn’t love the offensive personnel. Give Fresno State credit — that team has very good arms, both in the rotation and in the bullpen.
VUHawkTalk (TN): Aaron: how much do my Dores have to worry about the lack of clutch hitting. Our average with Runners in Stranded Position is pretty abysmal and it cost us dearly in the midweek losses to WKU and Evansville. We also were frustratingly un-clutch against Stanford, but got enough pitching to sweep. I'm normally an optimist and I know we've got some young bats in the lineup, but I want to see a better approach at the plate as Hosses 1, 2 and 3 (Beede, JMiller and Ferguson) aren't going to have a sub-1.00 ERA all year.
Aaron Fitt: My philosophy is teams that have talented hitters will eventually hit—in the clutch or otherwise. And I believe in Vanderbilt’s offensive talent. Obviously, this won’t be as good an offensive team as last year’s loaded, experienced club. But Xavier Turner and Vince Conde will get it going, and Rhett Wiseman will take off as he gets back to 100 percent healthy, and Dansby Swanson and Johnny Norwood will be solid contributors. I’m not at all worried about Vanderbilt. That team will score enough runs to win a ton of games with that top-shelf pitching staff.
Mike R (Lockport, NY): Frosh Eric Lauer of Kent State has had an impressive start; any scouting reports ?
Aaron Fitt: He ranked No. 125 on our BA 500 heading into last year’s draft, so he is a marquee talent. He’s a lefthander with size and serious arm strength. We heard he sat 90-92 and touched 94 as a high school senior, and showed the makings of a solid curveball. Quality arms almost always get better at Kent State under Mike Birkbeck’s tutelage, so I’m not surprised Lauer is off to a strong start, and I expect his secondary stuff will continue to improve, and he could leave as a first-round pick in a few years.
Eric S. (Orlando, FL): Can you explain Florida's offensive woes? I would accept that they're young and have played a tough schedule, but statistically there isn't much difference between the returnees and the newcomers. And while FGCU and Illinois are good programs, 6 runs in 4 games is pretty extreme, especially considering those staffs had to pitch 4 games in 4 days. There's enough talent on the roster that the Gators should be okay by the end of the season, but I feel like there's also enough talent that they should be able to do better than 18 total extra base hits in 12 games.
Aaron Fitt: You’re right that one would expect Florida to score a little more this weekend, but you’re also right that FGCU and Illinois are good programs, and both have strong pitching staffs this year. I do think Florida will be fine offensively as the season progresses; 12 games is such a small sample size, and I hesitate to draw any sweeping conclusions from it. Certainly, Harrison Bader’s return will make a big difference, because he’ll be a major offensive upgrade in center field. But I really like the top three guys in the order (Martin, Turgeon and Gushue), and I think Alonso and Mattson should be solid in the middle. I’m just not as sold on the bottom third of the lineup—I think that is a soft underbelly.
Andrew (Raleigh): What's your early take on Cornell's Brent Jones. I heard he hit 98mph, and sat 94 to 96, in his first start of the season. Where do you see him going in the MLB draft?
Aaron Fitt: We ranked Jones as the top prospect in the Ivy League heading into the year, thanks to a fastball that we’d heard can reach 96, a quality curveball and a good pitcher’s frame. He could be a top-five rounds guy if he has a good spring.
Ron (DC): Jake Stinnett of Maryland has been dominant this season. Where do you envision him being drafted in June? Top 10 rounds? Or does it all depend on how he looks in ACC play
Aaron Fitt: I think top 10 rounds is a very safe bet, considering he’s a senior and could save teams some money. I’ll bet he goes up inside the top five rounds, because he’s more than just a senior money-saver — he’s got legit talent and size. I think he’s got at least a chance to be a workhorse big league starter someday. But certainly, a lot will depend on how he performs this spring — long way to go.
Joel (KCK): True or False?.....At the beginning of the 2016 season, Phil Bickford will be the front-runner for the top pick in the draft.
Aaron Fitt: He sure does have a solid chance to be in that position… but if the choice is between Bickford and the field, I suppose I will take the field. This is a very strong freshman class, I think.
Bruce Wagner (Irvine, CA): Koby Gauna is off to a great start for the Titans in a relief role, which has seen him move from the set-up/long spot to the closer role. What is his next level upside? IMO I really like his slider ... he can get out both RH and LH hitters with that pitch.
Aaron Fitt: He has really taken that next step forward, which Fullerton needed him to do. It’s a power fastball and a good slider — you’re right about that. I think he’s well suited for that bullpen role; strikes me as probably a middle relief type in pro ball too, although he could get a chance to start, because he handles lefties well and he is durable enough to stretch out.
Tex (Houston, Texas): Hey Aaron. What do you think about Sam Houston State? Legit?
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, I think that team is legit. John asked me in our first Google Hangout of the year for my favorite sleeper outside of the two I’d mentioned here in North Carolina (UNC Wilmington and Western Carolina), and my answer was Sam Houston State. It’s an older team with a lot of experience in big games, a lot of talent in the lineup, and a quality ace in Tyler Eppler. I love the sound defense, I really like how well coached they are, and again, I love their experience, which really matters in college baseball. That team is a threat to win a regional.
Joel (KCK): Does Alex Bregman have the tools it will take to be a major league shortstop?
Aaron Fitt: I think he does. It’s not Andrelton Simmons tools, but he’s extremely sure-handed and instinctive, he has plenty of arm strength, he throws well on the run and from different angles, and he’s a natural leader in the middle of the diamond.
Trey (Greenville): Aaron, The ECU Pirates had a solid weekend with a sweep in the CLC with wins over solid Ohio State and Western Kentucky clubs. I believe both teams will challenge strongly in their league. With the Pirates hitting Saturday and Sunday is this the team we should look forward to seeing the rest of the year? I know its early but how deep can you see them going in the postseason? Ryan Williams has really emerged as a great BP arm!
Aaron Fitt: You know, I think you can expect East Carolina to hit more than it has so far — that offense still hasn’t really gotten going. That was a nice weekend, and ECU should pitch at a high level all season, but I’d like to see the bats get a little hotter. I think it will happen at some point. I think this is a solid regional team.
JR (South Carolina): Saw you tweet earlier that reason you didn't put SC #1 was other 6 games were soft opponents. Curious, since there are only 9/10 games played so far, what are the impressive wins from UVA and FSU that are more impressive than 3 over a top 10/15 team?
Aaron Fitt: Now, you’re taking my tweet out of context. Virginia and Florida State have done nothing to deserve getting moved down, so it would take a team with much stronger overall body of work to jump over them and force them down in the rankings. South Carolina has one fantastic weekend on its resume, but the rest of its body of work is not enough for us to move the Gamecocks up and move those other teams down. If a team sweeps its weekend (as Virginia did), it almost never moves down in our rankings. If a team takes two of three against a ranked opponent (as Florida State did), it almost never moves down in our rankings. South Carolina has the slightly stronger body of work than either team based on this past weekend’s sweep, but it’s not so much stronger that it merits moving those other teams down.
James (Rome,WI): Aaron-Today in Southeastern Wisconsin is the 84th consecutive day of at least 1 inch if snow on the ground. The low this morning was -15, yes minus 15!! I'm getting stoked for my 15th straight year going to OMAHA!! Is there a 50/50 chance I might see my Canes there? Finally, it looks like they might have some offense. Maybe things will get smoother since we just played FL and FL St???
Aaron Fitt: Build up the fire and stay warm up there, James! I think there is a pretty solid chance you could see that Miami team in Omaha this year. I know they’re just 5-5, but I really like the makeup of that roster. It will be a much better offensive team than it has been, and the pitching is strong (although FSU got its bats going this weekend).
Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that’s all I’ve got time for today. See you next week!