Besides Buster Posey who was in consideration for the Player of the Year?
Hi Everybody! (Hi, Dr. Nick!) Always fun to hop in for a college chat,
and it’s always fun to see Eppley Airfield in front of you. That means
you’re landing in Omaha, which after some delays in DFW, I did. This is
my 10th trip since 1998 (I missed out on the ’06 Series), and it’s
always fun to come here. I’m excited, so let’s talk college baseball.
Buster wasn’t the only candidate, but he was the best candidate. At
midseason, San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg was making a huge run at
the award—he just was so dominant, it was shaping up as a pitching
season to rival Mark Prior in 2001 or Jered Weaver in 2004. But he
stumbled late, I believe he lost his last two starts, and that kind of
knocked him out. Brian Matusz was in the race as well, but Posey’s
biggest competitor was Gordon Beckham of Georgia, similar season,
similar up-the-middle defensive spot, but Posey’s season was better
offensively, plus he racked up six saves as a sometime-closer. In the
end I thought it was an easy decision.
Omaha Dave from Valle Crucis asks:
obvious take on this year’s field is that Fresno State is the only team
with no chance to win. Construct a scenario for me where the Bulldogs
actually DO win.
For Fresno to win it all here, Justin Wilson and Clayton Allison have
got to be at their best. Fresno’s offense is solid, Aaron broke down
how it really isn’t super compared to the other teams here, but it is a
solid offense and they can score. The real question is how will they
pitch. Wilson and Allison have experience, Wilson has excellent stuff
and needs to harness it, as he did for the most part in the season’s
final month. Arizona State shellacked him but he needs to bounce back
from that. Allison is mostly in the mid-to-upper 80s with his fastball,
but on better days he’s 88-91 and he’s downhill and tough to elevate.
If those two pitch deep into games, Fresno has a real chance, because
Brandon Burke is an experienced, durable, reliable closer. That’s
probably how it has to happen — Fresno’s starting pitchers have to be
at their best.
Jim from Poughkeepsie asks:
Which team did you really expect to be there that isn’t in Omaha?
San Diego. I obviously didn’t factor in the Fresno factor. USD faltered
last year in the regional and I really thought that experience would
help motivate the Toreros this year. Also, they seemed deeper
offensively than I thought. Now you have to wonder when USD is ever
going to get to Omaha; will it ever have two LHPs like Romanski and
Matusz again? Hard to imagine. USD still has pitching and that staff
does a great job recruiting, but not winning a regional with that
group, that’s just shocking. I’ll also throw in Long Beach State, hard
to believe the Dirtbags haven’t been to Omaha since 1998 with the
talent they have had. I know this year’s team rallied late to tie for
the Big West title, but that team had 11 players drafted; I think you
have to label this year’s club a disappointment for not going further.
Johnny H. from Denton, Texas asks:
How do you like the new Saturday start for this year’s games?
So far so good because I didn’t feel quite as rushed getting out here,
but that’s selfish, I just wanted to hang out with my kids more. I can
tell you that Aaron Fitt and the ESPN folks and many NCAA folks will be
here for two weeks or three for many of them, and that’s a long, long
time. I’m sure they’d like it to be over sooner than later, and now
it’s going to be over later. I do understand the argument, however,
that such a large event should not start with no one watching on a
Friday afternoon. I get that. Starting on Saturday makes more sense
from that standpoint.
Don Silver from Toledo asks:
So who’s your pre-CWS pick for MOP?
I’m going to pick Miami’s Yonder Alonso in a redux of Pat Burrell’s
winning the MOP in 1996 while on the losing side. Florida State also
has had a MOP while losing in the finale, in 1999 with Marshall
McDougall. I hope neither player suffers excruciating defeats like
those teams did, Burrell and Miami losing on Warren Morris’ homer in
’96 and McDougall and the Seminoles losing by a run to Miami in ’99
even after Blair Varnes pitched the championship game on a bum knee.
Depending on which podcast you listen to, I’ve picked Miami and North
Carolina, and I guess right now I’m still picking UNC because of Alex
White and those power arms.
Chuck from Lexington asks:
I love Rice’s chances this year. Do you think they’ll come out of that bracket? Why or why not?
John Manuel: Yo Chuck, they out to get us man . . . Sorry, channeled Flava Flave there for a sec.
I kind of like Rice’s chances too, looking at their team, they remind
me a lot of North Carolina. They have no real superstar statistically
but no weakness, and they are probably a shade better defensively than
the Tar Heels at some key spots. Problem is, I think North Carolina’s
pitching is a bit better and those teams are in the same bracket. I
would rank Rice second on that bracket, just ahead of LSU, but this is
a strong field all around. Nothing against Fresno but I really do think
any of the other seven teams are very believable as champions.
Louie from Boston asks:
John, I was listening to the podcast you did the other day and was
wondering if you really think Miami’s lineup is deeper than FSU’s. I
was under the impression that Miami was stronger in the bullpen and FSU
stronger with the bat, but perhaps I’m mistaken. Do you think they are
just deeper or better as well?
You know, I really do think it’s deeper. Miami’s just a big stronger
all the way around for me. Both teams have solid but unspectacular
starting pitching; Miami’s bullpen is deeper and I think it has the
better, more talented lineup. Florida State has put up better numbers
but I don’t think the numbers tell the whole story. Miami is better
offensively at every spot in the infield for me, better in CF, the OF
corners are a push . . . then there’s that Posey guy. He is just so
good he skews everything for Fla. State. Those teams played head to
head in Tallahassee and FSU couldn’t stop Miami, Miami won 2 of 3, I
just think Miami’s a bit better.
Taylor from Houston asks:
thanks for the chat. I thought Jose Duran from Texas A&M deserved
an All-American bid, but I can’t argue with the 3 that made it. Any
consideration given to Duran? I guess it was a pretty good year for
You’re welcome Taylor. Jose Duran was in the mix for the third-team
spot, and being Big 12 POY was a big factor in his favor. Beckham was a
no-brainer first-team choice for me, just as Reese Havens was the
obvious choice for second team. Duran vs. Grant Green (vs. some others,
though I don’t have the worksheet in front of me) was actually a fairly
lengthy discussion. Our reports from coaches, scouts, etc., was that
Green was considered a strong defender at short and perhaps was a bit
better defensively, and the offensive numbers were similar. In Duran’s
favor was value to his team and the team’s accomplishments, far
superior to Green’s. But in the end we decided it’s more about the
individual and thought Green’s season was a bit better.
Scott from Sarasota asks:
Any big changes to Rosenblatt or in Omaha this year, or are they saving all those for the new ballpark?
The folks here love to talk about the improvements they’ve made, but I
can’t find much evidence of any significant ones this year; I would
guess they are saving up for the new park, which is a pity. As friend
of BA Kirk Kenney told me today, with all these floods in the Midwest
another reason to keep Rosenblatt should become apparent — it occupies
the high ground. To track changes at the ‘Blatt through the years,
Darren Maybee from Virginia asks:
Who is the best leadoff hitter in the CWS?
Thanks for the chat.
Darren, I’m going with Dustin Ackley of North Carolina because for me,
he’s the best pure hitter here along with Yonder Alonso and of course
Buster Posey. Blake Tekotte of Miami and Florida State’s Tyler Holt
also are excellent leadoff men, and Cord Phelps of Stanford gets the
job done though he does it differently from those other guys. Ackley is
fast, he’s locked in, he’s just got a sweet, short swing . . . I think
he’s the best position player ever at North Carolina, surpassing B.J.
Surhoff. I doubt he surpasses Surhoff in the draft since Surhoff went
No. 1 overall back in 1985, but Ackley has one weakness—his throwing
arm. If he ever throws better he’s a Steve Finley kind of player, or
maybe a Bernie Williams without the switch-hitting. He’s just an
amazing hitter who also has power and excellent, under-rated speed.
Richard from Washington DC asks:
Give me 2 players in the CWS who can change the complexion of a game and how?
Neat question. Here are a couple of examples that might tell the story.
Can you imagine the scene if there’s a close game and Posey gets on the
mound for FSU? He’s just such a special player, and the best part is he
brings out the best Mike Martin quotes, coach Martin (can I call him
Eleven?) just gushes over this guy, and no one gushes like Mike Martin.
The other guy who changes a game for me is Sean Ratliff. He might be
the most exciting player here. He has a huge swing and a billion
strikeouts. He has immense power, light-tower power. He plays a very
solid center field and has a plus arm — he’s low 90s off the mound at
his best. And he’s Stanford’s top baserunner. He can do a lot of
things, positively and negatively, either start a rally or kill one at
the plate or in the field (or even on the mound). Those are the guys I
think of with your question.
Joe LeCates from Easton, MD asks:
Hey John, thanks for the chat! Has to be asked at this point: Buster Posey, greatest season ever by an amateur catcher?
It’s the best I can think of in the college ranks, at least by a
big-time prospect. I bet Joe Mauer put up sick numbers in Minnesota; I
also recall him hitting like .615 for USA Baseball’s junior national
team in like 2000 or so, and just killing the ball forever as an
amateur. I can’t find Jason Varitek’s stats right now but he was pretty
far behind Posey in terms of sheer numbers. It’s just an amazing season
for any position, then you throw in catcher AND the fact he closes, and
it’s just a historic season.
Joe LeCates from Easton, MD asks:
at this years All-Americans, as well as thinking ahead to next year, is
a Darin Erstad comp reasonable for Dustin Ackley? Is he better?
I believe I have indicated that I think he’s better. Different and
better. Erstad’s hitting is always overrated because his peaks are
really good, but his peaks are also pretty outside of his normal
production. If Ackley stays at first base, he’ll learn to hit for more
power, but even if he doesn’t, he’d profile if he’s hitting .300 or
.320 with 40 doubles and 15-20 homers.
Louie from Boston asks:
John, thanks for the chat. Les say it’s game 3 of the final, bottom of
the 9th, 2 outs, bases loaded. A hit wins it, an out loses it. Who are
the top 3 guys you’d want up? I’d have 1. Posey, 2. Alonso, 3. Ackley.
What say you?
That’s fair. If it’s a righthanded pitcher I’d go with Alonso first,
but against a lefty I’d go Posey, then Ackley and then Alonso. From
this event, G. Beckham obviously has to be in that mix as well, and
against a lefty I’d take him over Alonso. Ackley is so pure, he seems
to hang in well vs. LHPs, but I admit I don’t have the stats to back me
Adam from Louisiana asks:
Give me your pick on who will be the last teams standing going into the championship.
Well, there’s no such thing as a lock in baseball, is there? I’ve
picked Miami to face UNC in the finals, but this is a strong CWS field.
It’s pretty open. I’m picking those two teams because they have been
the best teams all year and they are health.
Louie from Boston asks:
gotta ask, whats the big deal with up-the-middle defense? I understand
it’s important but it seems like you and Aaron are overrating it a bit.
See, a Bostonian had to ask this because the Red Sox have had 4
different DP combos over each of the last four years, and won World
Series with Mark Bellhorn at 2b and then with Julio Lugo at SS. So I
can see why you think we’re overrating it. I do think we’ve mentioned
it a lot this year but honestly, it’s really more of a tiebreaker for
us, it’s not the sole determining factor. If two teams seem close to
equal, I will give the edge to the team that’s better defensively up
the middle, at those crucial defensive positions such as C and SS and
CF. I guess that just comes from listening to a lot of coaches and
scouts over the years. Defense goes a long way in college baseball,
where the players are, after all, amateurs, i.e., not as good, and
there are more mistakes and errors made. Making fewer mistakes usually
gives you a better chance to win. So that’s why we talk about that so
much. But you’ve got Julio Lugo at shortstop, no wonder you think it
doesn’t matter. I don’t blame you.
Joe LeCates from Easton, MD asks:
ESPN is smart won’t they market this year in Omaha as a great showcase
of soon-to-be pro prospects? I know the College World Series can stand
on its own, but given the number of high draft picks this year it seems
as if ESPN could make this even more interesting to casual baseball
fans. Isn’t that exactly what the college game needs to draw in?
I believe ESPN is smart and I believe it will market the prospects.
They did so leading up to the draft this year and did so again in the
super-regionals. But a lot of people watch the CWS for the color of the
event, too, so they aren’t going to turn into Baseball America
overnight. Guess what — the way they do it is more profitable.
Duncan from Orlando asks:
What kind of coach is UCF getting with Terry Rooney?
Duncan, I don’t know Rooney personally other than a handshake and hello
here and there, but I do know his reputation, which is a tireless
worker who is an excellent evaluator of talent and who also knows how
to get that talent to get to school. He helped get Justin Verlander
from Goochland High to Old Dominion, and this LSU team is loaded with
talented newcomers he had a hand in snaring (D.J. LeMahieu and juco
transfer Matt Clark leap to mind). How about that growing Paul Mainieri
coaching tree — I’m sure I’m leaving some out but Rooney joins David
Grewe (Michigan State) and Brian O’Connor (Virginia) at the least as
former Mainieri assistants who are now leading their own programs.
Congratulations to Paul for that and to Terry for his first head
Joe LeCates from Easton, MD asks:
Knee-jerk reaction/forecast time: 2009 College Player of the Year?
I’ll keep up the Dustin Ackley lovefest but throw out other nominations
such as Stephen Strasburg, Blake Dean of LSU (the guy just keeps raking
in two yaers at LSU) and Arizona State’s Mike Leake, just an amazing
competitor and athlete. UNC’s Alex White and Mizzou’s Kyle Gibson also
should be in that mix.
Louie from Boston asks:
John, tell Aaron that I loved the CWS preview capsules, they were very
informative. It seems that FSU can hit pitcher who throw pretty hard
and have a solid secondary pitch, it’s the guys who throw mid 80s and
have a lot of different pitches and throw strikes that they struggle
with. Any pitchers on their side of the bracket that they should be
I will, but you just did too. You’re right, maybe Stanford should get
Mathew Wilson of Bucknell to transfer in for this game. But actually,
Stanford has a guy like that in Erik Davis, their senior RHP, who is
more 86-90 mph with his fastball, works off the changeup at times and
has a similar but better quality repertoire as Wilson. Problem is,
Davis has been brutal down the stretch, he’s just gassed and hasn’t
been the same since his four straight complete games early in the
Pac-10 Conference season. I’m guessing Stanford goes with Jeremy Bleich
in the opener but they are talking about that right now at the press
conference, which I’m missing in order to chat with you jokers.
Andrew from Athens, GA asks:
What’s your take on the seniors that hit in front of Gordon Beckham in UGA’s lineup (Ryan Peisel and Matt Olson)?
Peisel had a strong freshman year at East Carolina and we know he
always has been a good hitter, but I think he had to adjust to the
quality of SEC pitching. He’s gotten more patient and that’s helped him
tap into his power more. I’m a big fan of players who show aptitude and
improve like that, or as Olson has by cutting his strikeouts, making
more contact consistently and drawing more walks. Peisel and Olson
really just make themselves into tough outs so often, they both get on
base at .400+ clips, and that makes it tough to pitch around Beckham.
Those guys are key no doubt.
John from Dunedin, Florida asks:
a little like having ucf going to its first college world series…that
is, Rooney being there to experience it first hand.
no doubt it will make him even that much more the right coach to pick
up the fallen mantle, wipe the crap off of it, and proceed back on a
positive road that may eventually lead the ucf baseball team to that
ultimate college destination….your thoughts?
I would say UCF getting to Omaha will be like UCF’s first trip to
Omaha. There’s nothing like actually getting here with your first team.
I’d also say that UCF hasn’t been on a positive road for some time now
. . . this program was a No. 1 seed back in 2001 with Arnold and Pope,
and since then they haven’t won consistently, they’ve had off-field
stuff go on, they had the mess with Tim Bascom and not letting him have
a scholarship his senior year . . . I didn’t have a positive opinion of
the program over the last few years. I agree this hire was key to move
the Knights back in the right direction.
Alex Lewis from Virginia asks:
say you’ll give the edge to UNC over Miami due to Alex White and the
other starters, but Miami roughed up White just 4 weeks ago. You don’t
think Chris Hernandez could win that matchup again?
Because White has gotten better since then, and he’s pitched in the CWS
before. Hernandez is a talented player, but he’s also a freshman who’s
worked more innings than ever, is just coming off starting on a Friday
and relieving on a Sunday, and will be pitching in Rosenblatt for the
first time. All that, plus the fact that White has better stuff, gives
White the edge for me. Erickson has struggled for Miami down the
stretch and Enrique Garcia, while a senior, is notoriously
inconsistent. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Adam Warren has two CWS wins
on his resume and a 22-1 career record despite modest stuff. And Matt
Harvey’s last long start in the ACC tournament was his best start of
the year. I think it’s safe to say on paper, North Carolina’s starting
pitching is better than Miami’s. But that’s just on paper. Miami’s
lineup is better and Jim Morris has two national titles. These are two
great teams; you have to make a pick, though, I made mine and hope I
gave you reasons for my pick.
Noah from Durham asks:
Phegley winds up 2nd in the nation in batting average at .438 (behind
only Posey), and hits 15 homers, 3 triples and 20 doubles and drives in
80 and he can’t find his way on to any of the 3 all-america teams?
Did playing in mediocre conference hurt his All-America chances?
It wasn’t a mediocre conference, it was a bad conference. The Big Ten
was down by its own standards this year, and that is what contributed
to Phegley being left off. Kemp was the Conference USA player of the
year, and Castro is solid defensively and put up excellent numbers
considering the quality of his competition in the Pac-10. Phegley was
in the mix but we just thought the other guys deserved it more. I do
love to see a former intern get in on the chat though.
pete from starkville asks:
possible pitching coaches for Cohen’s staff… what have you heard?
and are you as glad as I am to see that a cooler, calmer polk has lessened his stance against AD Greg Byrne and the new coach?
Pete, I’ll admit I’m out of the loop on the first part but wanted to
comment on the second part of your question, if you’ll indulge me.
Coach Polk has made this about him. He can say what he wants about
wanting to stick up for Tommy Raffo and the other coaches there and
seeing the tears in their wives’ eyes and all that, but he made himself
the story here, put himself above Coach Raffo and Coach Cohen and most
of all Mississippi State. I think that’s not what a coach is supposed
to do. Moreover, a coach and a teacher who is a role model like Ron
Polk should know better than to throw a public tantrum when he doesn’t
get what he wants, and that’s what it was, a tantrum. What I’ve read is
a bit calmer maybe but only slightly less strident. What coach Polk
probably doesn’t realize is this is probably one huge reason why
Mississippi State hired John Cohen. It’s time to move on past Ron Polk.
He brings a lot of great things with him but a lot of negatives to the
table as well. If I were AD of Miss. State, I would know more about the
contributions he’s made to the university, but I also would probably
see how his negatives, his constant “warpath” he’s on with the NCAA,
doesn’t serve that university, its athletic department or its baseball
team. It’s a shame that coach Polk has added another negative to his
legacy, because his initial reaction kind of makes any subsequent
softening of his stance seem less than sincere.
Noah from durham asks:
What would Fresno’s winnability number be if nothing had ever happened to Scheppers?
And how impressive is it to see a ballclub rally after losing their stud?
Probably 50 or so, in theory anyway, but you hit on it — I wonder if
Fresno would even be in OMaha with him. It seems like they rallied
after everyone else assumed they were toast. These crazy things happen
in athletics, it’s one reason why we watch.
C A from Kenner asks:
What do you think was the main reson for LSU’s meteoric success at the end of the season? They started out mediocre at best.
Real quick, I’ll say (a) bats got hot, (b) pitching rotation coalesced
and became more consistent, (c) team’s athleticism started to evince
itself defensively. Then over here you’ve got luck. You have to be
lucky to win 23 in a row — sounds like LSU got some calls against New
Orleans in the regional [Editor’s note: the game in question was at the end of the regular season. UNO and LSU did not play in regionals], for example. But they are playing with so much
confidence. I’m excited to see the LSU fans with their beads back out
there in Omaha, and hope for a Big Ragoo and his Krewe sighting, if
he’s still with us.
John Manuel: Thanks for coming, fun to
do a college chat. We’ll be back with more chats and podcast fun from
Omaha all weekend and Aaron will be here for the whole near-fortnight.
Talk to you later.