Moderator: National college baseball writer Aaron Fitt was here to talk about the BA top 25 and the weekend.
Aaron Fitt: Good afternoon, everybody. Let’s dive right in.
Jeff (DC): What makes you believe ULL’s offense is elite? I hope you can answer with something other than “I really believe in their talent.” That team has some really awful losses. Did they not have a huge year last year before managing 3 runs total against SHSU’s ace and LSU’s #4 in a regional?
Aaron Fitt: Well I’ll start by acknowledging that John Manuel made a fine point in today’s podcast: some scouts question Louisiana-Lafayette’s ability to hit premium velocity, which is something they have seen very little of this year. That lineup is filled with guys who take big hacks, and they aren’t afraid to strike out, but they get rewarded with a lot of extra-base hits. I don’t see a ton of major league-caliber talents in the lineup, the way Virginia has, so I think a truly elite pitching staff could shut down the Cajuns (good pitching does have a way of beating good hitting anyway, as we all know). That said, ULL’s offense has an uncommonly deep collection of very experienced, physical and versatile players. I like the fact that they have multiple guys—Jace Conrad, Ryan Leonards, Seth Harrison, Blake Trahan—who combine both power and speed, and can hurt you a variety of ways. And I like the fact that there isn’t any let-up in the lineup. There’s no section of the lineup where a pitcher can just cruise for a couple of batters. Are the numbers inflated because of the level of competition and the friendly hitting conditions? Sure. But they are also genuinely very good.
Curtis (Orlando): Group A: ULL, Cal Poly, Washington, Alabama, Houston Group B: Vanderbilt, LSU, Fullerton, NC State, Miss St Which group will have more teams in Omaha?
Aaron Fitt: Hmm… great question. I think ULL and Cal Poly are Omaha teams, especially the Cajuns. I have some serious concerns about Fullerton, NC State and Miss State. I think Alabama, Vandy and LSU are all in the same pool of teams that are good enough to get to Omaha, but all three have warts, like everybody in the SEC. Washington is a great story, but I’m still not buying the Huskies as an Omaha team, and ditto for Houston. But, I think I’m still going to lean toward Group A, because I have more conviction about ULL than any of these teams, and Cal Poly would probably be next for me.
Aaron Fitt: Looks like the site is back up, sorry for the crash. Now I’m on the phone with a coach — short break. Sorry for the delay.
Aaron Fitt: OK, I’m back, sorry again for the long delay. I’ll go later to make up for it.
Jeremy (Chicago): Hey Aaron, how many teams do you see making it to a Regional out of The Valley?
Aaron Fitt: I had three Valley teams in my midseason field of 64 projection last week — DBU, Indiana State and Illinois State. I think that is still very possible, although some of the other teams in that league are running into some RPI problems that could drag down the top three teams, and maybe make it a two-bid league.
D (Mobile): I have a UL-Lafayette question for you. Is there precedent of a team being given a national seed without even playing another team that is in contention for a national seed?
Aaron Fitt: Well, the Cajuns did play a three-game series against Alabama — the team that currently sits all alone in first place in the SEC. And the Cajuns won that series. There is precedent for other mid-major teams getting national seeds with RPIs in the 11-20 range, even with lesser strength of schedules. UC Irvine in 2009 comes to mind.
Brad (Cary): So the takeaway this weekend was that Rodon looked good losing. Surely an improvement over looking bad losing. How do you see Rodon, Beede, Hoffman and Nola shaking out if the draft was today? Any other college arms infiltrating that group?
Aaron Fitt: I think that is the takeaway. If the draft was today, I’d say Rodon, Nola, Hoffman, Beede. Nola has out-performed them all by a wide margin, and I have a feeling he’s got a chance to sneak up into the top 5 picks. Right now, Kyle Freeland might be ahead of a couple of those guys; I could see him jumping into the top 5 too. And I still see Finnegan in that group too.
Eugene (Atlanta): I assume we’ll say this week was only a bump in the road for South Carolina, Florida St and Vanderbilt. Yes or no: Panic button time for Arkansas, Miss St, UNC, NC State, UCLA, Fullerton?
Aaron Fitt: I wouldn’t hit the panic button quite yet for any of those teams. UCLA and UNC strike me as the teams that have the most work to do to get into regional range, based on RPIs and remaining schedules. I think they are in the most trouble of that group. And I think it may be time to revise expectations downward for NC State, Fullerton and Mississippi State, three top 10 teams that frankly just don’t look as good as we thought they’d be. I’m not sure any of those teams is good enough to catch fire and make an Omaha run. I think all three will get into regionals, though. And I’m not ruling out an Omaha run for any of them — but I have much less conviction about the probability it happening than I did a month ago. I’ve seen the Wolfpack and Titans, and both looked pretty flawed to me. And their bodies of work are unimpressive after nine weeks.
Parke (Columbia, SC): You dropped South Carolina six spots after going 2-2 last week and only dropped FSU 3 after going 1-3. That does not make sense! FSU was dominated by Georgia Tech. South Carolina 28-7 FSU 27-8. South Carolina is #2 in RPI. Perplexed to say the least!
Aaron Fitt: A few people on Twitter were making this same false equivalence. This is South Carolina’s third weekend series loss of the year, and its second in a row. But this is Florida State’s first weekend series loss — that’s a big difference. We make no secret of the fact that we place more value on weekend series than midweek games, because college baseball is structured to basically win 2 out of 3 all the way through the postseason; how a team performs with its best pitchers on the mound matters more to us. The SEC is deeper than the ACC, of course, but FSU is 12-8 against the top 50 in the RPI, while South Carolina is 10-5, so it’s not like the Gamecocks have played a dramatically more challenging schedule. This was FSU’s first weekend hiccup, and we dropped them four spots for it.
Steve (San Diego): The WCC is starting to look like a three team battle at this point. Could Pepperdine, USD, and Loyola all get into the field of 64? If Loyola can win the series against Pepperdine they would have series wins against both USD and Pepperdine would this give them an edge when the field is selected?
Aaron Fitt: The problem is LMU’s RPI reality is not pleasant — they’re No. 140 right now, and I really can’t imagine them boosting that by the 90 or so spots they’d need to get into at-large range. So LMU needs to win the conference tournament to get in, regardless of what it does against Pepperdine. The Waves and Toreros look to me like quality at-large caliber clubs, and right now they’re in at-large position in the RPI. But they need to keep winning at a high clip, because the rest of the league is in very bad RPI shape, which will drag down Pepperdine and USD. I have a feeling this winds up as a one-bid league, for that reason.
Drew (Mississippi): Aaron, the Rebels now have 9 losses on the season by a combined 15 runs. This team just seems to be playing with a chip on its shoulder this year. Are you ready to consider Ole Miss a possible Omaha team?
Aaron Fitt: Sure — I think there are about 10 teams in the SEC that could legitimately make it to Omaha, and Ole Miss is in that group. I think it’s one of the most balanced teams in the league — I like the rotation, I love the defense and speed and athleticism, I think the lineup is pretty potent. The bullpen has had a few hiccups, that is something to watch. But it does seem like this team has shown plenty of mental toughness, which is encouraging. They have responded well to tough losses, like the sweep against Alabama and the Saturday meltdown against MSU.
Russell (Austin, Texas): Hey Aaron, great chat as always. Man, what is up with Texas? I remember some weeks ago, I ask you about there hitting. And you said to give it some time. Well there hitting has been exceptional for the past few weeks. How do you think they are playing?
Aaron Fitt: I’ll have a piece on the Longhorns leading my Three Strikes tomorrow morning, so look for that. But Augie Garrido says the difference is basically just that this team has the right mentality — the right “spirit”, as he likes to call it — and has really bought into his offensive philosophy. They are selfless and not interested in their batting averages, and they are much better at executing the fundamentals. And those freshmen have made a bigger impact than the numbers show. Zane Gurwitz has been a sparkplug with a knack for getting on base, Tres Barrera leads the team in doubles, and Kacy Clemens is coming on too.
Glenn (Baton Rouge): It sounds like AJ Reed is the current front runner for Golden Spikes because he is a really good pitcher and a really good power hitter. Aaron Nola is the best pitcher and has no at bats on the year. Is Mainieri ruining Nola’s shot at the Spikes by not letting him swing the bat a little like AJ Reed?
Aaron Fitt: Good point. Let the man hit, Mainieri!
Cory (Houston): Where would you rank Texas' freshman class. What are your top 5 freshman classes?
Aaron Fitt: Hm, tough one. I’ll stick with Florida No. 1, like we had in the fall. If we’re only talking freshmen, that means Texas doesn’t get credit for Lukas Schiraldi, so the Longhorns might drop a spot or two. I’ll do Miami No. 2, Texas 3, South Carolina 4, and Oklahoma State 5 — pretty close to my order from the fall. Virginia (with Connor Jones and Daniel Pinero leading the way) needs to be in that mix too, along with Auburn, and maybe Georgia.
Eric S. (Orlando, FL): The Gators are firmly in the national seed discussion now, aren't they? It seems crazy for a team that's lost 4 weekend series and doesn't know who it's Saturday and Sunday starters are from week to week, but the #1 RPI, #2 SOS, and 8-1 against FSU, LSU, and SC are about as loud as it gets.
Aaron Fitt: You said it well. It seems crazy, but the resume is the resume. And those are some loud data points.
Gantt (Athens): What's your take on the dawgs? I know with the new coaches there is still a transition phase but they've won 3 straight SEC series, 2 being against A&M and Tenn both in the top 25 at the time, and beating a solid Clemson team. With the hitting finally coming around and as well as they've been pitching, I'm starting to think they could make a regional. Thoughts?
Aaron Fitt: If selection day was today, I think they’d be in, actually — they’re 7-7 in the SEC, inside the top 50 in the RPI, and have won those three straight series. Great job by Scott Stricklin and his staff rallying this team after a slow start. However, I expect the Bulldogs to struggle against a brutal closing schedule — at Florida, at Vandy, vs. South Carolina, at Ole Miss, vs. Kentucky. Hard to imagine there is a more difficult 5 weeks left for anybody. That’s why I don’t think Georgia will finish as a regional team. But I like the young talent there, and I love the coaching staff — the future is bright for that program.
Derrick (Arkansas): Aaron, can the SEC send 10 or more teams to the regionals ? Are the Hogs in or out at this point ?
Aaron Fitt: Yes, I think it can send 10 teams, and I think it probably will. If selection day was today, Arkansas is out because of a mid-70s RPI. But that’s a team with a much more manageable remaining schedule, so I still think they’ll find their way into a regional, because I really like the starting pitching.
Steve (Atlanta): Thanks, as always, for doing the chats. Which is the real Georgia Tech- the one who got swept at Pitt or the one who took 2 of 3 from FSU? How do you see GT finishing the season?
Aaron Fitt: Neither — somewhere in between. There were some mitigating factors in that Pitt series — weather issues, weird early start time. Not making excuses, but if you look at Georgia Tech’s last five weeks, the Pitt series is the outlier, and everything else is pretty good. Georgia Tech is not better than Florida State, so this weekend was not a true indication for me either. The Jackets still aren’t a slam-dunk regional team, because the remaining ACC schedule features three road series that won’t be gimmes (NC State, Maryland and Virginia). But I’m back to thinking the Jackets will probably be a regional club, probably as a No. 3 seed, maybe a No. 2.
Tucker (Raleigh NC): With multiple pretty major disappointing clubs like CS-Fullerton, NC State, North Carolina, UCLA and K State this year could you give a top 2 of teams that are not ranked that you think could get really hot in June and have a shot at Omaha? Also when we get to postseason selections do you think those top 3 of the PAC 12 will get penalized for how down the rest of the Conference is?
Aaron Fitt: Another good question. I’ll go with TCU for one of them (top-end pitching, bats are coming around). I could still see Fullerton or NC State getting hot and making a postseason run too, more than I could UNC, UCLA or K-State. Arkansas, like Fullerton and TCU, has the horses on the mound to dominate good teams in the postseason. But if I have to pick my second team, I think I’ll still go with Fullerton. As for the Pac-12, yeah, I suppose it’s possible the Pac gets no national seed because of its RPI woes. If it winds up sending just three or four teams to regional, it could still get two hosts—but it might get just one. Sounds crazy for that conference, but it’s a realistic possibility. And right now, it’s looking like a four-bid league — Washington, Oregon State, Oregon and Arizona State. UCLA has serious RPI problems and a brutal last three weeks on the schedule.
Billy (Fayetteville, Arkansas): I'm an Arkansas fan, but can Aaron Nola get any better? His 0.70 ERA is off the charts! Surely he has to be a Top 5 pick in the upcoming draft - the kid is unbelievable!. Anyways, my question to you is: If you could give Arkansas Head Coach Dave Van Horn one piece of advice, what would it be?
Aaron Fitt: My advice would be, don’t take advice from me! He’s Dave Van Horn — he doesn’t need any advice from writers or fans. He’s got a pretty darn good track record. And yes, Nola is incredible.
HawkTalk (Nashville): Aaron, My Dores dropped consecutive #SugarPinchers in Knoxville las Sunday and against TaMU this weekend. After 23 straight series wins, that's 3 losses in four weeks. My question: What are your top three reasons for me to step back off the ledge and realize I'm overreacting to a simple May swoon for the Dores? Or, do you think Vandy needs to shake things up (perhaps with Fulmer and Buehler moving into the starting rotation)?
Aaron Fitt: Three reasons? 1. Trust in Corbin — he’s always got some April tricks up his sleeve. 2. The pitching is still excellent; it’s just a little swoon. I would not mess with the rotation, personally. 3. Fulmer, Brian Miller and Stone make an incredible bullpen trio, and really give Vandy an edge in close games. Teams that have elite bullpens tend to do very well in the postseason.
Tony (Pa): Any news on when Fisher will be back in the line-up for UVA? And do you think him coming back will wake up their sluggish Offense?
Aaron Fitt: Brian O’Connor told me last week that there was a chance Fisher could be back for UNC series this weekend, but he definitely expects him back before Florida State. That’s my most recent update; there may be something more recent out there. And yeah, getting a first-team preseason All-American back in the lineup will be a boost. Virginia is 30-6 and its offense still has yet to really come together. That’s one group I continue to believe in — those bats will heat up, and the Cavs will be scary.
Aaron Fitt: OK, that’s it for today — sorry for the disjointed chat with the interruptions. Have a great week, everybody!