Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, I’ll get started in just a couple of minutes here, sorry for the delay.
Aaron Fitt: This turned into a hectic afternoon—so much for the 3 p.m. start! I’ll probably have to keep this to an hour so I can catch a flight, so let’s get going.
Tony (Fayetteville, NC): What do you make of my Blue Devils? Big win over the Tar Heels! Regional contenders? Or are we just playing above our head?
Aaron Fitt: Jim Shonerd asked the question on Twitter yesterday: Is Duke the best team in the state of North Carolina? Right now, they’ve got a real case (although Western Carolina, surprising Davidson and resurgent East Carolina are also in the mix). The Devils have a lot of quality pitching — this has to be the deepest staff they’ve had in a very long time, and the bats are coming around too. I do think Duke has regional talent, but the nonconference strength of schedule wasn’t robust, so they’ve got a big RPI hole to dig out of as conference play continues.
Travis (VA): Michael Katz is leading the country in home runs and led the Northwoods League in home runs last summer, yet you don't hear much about him even in his draft year.
Aaron Fitt: You know, he’s more in that Zach Stephens (Tennessee Tech) category of a great college slugger who probably doesn’t project as well at the next level. Both those guys have very hitter-friendly setups, and to their credit they have really taken advantage. They are very good players, but not big-time prospects. But William & Mary looks like a dangerous team once again this year—they’re leading the nation in scoring (10.0 runs per game).
TaySC (Aiken, SC): With USC and FL currently leading the way in the SECE and Bama and MSU leading the way in the SECW (all 6-3), who do you see holding on and winning the respective divisions of the SEC? Is FL that good (after a brutal start) or is LSU not as good as expected?
Aaron Fitt: It’s so wide open that predictions feel pointless, but you have to like the Gamecocks in the East, with Vandy right there too. I think Florida will be more of an up-and-down team throughout the season, given the youth of that team, but we saw a flash this week of how good they can be when things are going right. That said, there are legit concerns about LSU… I think it’s really just one marque arm (Nola) and a bunch of solid guys who aren’t overpowering. And if Bregman isn’t hitting, the offense is very ordinary. Bregman is a stud and he’ll get his bat going, but they’re relying on him an awful lot.
Matt W. (Leesburg, VA): Aside from South Carolina's late inning swagger, I am having a hard time figuring out why Montgomery and Wynkoop seem to be struggling a bit. They both seem to be leaving pitches up in the zone and batters are jumping all over them (at least the last few weeks). What are your thoughts on messing with the weekend pitching order? Do you think Crowe is ready to be a Friday night starter?
Aaron Fitt: Well, it sounded like Montgomery pitched a lot better this weekend, and Wynkoop was good in relief before struggling when they tried to bring him back to start the second game — and that’s just an unorthodox deal for a pitcher, we often see guys struggle in that situation. But those are two guys who need to hit their spots to win—they aren’t going to blow hitters away with stuff when they lack their best command. I think I would leave Montgomery as the Friday guy — so much big-game track record.
HawkTalk (Nashville): Aaron, two questions: 1) Who had the biggest #SugarPincher win on Sunday? That Vandy-UK game was a big one for both squads in re: SEC positioning, but had to be other huge rubber matches out there. and 2) The Fulmer mow-down of AJ Reed got me wondering, if you had to get out one batter with it all on the line, whose stuff is filthiest to the point that you'd want them out there? Rodon? Fulmer? ___?
Aaron Fitt: If you follow @VUHawkTalk on twitter, you probably know that he’s trying to make “fetch” happen — that is, he wants the term” sugar pincher” to catch on as a replacement for “rubber game.” Let’s just say, it’s a long shot, but I kinda like it. That Vanderbilt-Kentucky series looked like a good one — two quality teams with contrasting styles. Fulmer’s three-pitch strikeout of A.J. Reed was a huge moment in that game; Fulmer went with a sharp breaking ball for a called strike, then got Reed to chase another below the zone for strike two, then froze him on a perfect fastball in for strike three. In a one-batter situation like that, I think Fulmer might just be the guy I’d want on the mound.
Chet (Virginia): Now that Maryland has come back to earth ( we all saw nc st get swept again so obviously they are not that good). What do you think about them now ???
Aaron Fitt: Pretty much the same as last week — I never thought the Terps were a Top 25 team, and I figured they’d probably lose that Clemson series. But they’re good enough to win any of their remaining series, and I agree with John Manuel that they’re on track to make a regional.
Henry (Chicago IL): How realistic is it for Illinois State to receive an at large bid? Is their weekend rotation that good, or is it a lack of competition that have produced those number?
Aaron Fitt: I think it’s pretty realistic, actually. They’re starting off from a good RPI position (No. 23), and the MVC is in pretty solid RPI shape (DBU, Indiana State and Wichita are all inside the top 55). Heading into the year, I saw Illinois State and Wichita as essentially co-favorites in the Valley; the Redbirds do have a very good pitching staff. Dan Savas was a Cape League all star last summer (I hear his velocity is down from where it was then, but he has good pitchability and is a winner). And Jeremy Rhoades has a big arm — those strikeout numbers tell the story. He’s got great stuff. Two years ago, the Valley sent three teams to regionals (and DBU got in as an independent after playing an MVC schedule), so it’s easy to envision this being a multi-bid league again.
Mike (DE): Thanks for taking my question. Any thoughts on who the should win the Golden Spikes award this year?
Aaron Fitt: I don’t think there’s a clear-cut front-runner this year like Kris Bryant was last year. I’d probably lean toward Aaron Nola right now.
Jack (Starkville): What do you think about Mississippi State after this past weekend? Do you like Jacob Lindgren out of the pin or do you think he will work his way into a starting role?
Aaron Fitt: It seems to have clicked for him in that bullpen role, in a way it never did when he was starting. Feels like they’ll keep in in relief going forward, in that Chad Girodo role. And I think that makes sense.
Ray (Portland): A few weeks into conference play, how do you see the Pac-12 shaking out? Beavers, Ducks, and Bruins still probably the class of the conference but UW and ASU are playing really well. What are some of the biggest x-factors for the rest of the season?
Aaron Fitt: I’m sticking with the Beavers to win the league — I think that’s the most complete, experienced, talented team in the league. But Washington looks legit to me. That’s an older team, and the veteran guys they needed to step forward have done so. I’m a believer — the Huskies will be a regional team, and a major factor in the Pac-12 race going forward. The x-factor is Stanford — young team with a lot of talent, a little like Florida (but not nearly as much firepower in the freshman class as the Gators have). Back-to-back freshmen in the rotation beat Oregon this weekend, Brett Hanewich and Cal Quantrill.
K.F. (Osaka, Japan): What do you think about NC State's Saturday/Sunday starter & bullpen ?
Aaron Fitt: Not good. They need to figure it out immediately. I’m sure they hated to move Andrew Woeck into the rotation this weekend, but I think it was the necessary move. You can’t use him to protect a lead later in the game if you don’t have the lead to begin with.
Patrick (Greenville): Aaron, I know my pirates haven't played the toughest opponents the last 2 weeks but have run off 7 straight. What can we expect the next 2 weeks going to NCSU Wednesday, going to Rice this weekend, hosting state next Wednesday, and going to ODU? How many can we take?
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, basically they’ve played well since the day I saw them stink it up against Tulane and pronounced that I was abandoning my preseason pick of ECU as a regional team — I think they’ve won 9 of their last 10 games since then. So I like to think they owe it all to me for lighting a fire under them. But that said… I think the next week will be challenging. I like that Rice team quite a bit, and the Owls are tough at home. I see a 1-4 stretch over the next five. Now, this is also an opportunity for the Pirates — if they go 3-2 or 4-1 over the next 8 days, they’ll have my attention.
TJ (So Cal): Is ASU good or is this recent hot streak (on the road, against elite competition) a mirage?
Aaron Fitt: Arizona State is capable of winning a weekend series against anybody with those two lefties at the top of the rotation, Burr dominating at the back of the pen and a gritty lineup that seems to be finding its stride. That said, UCLA isn’t really “elite” this year, and the Bruins have been very up and down this year, just like the Sun Devils. The last two weeks were impressive, but ASU also lost two home series over the previous two weeks. I’m still trying to figure out the Devils, but my gut says they’re a regional team, and a fringe Top 25 team—like I thought heading into the year.
Dave (Albany): Who has more at the end of the season: A) errors by the Virginia middle infield or B) walks by Thomas Eshelman? Eshelman can't really be working that magic again can he? Thanks
Aaron Fitt: This is a good one! Branden Cogswell and Daniel Pinero have one error combined right now in that UVa. middle infield, which is simply absurd after seven weeks of play. That team is fielding .986! We talked so much about their offensive capability in the preseason, but we also thought they’d be an elite defensive team, and the pitching-and-defense carried the Cavs while the offense was finding its stride in the first half. Anyway, Eshelman has one walk in 56 innings, which is pretty much on par with what he did last year (3 walks in 115 innings). I’ll say Eshelman runs into a wild streak and finishes with 5 walks. And Cogswell and Pinero finish with 10-12 errors total. So I’ll go with (A).
Sally (Berkeley): What can you tell us about Michael Matuella? Is he a top 5 candidate for next year?
Aaron Fitt: He sure is. Clint Longenecker saw him this weekend and came away awfully impressed, like most people do when they see Matuella. He said Matuella was 96-97 with ease, incredible extension and plane. He’ll flash a very exciting breaking ball too.
Murray (Carlsbad, CA): I'm a huge Gator fan and loved seeing them sweep LSU, but I think number 13 is a little high. They were handed some runs with some sloppy LSU defense and wild LSU pitching. Now they go on the road to play Kentucky, another midweek with FSU and then South Carolina. Do you give them any chance against Kentucky in Lexington and particularly SC in Columbia? To me, it looks like a tall order for the Gators. I thought maybe 20-23 would be where they'd be ranked. Thanks!
Aaron Fitt: Well, there was a vacuum to fill in the rankings this week because 13 of the last 18 teams lost series, so we brought in the Gators a little higher than I’d really like. But yeah, they’ve got a chance in Lexington if they pitch like they did this weekend. But Kentucky is a much stiffer offensive challenge than LSU.
David (San Diego): At this point how many teams from the WCC do you feel will get into the field of "64." Loyola, Pepperdine and San Diego are all playing good baseball.
Aaron Fitt: RPI realities will hit the WCC pretty hard. I think it’s going to wind up a one-bid league this year.
Ted Dintersmith (Charlottesville, Virginia): Sounds like you had a great trip through the midwest. Meanwhile, in your rankings today, there isn't a single team from your new home state of North Carolina. How long has it been since that happened? Not as bad as the state of Texas in 2013, but getting there.
Aaron Fitt: Great question — might have to ask Jim Shonerd to research that for us. It is feeling like Texas in 2013 — heading into this year, we thought it would be a banner year in NC, and this has been an incredibly disappointing first half. I don’t think there will be a regional in North Carolina this year.
Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, I’ve got to run and catch a flight. Thanks as always for stopping by, and see you next week.