Moderator: National college baseball writer Aaron Fitt stopped by at 3:30 p.m. EST to chat about Week 6.
Aaron Fitt: Hello baseball’s brightest fans, hope you are having a nice Monday. Time to chat!
Bill (Atlanta): I was pleasantly surprised to see GT ranked. I have been very impressed to see the growth and improvement of this very young team. You may know the Friday and Saturday starters both are out with injuries but the deep staff has stepped up. I would appreciate any unbiased thoughts on the Jackets as they face teams like FSU, UVA, etc. later in the season.
Aaron Fitt: Hi Bill — I’ll be the first to admit I was pretty down on the Yellow Jackets a couple of weeks ago, and they have really showed me something over the last two weeks. The young players in the lineup are getting their feet under them, and John Manuel (who did color for all three Tech games on ESPN3 this weekend) said they look really good on defense. We both still are not completely sold on the pitching staff, but Matt Grimes’ re-emergence has been a very pleasant surprise, and a key development. Ultimately, I think Tech will take some lumps against the top teams in the ACC, because I don’t think its talent or experience compares with the Seminoles and Cavs, for instance. But this is looking again like a likely regional team.
Justin (Boston, MA): Aaron, Have any love for the 20-3 VCU Rams?
Aaron Fitt: Rams are on my radar — a 20-3 start isn’t easy no matter who you’re playing, and they do have a couple of decent wins against UNC Wilmington and East Carolina, but most of the schedule has been pretty soft, so it’s hard to know how good they are yet. But there are a lot of upperclassmen on that roster, both in the lineup and on the mound, and that really matters. VCU and Saint Louis look like the class of that league to me.
Steve (DC): So is it safe to say that the Terps are legitimate this season? Will they be playing post season baseball? Jake Stinnett and Mike Shawaryn leading any staff is scary.
Aaron Fitt: John Manuel went on record on today’s podcast predicting Maryland will be in a regional, and I think he might be right. Their remaining ACC schedule is fairly favorable theoretically, and I do like that pitching staff. Obviously the one-two punch is outstanding, but there are a bunch of quality arms in that bullpen, too.
Dave (San DIego): Still very early but what four teams do you feel have the inside track to make the WCC tournament at the end of the year? Do you think this can be a 2-3 team league for the field of 64?
Aaron Fitt: LMU, Gonzaga, Pepperdine and USD look like the early front-runners, but I’m not writing off San Francisco either—something tells me the Dons will find their way into the top four by season’s end. But I don’t think the WCC is as good as it was a year ago, and at this early juncture it looks like the RPI could be problematic, so I’m thinking it is a likely one-bid league, with a shot at two.
Bryan (Mississippi): Why is Ole Miss's sweep of a TERRIBLE Missouri team more impressive than a Miss State series win over one of the top team's in the country in Vanderbilt? Not sayin that State should be rated higher, but you moving them up more spots than State doesn't make sense to me
Aaron Fitt: First off, I don’t think Missouri is terrible. They’re certainly not great, but they’re not terrible, either. Ole Miss has the more consistent body of work and was higher in the rankings last week; we had a vacuum to fill in the 12-13 range, where we needed to move up two teams, so we went with the two teams that were already higher (Texas and Ole Miss), rather than jumping MSU over them. And Mississippi State’s upward momentum had to be limited somewhat by the fact that UCSB was ahead of them, and UCSB beat them twice head-to-head on a neutral field, so the Gauchos had to remain ahead, the way we saw it. That’s probably more “poll mechanics” talk than anyone’s really interested in…
Stretchy (Rocky Mount NC): A huge plunge in the rankings for NCST....will the wolfpack recover?
Aaron Fitt: I think so… but I have less conviction than I had last week. Just an inconsistent team in all facets right now—some weeks the starting pitching is good, other weeks it’s horrendous. The bullpen has been similarly up-and-down, and the offense has been largely disappointing. There are some reasons for concern here, but I still believe in the veteran core, and this program has a history of really getting it going in April anyway. I think that will be the case again this year.
Matt (Louisiana): This weekend two freshmen were dealing in Baton Rouge LSU's Jared Poche and UGA's Robert Tyler. Do you think Poche has ace potential next year when little Nola goes pro. What about the Tiger's anaemic bats? Victim of stellar opponent pitching or cause for concern. Also, ties suck.
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, I see Poche as the Friday starter next year, and I think he is good enough to handle it. As for the LSU bats, I’m not really concerned. I don’t think LSU will be as offensive this season as it was a year ago, but I never thought that — they lost a bunch of very good players from last year’s club. But it’s still an athletic lineup that can skill it up pretty well, and I think they’ll score enough runs to continue winning a lot of games behind a strong pitching staff.
DS (Orlando): Aaron, following up to this morning's question, can you talk about Rice's Zech Lemond and Duke soph Michael Matuella? You called Matuella a monster on Twitter. And is Lemond a potential first rounder this year?
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, I think Matuella has a chance to be a top-10 pick last year — it’s easy mid-to-upper-90s velocity, the secondary stuff continues to improve, the body is great, and the pitchability is coming quick too. As for Lemond, I could see him sneaking up into the first round, especially now that he’s starting and thriving. He holds his velocity pretty well, he can reach 95, he’s got a swing-and-miss breaking ball and all kinds of poise and savvy. Hearing good things about him from scouts.
jb (SC): Obviously, FSU is a great club who is a legit national title contender, but it seems that Clemson has a tough task of being a "regional host" type of team considering the upcoming schedule. What are your thoughts?
Aaron Fitt: You know, I think Clemson is good enough that it should be a favorite in all of its remaining series except at Virginia. Tigers get the Wolfpack and Hurricanes at home, and road series at Maryland, Pitt and Notre Dame are certainly winnable (although Maryland, as previously noted, is pretty good, I still think Clemson is better). With N.C. State in a pretty deep hole now, I think Clemson will wind up as the No. 3 team in the ACC and host a regional.
Greg (Brea, CA): How strong does the PAC 12 look as a conference? What's your guess as to the number of regional teams in the conference?
Aaron Fitt: The Pac-12 and Big 12 are the two leagues that I’m having the most trouble figuring out so far. At least in the Pac, I feel pretty good about the Beavers and Ducks as the teams to beat in that league, with UCLA No. 3. But who’s No. 4? Right now it looks like Washington, and we’ll soon find out if the Huskies can sustain this high level of play. They do have intriguing talent; I think they might very well be for real. But the rest of the league looks like a mess. This could wind up being a four-bid league, but I’m thinking Arizona State, USC and Washington State will pick up some steam in the second half, making it a potential six- or seven-bid league. Stanford could be in the mix too, because that tough early schedule will help out in the RPI. The Cardinal just needs to start winning some series, as it is 1-for-5 so far in weekend series. The next two weekends, Stanford hosts the Ducks and travels to Oregon State—the potential is there for the Cardinal to fall into too deep of a hole to dig out of.
Steve (Dallas): One college player who is actually hitting is OF Bradley Zimmer. Could he push his way into the Top 10 in the draft?
Aaron Fitt: He’s a very good all-around player with one of the most well-rounded tool sets in this draft class, but we’re not hearing his name too much in the top 10 mix. Probably more of an 11-25 guy somewhere. Somewhere around No. 15 feels about right to me.
Greg (Brea, CA): How does this years UCLA squad compare to last? Both seem to be pitching dominated teams.
Aaron Fitt: I just think this year’s team is a lesser version of last year’s. Not having Plutko and Vander Tuig leading the rotation is a big, big difference, and not having Valaika, Filia and Kramer in the lineup is equally big. Even with Shane Zeile taking a huge step forward at the plate, this is not a very potent offensive club. Kaprielian and Poteet have very good arms in the rotation, but they are not as consistent or proven as Plutko and Vander Tuig, who were rock-solid warriors.
Paul M. (Baton Rouge, LA): Aaron, with UL-Lafayette and LSU off to such hot starts, what are your thoughts on a matchup between the 2 schools in the Super Regionals? It would be an electric atmosphere!
Aaron Fitt: You know, they might not be able to meet in a super regional, because both of those clubs might be national seeds. I certainly believe the Cajuns are on track to be a national seed, and LSU has that kind of ability too, but it will frankly be harder to do it in the SEC, which is so much more competitive. Could the Tigers wind up traveling to Lafayette for a super? That would be something, wouldn’t it? Lafayette will obviously have to continue dominating its league to get a national seed, but I see no reason to believe it won’t. And the committee has shown it is willing to reward mid-major juggernauts who dominate their leagues.
Brad (Baton Rouge): Why was there no talk about how Aaron Nola was the only college pitcher this week to throw well following the two big match ups between Nola-Beede and Rondon-Weaver
Aaron Fitt: I hate to say it, but I think we all take Nola for granted a bit. He’s good every single week—it’s boring! And he’s been like that for three years. How many times can you write that Aaron Nola is awesome? There are only so many different ways to say it. I mentioned his strong performance in the Friday Roundup and in Tracker, what else is there to write?
Patrick (Lake Forest, CA): Thanks for taking my question. I know its early in the season, but who are some Freshman that have impressed you so far?
Aaron Fitt: One is Keegan Thompson of Auburn, whom I’ll be writing about in tomorrow morning’s Three Strikes. Daniel Pinero of Virginia has settled into the No. 2 spot in the lineup and is playing stellar defense at shortstop—I believe he only has one error on the season. John Manuel has been raving about Georgia Tech’s own freshman shortstop, Connor Justus. My preseason pick for freshman of the year, Clemson’s Chris Okey, has been pretty good — he’s got 25 RBIs and is seeing plenty of time behind the plate. Wil Crowe at South Carolina is a beast as the Sunday starter—he looks like Thompson’s leading competition for SEC freshman of the year. Those are some names that come to mind.
Drew (Mississippi): Aaron, I love following BA weekly college rankings and I feel y'all have a better feel for these teams than any other ranking. In Saying that, did the big jump for the Rebels have more to do with their performance or lack of performance from so many teams ahead of them?
Aaron Fitt: It was a combination of a consistent body of work for Ole Miss (20-4 against a decent—although not stellar—schedule) and the fact that five teams ahead of them lost series, so somebody had to move up.
TITANation (So. Cal.): Aaron, we are very excited to have 3 Big West teams in the Top 15! I have seen all 3 teams play and they are indeed that good. But, with the remaining scheduling and head-to-head match-ups, how likely is it for all 3 teams to finish in the Top 15?
Aaron Fitt: I wouldn’t bank on all three finishing in the top 15. All three are legit postseason teams for sure, and I think Poly and Fullerton will finish in the top 15, but I suspect the Gauchos will finish more in the back half of the Top 25. You don’t usually see the third-place team in a likely three-bid league rank in the top 15, and at this point I still believe UCSB is the No. 3 team in the pecking order there. But that’s a really nice top three teams in that league—great year for the Big West.
Marc (Council Bluffs): Thoughts on Louisville's Grant Kay, and Auburn's Damek Tomscha?
Aaron Fitt: All right, an Iowa Western CC question! Both those guys have made big impacts for Top 25 teams this year. Kay seems like he’s getting big hits every week, and he’s ultra-athletic, just a good player who can do a lot of things. And it looks like Tomscha has put it all together in his second year in D-I, emerging as a big-time run producer in the middle of that Auburn lineup. He was one of the key parts of Auburn’s top-10 recruiting class last year because of his power potential, and he did hit for some power last year, but this year he’s become a more complete player.
Scott (San Luis Obispo): Brandon Finnegon and Matt Imhof have very similar numbers so far. I know Finnegon throws a little harder but how would you compare these two players overall? Which player do you think might have the better professional career?
Aaron Fitt: Neat question—two lefthanders who rank among the nation’s leaders in strikeouts and both could be first-round picks, but they are very different. Finnegan is shorter but he’s so strong, and he holds his velocity deep into games, and his breaking ball is a wipeout pitch—I think he’s got better pure stuff than Imhof. But Imhof has plenty of velocity too–he’ll be 89-94, while Finnegan is 91-96. Neither of them use their changeups much, but Imhof has a more traditional starting pitcher profile because of his size, while some scouts see Finnegan as more of a Billy Wagner closer type. I think both of them start, though, and I would probably lean toward Finnegan long term. Incidentally, we’ll be running profiles of both guys in our next issue, along with fellow lefty Harrison Musgrave of West Virginia.
William (Mississippi): Given every stadium is on its A game; where is the best atmosphere in college baseball?
Aaron Fitt: I’m sure I’m stepping on a hornets’ nest with this one—there are a lot of great answers. I will admit I have not been to Mississippi State when it was on its A game, but I’ve been to LSU and Arkansas when they were pretty close to their A games. Based on my experience only, I’ll say LSU.
BawlmerBeav (On the ledge outside my UTL office): I greatly appreciate your work. Hope you enjoyed Norman. Feel free to talk me in from this particular ledge. After losing a series, at home, to a good but not great Arizona State team, the Beavers are concerning me over what I fear is their greatest weakness. They have a great trio of starters, but what about their bullpen? In retrospect, twice this weekend Casey may have left his starter in a little too long, ultimately accounting for the two losses. I'm thinking that if OSU had a stellar closer (or at least a stronger bullpen), Casey might not be as eager to have his starters go the full nine. The logical extension (for a pessimist) here is that the Beavers can never go deep in the CWS because there aren't the required arms in the pen. Is there real reason for concern here, or should I just calm down and go and get a hobby or something?
Aaron Fitt: Step in off the ledge, for Pete’s sake! Nothing to worry about here; Schultz, Engelbrekt, Eden and Jackson will be a fine quartet to lean upon down the stretch, I think. Can’t be lights-out every weekend.
Kevin (Seattle): I read a crazy stat the other day that Mike Martin had 36 straight 45 win seasons. The next closest is the HC at UNC at 3. How impressive is that? Does 11 not winning it all discredit him in your book?
Aaron Fitt: Looks like he “only: won 44 games in 2006, but every other year of his career he has won 45-plus. That is one of the most incredible achievements in sports, if you ask me. Championship or no, he will go down as one of the all-time greats.
Ben (Leland Grove): Time for your weekly Rodon check-in - is he falling down your draft board any at this point?
Aaron Fitt: My conviction is wavering a bit—the reports from this weekend were not encouraging. He’s certainly no longer the slam-dunk No. 1 guy on the board he was heading into the season. He could still be the No. 1 guy, but we’re six weeks into the season now. It’s time to get going. And I do know there are some scouts who really don’t love some of his mound histrionics and question his maturity. That could also impact his stock, frankly. He’s always been an emotional guy and an in-your-face competitor, but there is a line between emotional and immature, and I think he needs to prove to some evaluators that he’s on the right side of that line. When Gerrit Cole was a junior, he had a pretty frustrating year—he went 6-8 even though he pitched pretty well. He just didn’t get any breaks whatsoever. But he never expressed frustration with his teammates, and he handled himself with grace all the way through, on the field and in his dealings with the media. I think that is the model for Rodon to follow.
Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, that’s it for today. Thanks for stopping by, as always!