Preseason College Top 25 Chat With Aaron Fitt
Hello everybody! I'm chatting to you live
from the BA World Headquarters in Durham (I flew back from my new home
in Southern California yesterday to shepherd our mammoth College Preview
through). I've got college baseball fever, and I hope you do, too.
Let's get to it!
Adam (Louisiana): Who are your top three freshmen in the SEC to start the season?
Great group of freshmen in the SEC this
year, as usual. My top three: Karsten Whitson, Ryne Stanek and Kevin
Gausman. We'll have top 10 newcomers for every conference in our
upcoming conference previews.
John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: After reviewing your
first Top 25 for 2011, it seems as if the lovefest for UVA is carrying
over from last year. Do you expect to factor strength of schedules to
determine your rankings as the season progresses? With the exception of
Auburn and East Carolina, UVA should be steamrolling their way into your
Top 10 after blasting powerhouses like Niagara, Cornell, and let's not
forget Rider, before they finally play stiff competition down at
Clemson. I will give you credit though. In all seriousness, adding some
kind of grading criteria helps make your rankings more credible (and
understandable). Looking forward to our weekly chats this season.
Backhanded compliment of the day! Look, our
in-season rankings aren't based just on win-loss records — if they
were, you wouldn't need rankings at all, you could just look at
standings. So a team won't get too much of a boost just by beating the
teams it is supposed to beat — but it won't drop, either. It may get
skipped over by other teams that have made more noise by beating
stronger opponents. I am still very high on Virginia. The Cavs still
have great pitching, and they had a lot of very talented players waiting
in the wings last year who will now get to prove themselves in everyday
roles. Guys like Reed Gragnani, Stephen Bruno, Chris Taylor — you may
not know their names yet, but you will soon enough, because they're
going to be good college players.
Brett (Minnesota): Were the Golden Gophers close to cracking the Top 25?
They were in the discussion. I do think
Minnesota is the class of the Big Ten (with Michigan State, Michigan and
Indiana also in the mix), and I think the Gophers have a chance to be a
top 25 team at some point during the season — if they can handle the
major adversity of losing the Metrodome. They've got some good veteran
position players, led by AJ Pettersen and Nick O'Shea, and I'm expecting
big things from Troy Larsen and Justin Gominsky, now that he's finally
healthy. The pitching looks solid, too, especially at the front (TJ
Oakes) and the back (Scott Matyas, one of the most experienced closers
around and a bulldog).
RSN (Georgia): Aaron,
Very nicely done love the grading system. CofC comes in at #20 do you
see anyone giving them a run for their money in the SOCON? If so who?
How do you and scouts see their approach at the plate, like you said
they are geared for college long ball not pro, being affected by the new
I really like the Cougars to win that
league. The next teams in that league for me are, in some order, Georgia
Southern, Elon and Western Carolina, and John Manuel agrees (he's
working on our SoCon preview as we speak). I really do wonder how the
bats will affect CofC, but it's such an experienced lineup, I think
they'll be able to adjust. And that team looks like it's got quality
Henry Thompson (Sausalito CA): Hey Aaron,
thanks for the chat! Its nice to see that baseball is right around the
corner! With that being said I'm headed to San Francisco on Feb 18th to
watch the Bruins take on the Dons in their respective season openers.
Besides Bauer and Cole, who else figures to be a high draft pick between
the two teams?
San Francisco's top prospect is third
baseman Stephen Yarrow, a good lefthanded power bat with good
athleticism. He could sneak into the top five rounds with a good spring.
UCLA is loaded with talent in its underclassmen, but it's next guy for
this year is second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla, who could be a 4-6 round
Anthony Meo's Fastball (Blown Past the Batter):
CCU not being in the top 25....is that mainly based on only having one
weekend starter set? What about the fact that they bring back 7
starters, 17 letterman, will most likely be faster than they were last
year, and will have one of the best bullpens in the country?
First of all, seven starters is an
exaggeration. They lost Rico Noel and Jose Iglesias, who were VERY key
parts of that team, as well as Chance Gilmore and Steve Davis (who
started more than half their games). That said, I still really like
Coastal's lineup, and I do like the bullpen as well, although I think
you're underrating the importance of Austin Fleet — he's tough to
replace. But yes, the biggest reason Coastal is not ranked is the
rotation after Meo. Freshmen like Tyler Herb and Stefan del Pino are
promising but unproven. Coastal was probably team No. 26, and I would
not be at all surprised if the Chanticleers make us look silly for
leaving them out like they have done in the past. But there are
significant question marks. I really do not think this will be as good
as last year's team (which I was extremely high on all season...).
Sean (Anaheim, CA): Aaron, who has the deeper
pitching staff - Florida or Cal State Fullerton? Florida returns their
Friday night starter, Panteliodis, and two Freshman All-American
starters in Randall and Johnson. They bring in a 1st round draft pick
in Whitson and have a group of potentially strong arms in the bullpen
with Rodriguez, Larson, Maronde and Toledo. Cal State Fullerton returns
an All-American starter in Noe Ramirez, All-American closer in Nick
Ramirez (Utility All-American at least) and a Freshman All-American,
Floro, that is being moved to the bullpen. Two of the other starters,
Pill and Floethe, were ranked by BA as Top 100 college draft prospects
this year. And a Sunday starter, O'Connell, that I think will shoot up
BA's college draft prospect board by the end of the season.
Great question — those are two absurdly
deep pitching staffs. I give Florida the edge, but not by a whole lot.
All the lefties really put Florida over the top, though. They've got
five legit quality lefties that you just don't find on many college
baseball staffs (Panteliodis, Johnson, Maronde, Rodriguez and Daniel
Gibson). Probably the two deepest staffs in the country, though.
John (Gainesville): Where does this Florida team stack up with No. 1s from past seasons?
It's an interesting question, because I
thought Texas was a very strong No. 1 last year, and that team was
extremely good all season long but fell one game shy of Omaha. Does that
mean they were a fraud No. 1? I don't think so. If a major league team
wins 116 games but then runs into a hotter team in the playoffs and
loses a five-game series, I don't think that invalidates its body of
work. TCU was really good last year, and hot. That tangent aside,
Florida looks more complete than Texas was last year — much more power,
a better offense in general, and a comparable pitching staff. I think
this team has a chance to be truly great — feel very confident in this
particular No. 1 selection.
Walt (Chicago) (Chicago): Aaron— IMO, you're
giving Texas the benefit of the doubt. Elite starting pitching, but
their bullpen does not warrant a "65" score, and their offense most
definately doesn't warrant a "50" score. Last year's lineup was below
average (with a team AVG of .282), and they lost four of their top 6
hitters...and ALL of their power. How exactly do you consider UT's
hitting "solidly average" going into this season?
Texas' bullpen is very deep — that is why
it rates so high. I am trusting that guys like Nuncio and and Urban will
take major steps forward as sophomores and that Dicharry will bounce
back, but they've got the arms. You can quibble with the grades if you
want — maybe it should have been a 60; this is not an exact science,
clearly. The point of the grades is to give a snapshot of each team's
strengths and weaknesses. The same goes for the lineup; I recognize that
there are questions, but I really like Walla and Walsh and believe both
guys will have breakout years. Payton is going to be a stud — he
should hit the ground running. Lusson, Loy and Etier need to be better,
but I think all three will be better. Our evaluations are not based
solely on stats from last year. They are also based on talent, and I
think Texas has the talent to be an average offensive team, its lack of
power notwithstanding — and I graded the power accordingly. Remember
that the "hitting" grade is separate from the "power" grade, just as
scouts evaluate the two tools separately. For our purposes, hitting
refers to ability to get on base, hit for average, and handle the bat
—which means hit situationally, something Texas is usually pretty good
walt (New York): Aaron, I applaud you on your
write-ups; you clearly did your homework. With regards to Rice,
however, I do think you are low-balling some of the scores given;
particularly for offense ("60") and bullpen ("55"). IMO, the Owls could
have one of the strongest and deepest bullpens in the country with
Duffey, Simmons and Chargois as late-inning specialists, McNair as the
returning situational lefty, Gonzales and Anagnostou as proven arms in
long/middle relief, and the two "losers" in the battle for staring spots
providing further reinforcement (Wall, Cingrani, Simms, Kubitza,
Reckling, McDowell). I'm okay with your #18 ranking, but unlike some of
the other teams ranked ahead of the Owls, I think Rice has considerably
more upside than your rankings would suggest.
Actually we gave Rice's bullpen a 60
grade—and I admit that may be conservative, but that's because a lot of
those guys don't have particularly long track records of Division I
success. Like with Texas, they've got talent and depth, which is why
they get the benefit of the doubt somewhat (60 is a pretty strong grade
for a unit without a proven marquee closer). I think the lineup has some
legit question marks — they lost five key cogs in that offense. They
might end up being better than that, they might end up being worse. 60
feels about right to me, but you are free to disagree. I do agree with
your assertion that Rice has a lot more upside than some of the other
teams in the second half of the rankings. I absolutely love the freshman
pitchers, and if those guys click as I think they might and a few other
young players mature quickly, I could see Rice being an Omaha team.
Upside is great; it's just not the same as having experienced, talented
players who have proven themselves, like the Owls have generally had
during their CWS seasons recently. This team has a few guys like that,
but not as many.
Jeff Sullivan (Belchertown MA): Where does UCONN SS Nick Ahmed project to go in the draft? Top 3 rounds?
I think he's got a real chance to do that
— scouts up there love the guy. Very underrated player — great
athlete, good actions at short, nice line-drive bat.
Beavis (Laguna Niguel, CA): Which team in the
#15-25 range do you see with the most upside? I would go with Rice -
given the pitching upside and depth of hitting surrounding Rendon.
I think that's fair. I do think Baylor, Cal and Arizona have intriguing upside, also.
Sam (Greenville, NC): After the tough season
East Carolina experienced last year do you see the Pirates turning it
around this year? We have alot of talent and experience back in the
bullpen but some questions offensively. What do you make of the 2011
I think you hit it on the head —
experience on the mound, but some question marks in the lineup. Freshman
shortstop Jack Reinheimer is really a key guy — I got some good
reports on him while doing my recruiting research, and it sounds like he
could really stabilize their shortstop situation, which was the team's
major weakness last year. Whitehead is a dynamic player, and I expect a
bit year from Wooten. I think that's a solid regionals team with a
chance to be a top 25 team, but I don't see it as a regional-hosting
club at this point.
Jeff Sullivan (Belchertown, MA): Better RHP, Jack Armstrong or Alex Meyer?
Tough one... I'd probably go with Meyer, but there's a real variance of opinion on that one.
Jeff Sullivan (Belchertown. MA): Who is your pre-season freshman POY? Wilson, Gausman, Ragira, Whitson, Covey?
Hmm... You've got the right names, I think.
Also really like Stanek and Vanegas. I'm going to hold back my freshman
of the year prediction until our Crystal Ball segment, which usually
comes out right before opening day.
Greg (Glendale, CA): How close are the Bruins
to the Gators? If it came down to a 3 game series for the title, who
would be the favorite between the two?
In a three-game series, it's really tough
to bet against Cole and Bauer. I do think Florida is a more complete
team, however... can I call this a push? I think it's pretty close
between those two teams — those two were a clear cut above the rest of
the pack, for me.
uva fan (virginia): Great previews, but I'm
curious as to how you came up with the projected lineups. As far as I've
heard, there are several spots still up for grabs for the Cavs. Inside
The projected lineups are subject to change
— they are mostly based on information we gathered from coaches in
December, when they had an entire fall practice upon which to base their
assessments. But position battles are inevitable — for instance, I
don't know if Bruno or Taylor is going to be the starting shortstop, and
I don't know if UVa does, either.
Andrew (Sacramento, CA): Hello Aaron. Did Fresno State receive any consideration for BA's preseason top 25, and if not, what are the reasons?
Yes, I like Fresno — looks like the team
to beat in the WAC, with Hawaii not too far behind. Should be a pretty
offensive team, with power guys in the middle (Jordan Ribera, Dusty
Robinson) and a great catalyst at the top (Danny Muno). Looks like a
deep pitching staff too, although it lacks front-line guys. I like Benny
and Poytress in the bullpen — has a chance to really shorten games.
Noah (Boone, NC): Is there any team you like as
a high-upside boom/bust team? The sort of squad that could go to Omaha
if everything breaks right or finish at .500 if things don't work out?
Interesting question... Georgia is the
obvious answer. That junior class was extremely balleyhooed coming in
but has not done a whole lot in two years, but the talent level is
there. Can Michael Palazzone and Cecil Tanner throw strikes? Will Chase
Davidson rescue his career? — which probably means having a junior year
similar to what Kevin Patterson did last year. Can Peter Verdin and
Zach Cone live up to their potential? Very exciting team on paper, but
scouts who saw them this fall came away disappointed again. Stay
Andy (Baton Rouge, LA): The top 3 teams look to be in the SEC East this year, but how do you see the SEC West shaking out this year?
Pretty wide open, I think. I'd give LSU a
slight edge because of its strength up the middle (really like
Nola/Hanover combo and Mahtook, obviously), but I'm very intrigued by
that young, talented Arkansas team, too. Don't overlook Ole Miss —
should be a solid lineup of grinders with some pop and some athleticism,
and the Rebels are convinced they have upgraded their pitching in the
offseason. I need to see guys like David Goforth and Austin Wright do it
in the spring before I really buy in, but I do really like their
bullpen. And Auburn is still a factor too, although the Tigers lost a
ton from last year. I could see any of those four teams winning that
Pat (Chicago): Very thorough job with the write
up. I was (pleasantly) suprised to see Tulane in your top 25. Which
Pitcher and which position player have the most pro potentional for the
Tulane's the team we're maybe out on a limb
the most on, considering the CUSA coaches voted that team to finish
fifth in the preseason poll, which was released today. But I really like
that group of sophomore position players — expect them to continue to
get better. I think that team is well designed to succeed with the new
bats — it's an athletic lineup with good defensive talents and
line-drive hitters, rather than mashers, and it's a very experienced
pitching staff filled with guys who throw strikes (plus a future stud in
Randy LeBlanc). LeBlanc is certainly the best prospect on that team —
read my recruiting notebook from this fall for my thoughts on him. The
lineup isn't filled with elite prospects, just a bunch of good baseball
players, but I'd probably go with Garrett Canizaro as the top prospect
in that group.
BL (Bozeman, MT): Hi Aaron, thanks for the chat! The Big East: one-year wonder as a power conference, or real improvement?
Last year was a great year for the league,
obviously, and this year could be just as good or better, even with
Louisville maybe taking a step back. UConn moves into Louisville's spot
as a legit Omaha contender — an extremely talented team — and St.
John's looks like a very solid regional team. I think Louisville will be
back in regionals too — that looks like a three-bid league once again
this year. South Florida should also be a factor, although I feel like I
say that every year and I'm always disappointed... Still, the Bulls
have a good one-two punch in Fontanez and Barbosa, and the makings of a
Rob (NJ): I remember in the late 1990's - early
2000's when Rutges and Notre Dame used to battle it our for the Big
East title. Any chance those 2 make a run this year in the conference?
Back to back Big East questions — the
North must have that college baseball fever I was talking about! I don't
see either of those teams being major factors this year, just because
the teams at the top are so strong. Rutgers should be solid though; I
foresee struggles for Notre Dame.
BL (Bozeman, MT): Aaron, has living in Orange
County, a true college baseball hotbed, changed any of your ideas or
perceptions of the game from a big picture standpoint?
Believe it or not, I already had the utmost appreciation for West Coast baseball, and I suspect that will continue.
Billy (Hattiesburg): I know this is discussion
about the top 25, but how far down the list is Southern Miss and what do
you think about their chances of repeating as Conference Champs?
Southern Miss is another team in that 26-35
group, for me. Obviously you have to like the bookends for that
pitching staff (Todd McGinnis and Collin Cargill), plus guys like
Vollmuth and Brunty in the lineup. I think there are some holes, but I
do think that's a solid regionals team. I think this is a comeback year
for CUSA after a dismal 2010; I think four or five teams will get
regional bids this year (Rice, Tulane, ECU and Southern Miss, with UCF
as the sleeper).
Rodney (Austin): What do you expect from the horns this year with return starters Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green??
Texas is going to be very, very good at run prevention. As usual.
Reed (Houston, Texas): What do you think about Baylor's pitching staff this year? A lot of young arms need to have a big role for them.
I love Logan Verrett at the front, and
Brooks Pinckard is an electric closer at the back. In between, Josh
Turley is going to be a star, and it's going to happen this year — mark
my words. When I started researching the Top 25, I was frankly
surprised by how much I like Baylor's team this year.
Bill (North Carolina): Out of sleeper teams in ACC, who do you see making a run? Wake, Duke, BC, Maryland?
I think Maryland is the closest thing to a
sleeper in that group. All of those teams seem to be in rebuilding mode,
at least for this year, but I think Maryland should be the most
improved of that group.
Peter (Charlotte): Aaron, do you legitimately
see Florida as a championship contender this year? While there is no
denying their talent in the field, I question if their Friday &
Saturday SP's are championship caliber. Year after year it seems like
top heavy staffs win out over depth. A guady regular season record is
nice. But Omaha's what it's all about... I see teams like Texas, UCLA,
Vanderbilt or even CSF as a better tournament team than UF. Thoughts?
Great question — I like your logic.
Although, while last year's national champion had a pretty good one-two
punch in Cooper and Dyson, the real strength of that team was its
bullpen, and Florida's bullpen will be comparable this year. Plus
there's no reason guys like Johnson, Randall, Panteliodis can't be as
good as Cooper and Dyson — and that's not even talking about Whitson,
who has the talent to make a Matt Purke-like impact. Bottom line, I
think you're selling Florida's pitching short. They don't have
Cole-Bauer or Jungmann-Green, but their weekend guys are plenty good
John (Charlotte, NC): Aaron, great job on the
top 25. A couple questions on the Big South. Coastal Carolina finished
2nd in the RPI last year, I'm assuming they just missed the top 25?
Also, how far out do you see a much improving Liberty squad under Jim
Liberty's a real nice sleeper — that name
did appear on my Top 25 worksheet. Decent lineup led by the Breams and
Conor Glassey-fave Michael Robertson, although they'll be counting on
4-5 junior college transfers to hit the ground running. And very
intriguing power arms in that pitching staff, led by mega draft sleeper
Blake Forslund, who has run his fastball up to 98 in the fall. I think
that's a regionals-caliber team.
Mark (Louisiana): Which mid-major team do you think may make some noise this season that in the past hasn't?
I'm really high on Tennessee Tech, but
that's a team that has won 30-plus games three straight years and been
to a regional, so I don't know that it meets your criteria. It's been a
while since Loyola Marymount has done anything, but I believe that will
be a good club that could compete for the WCC title, though USD is the
front-runner again. Keep in mind, LMU finished in last place last year
— I think that team qualifies!
Scott (Fort Worth): Aaron,
We're very much looking forward to the season for TCU, but how much will
the departure of Todd Whitting affect the Frogs play, and will the new
young coach Tony Vitello be able to step into his enormous shoes at the
assistant coaching position?
The Horned Frogs replaced one of the
nation's best assistants with another of the nation's best assistants —
Tony Vitello is really outstanding.
Scott (Fort Worth): Aaron,
What are the chances TCU finally becomes a national seed this year? And
are the Frogs and Longhorns on yet another collision course?
Could see both as national seeds, and thus, not on a collision course until Omaha.
Bob (Chicago): How is it that Rivals has
Coastal Carolina 19th, and BA has them NR? Do the two "authorities"
have different benchmarks that they use?
Rankings are inherently subjective, sir.
Kendall does a great job, and the announcement this week that Yahoo! is
getting out of the college baseball business was a real shocker — just a
shame for anyone who cares about college baseball. But Kendall is one
of the hardest-working guys in the business, and he has a passion for
the game — I am confident he'll carry on elsewhere.
DEANintheYAY (San Francisco): Looking at
Fullerton's schedule we should see very quickly how good they are.
Playing 3 AT TCU and 3 AT LSU should be a great gauge. What do you
expect from Fullerton this year and just how dominant will Noe be?
I love that schedule — the Titans never
back down with their scheduling, and I think it's awesome. Noe Ramirez
vs. Matt Purke is one of the best pitching matchups on the calendar this
spring. As for what I expect from Fullerton, read my capsule!
Doug (Connecticut): Aaron, thanks as always for
always answering the quick ones on Twitter. I am excited for Husky
baseball this year. Chances that a NorthEast team, not normally known
for baseball, can surprise and make a series run at the CWS title?
Don't think a UConn Omaha run would be too
much of a surprise, considering we've got the Huskies ranked ninth, and
only 8 teams go to the CWS! But I get your meaning — it's been more
than two decades since a Northeast team has gone to Omaha, and it would
be a really big deal, I think. Can't say enough about the job Jim
Penders and his staff have done building up that program — scouts up
there rave about UConn's ability to identify raw talents (like Springer
and Barnes were in HS) and turn them into real prospects.
Ryan (LA, CA): Alright, let's get this one out
of the way now since you'll get it every week of the season. Which is
the best conference in the country? Looks like it's the Pac-10.
You are correct, sir! Best conference in 2011.
John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: Last year,
lower-tiered Division I teams like Florida Atlantic held their own
against the big guys. Any similar teams this year who could make a
strong run for Omaha?
Really like Florida International's club,
and I'm high on Kent State, as usual. I think FAU's got a shot to be
pretty good again, too.
Ryan (LA, CA): Do you have any concerns about
the lack of left-handed pitching in the UCLA bullpen? Beacom has been
erratic in the past and the only other lefty down there is Holt, who's
never pitched in college.
Yes — that's a big reason UCLA's bullpen
only got a 55 (lower than other teams in that part of the rankings
scored for their bullpens). That looks like UCLA's most glaring flaw, to
Tedo (Da U): Talking about Miami freshmen, do
you see Shane Rowland eventually winning the starting spot at catcher?
Can Rowland hit? and do you think Dale Carey moves to RF with his arm
and speed and Palaez moves to DH?
I've gotten great reports on Rowland, and I
would not be at all surprised for him to force his way into everyday
playing time this year. I do think he can hit — he's a scrappy dirtball
type, but got a good lefthanded swing. Carey is pretty raw yet, and I
suspect his routes aren't as good as Pelaez's, though that's just
conjecture on my part.
Gabe (Seattle): Was Washington State in the
mix? It seems like nobody ranks them and then the last two years they
end up on top of the Pac 10. What do you think of the Cougars this year?
You are right — Washington State has
surprised me each of the last two years. That coaching staff does a
really terrific job — can't say enough about the job they do; it's not
easy to win there in a conference filled with perennial powerhouses in
warm weather climates. Washington State is one of the most hard-nosed
teams in college baseball every year, and that's all Donnie Marbut. I do
like their club again this year, but I have some concerns. They must
replace a veteran shortstop (Vucinich) — can Cody Bartlett handle that
move? Chad Arnold and Adam Conley have a chance to be a great one-two
punch, but will Arnold be healthy? He's going to miss at least four
weeks with bone chips in his elbow, and it's hard to know how that will
affect him. Plus it's just a really, really competitive conference, and I
just plain don't like WSU more than the six Pac-10 teams we have ranked
in our top 20.
Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, you have replaced Neal Huntington, who ya got at #1 when June rolls around?
Anthony Rendon. But I really couldn't fault him for taking Cole or Purke.
Thomas Murcko (Mercer, Pa): Does Penn State ever have a chance of becoming a good program within the big ten, and do they have any major league prospects?
Sure; I actually like their recruiting
class this year, led by righty Austin Urban, who has a quick arm. Their
facilities are outstanding — there's no reason they can't compete with
the rest of the programs in that league in the future. Don't know about
this year, though...
Brent (Tempe, Az): What type of expectations do you have for Arizona State's pitching staff in the Pac 10?
It's hard not to like Brady Rodgers and
Mitchell Lambson at the front and back, and Jake Barrett has superstar
potential. I just wonder about the Sunday starter spot right now, and
the overall depth of the staff.
landon (Joplin, Mo): Top catching prospects in college for this year's draft? In what part of the draft will they be selected?
Peter O'Brien and Andrew Susac. Both have
chances to go in the first round, though I'm a little more comfortable
with sandwich round.
OK folks, we've sailed past the two-hour
mark, and I've got to get back to work on the College Preview. Hope you
enjoyed this chat as much as I did — it's just fun to talk about
college baseball! We'll be rolling out tons of College Preview content
on the web over the next three weeks leading up to Opening Day, so be
sure to check back often. Thanks for all the great questions, and have a