College Top 25 Chat: April 4




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Aaron Fitt: Good afternoon, all — hope you enjoyed the weekend. We've got a nice Three Strikes going live on the College Blog soon, with items on Oklahoma State, Troy and Kansas State's Nick Martini, so be sure to check that out. Let's get to the chat.

    Steve L. (Corvallis): What are the Beavers chances at home this coming weekend against the Sun Devils?

Aaron Fitt: Pretty good, I'd say. Arizona State is the better offensive team, of course, but Oregon State has held its own offensively, certainly more than a year ago, and I really like the Beavers' pitching. That Friday matchup between Sam Gaviglio and Brady Rodgers should be a good one. ASU is really good, but I think OSU can win that series at home — really could go either way. The Pac-10 seems to have compelling matchups every week, because there are just a lot of good clubs in that league. Imagine if Oregon and Washington State can get going...

    barrt (tupelo ms): how can you justify lsu still at no. 17 and alabama at 21st. alabama has the best record in the sec. they have beaten some quality teams. lsu has been poor quallity at best. friday night lsu almost lost. satruday they got the crap beaten out of them. to there credit they played well sunday. even though alabama lost sunday. they are still winning.......

Aaron Fitt: LSU has a better weekend series win (sweeping Cal State Fullerton) than anything on Alabama's resume, and that Fullerton series is largely responsible for LSU's ranking. Both teams took two of three from Ole Miss. I'm impressed with and pleasantly surprised by Alabama, but now the schedule starts to get more challenging, with a road series at Vandy. I'll be very interested to see if the Crimson Tide can keep it up.

    Dan (Austin): Oklahoma's Michael Rocha has been outstanding this year (7-0, 0.97 era, 47 k, 6 bb, .154 oba). Where would you rank him nationally among the starters this year? How is he viewed as a draft prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Performance-wise, he's right up there with the top pitchers in the nation (Hultzen, Jungmann, Bauer, Pope, Randall are the guys that come to mind for me). The Sooners compared him to former South Carolina ace Blake Cooper coming into the year, and I really like that comparison — I think they are similar guys. Cooper went in the ninth round last year, and I suspect Rocha could go in the same range.

    Randall (Phoenix): What is the condition of ASU outfielder Cory Hahn? Also, what are the chances of the Devils competing in the post-season this year? And lastly, will we see former ASU coach Pat Murphy back in the college game next season?

Aaron Fitt: Arizona State has been tight-lipped with info about Hahn's condition, out of respect for him and his family. I know there is a lot of concern for him out there, and I wish I had something I could tell you, but I can't. As for the postseason, my gut says the NCAA does not rule on the appeal before selection day, so the Sun Devils will be in the postseason this year, even if they have to sit out next year. That's not based on anything other than a hunch — the NCAA is a notoriously slow-moving, bloated bureaucracy — except when it comes to making sure Auburn football players are ruled eligible even though their dads solicited thousands of dollars in benefits, apparently. And lastly, yes, I do think you'll see Murphy coaching in college somewhere next year. I know he strongly wants to get back into the college coaching ranks, and I wouldn't be shocked to see him land in the SEC somewhere next year...

    Will (Alexandria, VA): Aaron, thanks for taking my question! Believe it or not, we've reached the midpoint of the regular season already- the first half has FLOWN by! From what you've seen, what 3-5 teams do you feel MOST confident will slug through a regional and win a SR series to appear in Omaha?

Aaron Fitt: Indeed, this is the halfway point, and we'll be rolling out our Midseason Report content all week, in place of our usual content. As for teams that could slug their way to Omaha (as opposed to riding dominant pitching), I'd say Oklahoma, Arizona State (maybe not a lot of home runs, but I still think that team will score a lot of runs down the stretch — and I'm assuming they'll be in the postseason for now) and Florida State.

    Matt (Topeka, KS.): I got a chance to see A&M this weekend. Michael Wacha looked dominant yet again. I know it is super early but is he a top 10 pick for 2012? Also who are the sophomores (or class of 2012)vwho have really seen their stock rise this spring?

Aaron Fitt: I think he's a first-rounder, but I don't know about Top 10 — I'd like to see a better breaking ball out of him before making that leap. I love how he pounds the zone with his plus fastball, and he's got a really good changeup, but the breaking ball is still a work in progress. I do think he fits into that "stock rising for 2012" category you're talking about. I think Hudson Randall has to be in that group too, and maybe a guy like Christian Walker.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How optimistic are you about Springer's latest numbers? Is he still top 10?

Aaron Fitt: Yes.

    Wade (Chicago (Wrigley Field)): Hey Aaron, If you could choose your dream starting weekend rotation using only active college players, who would it be? If you were making a rotation out of only Freshmen hurlers that are active, who would that consist of?

Aaron Fitt: Wow, tough question, but fun. I'll take Danny Hultzen, Gerrit Cole, Taylor Jungmann and Sonny Gray as my four-man rotation, in some order. As for freshmen, I'm building for the future around Karsten Whitson, Dylan Covey, Austin Kubitza and Adam Plutko (with apologies to Kurt McCune, who has outperformed them all). Kent Emanuel isn't far from that group, either, in addition to the other big names (Gausman, Stanek, Simms, Vanegas, etc.).

    Kyle (MO): Is Anthony Meo a potential 1st rounder? How would you evaluate his pitches?

Aaron Fitt: He's a definite first-rounder. It's a plus-plus fastball at 94-96, a devastating hard slider in the mid to high 80s, and he's making progress with a curveball and changeup, but it's mostly fastball-slider. It's an electric arm.

    jb (SC): What is going on at Clemson? I realize they have been fighting the injury bug but this team is way too talented to be flirting with .500 and getting beat up like they have been...a mjaor disappointment!

Aaron Fitt: Major disappointment is right. Yes, injuries have a good deal to do with it, but they just haven't been pitching and playing defense. That .959 fielding percentage is ugly — all of their infielders need to do a better job, and that will take some pressure off the pitching staff. I'm starting to hear fans say that this is 2008 redux for Clemson, but I still don't think so. This team is too talented offensively to miss the postseason. The schedule gets easier now, and I think Clemson gets back on track and into a regional, tough it will not host, as we thought it would coming into the year.

    Kanten (Wilmington, NC): Lets talk about the ACC coastal division and how wide open it is for the top 3 teams. Do you think Virginia, Ga tech, and Carolina could all possibly make it to Omaha? Or at least host a regional? It will be interesting when these teams start playing each other.

Aaron Fitt: I think one of those three makes it to Omaha, and my money's on Virginia. Georgia Tech and UNC have been outstanding here in the first half, but I feel like both teams have played a bit over their heads. They're both really good — I think they'll both host regionals, and both could certainly make deep postseason runs, but I still don't feel as confident in those two clubs as I do in Virginia. Those freshman classes at Tech and UNC have really been stellar, but freshmen often tend to wear down in the second half of the long college season. We'll see how the Jackets and Tar Heels withstand that.

    Marc (Left Field, Texas): Good weekend for the Horns. Bats seem to be coming around. I noticed the "RPI Needs Report" shows no way that Texas can secure a Nat'l Seed. What are your thoughts on how much stock to put into those numbers? My assumption is that Texas can most certainly play themselves into a Top 8.

Aaron Fitt: I think it's still way too early to worry much about the RPI. Texas can absolutely be a national seed, and in fact, I would bet that it will be.

    Thomas (California): How about them Gonzaga Bulldogs? Streaking to say the least. Ryan Carpenter has been talked about being taken in the top few rounds this year. Freshman Marco Gonzalez has gone 3 straight complete games for wins. How comparable will he be Ryan Carpenter when he gets to be a junior?

Aaron Fitt: I like Marco, whom Conor Glassey ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the West Coast League last summer. He's a three-pitch mix guy with a very good changeup, solid curve and a fastball that has reached 91 at times, and he's very athletic. He's not as projectable as Carpenter, whom you could envision being a low-to-mid-90s guy consistently down the road, but he can really pitch.

    Shannon (Gainesville, FL): Is anyone better than Hudson Randall right now? Back-to-back complete games, the latest against Tennessee with a measly 74 pitches, and he's lowered his ERA to a paltry 0.54. He hasn't allowed a single earned run in 30.1 innings dating back to the first inning against Rhode Island. In three conference starts against LSU, South Carolina, and Tennessee, he is 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, 10 strikeouts and zero walks in 24.2 IP. He's allowed one walk in almost 50 innings, seven starts. ONE. Do you think switching him and Brian Johnson around in the weekend rotation was inevitable?

Aaron Fitt: Randall is a machine. The biggest question for Florida about how to set up the weekend rotation is which day works best for Johnson with his two-way role. Some two-way players are best when they pitch on Friday at full strength, rather than playing a position for a day or two first. Others might find that pitching Friday takes a big toll on them and affects their offense the rest of the weekend. There are different schools of thought on this, and it varies from player to player, so it's not as simple as just putting the best or hottest pitcher in the No. 1 slot.

    Jon (Hattiesburg): Southern Miss continues to be on fire; but should they have major concerns about their pitching depth as the season goes on? Rice and ECU are still on the horizon, and Southern Miss fans are thinking we're prime to host a regional.

Aaron Fitt: I wouldn't be worried about USM's pitching depth. You've got three reliable weekend starters, a strong bullpen with a veteran anchor — I think that staff is in good shape. Southern Miss certainly might wind up hosting a regional — I'm starting to think the Eagles might be the best team in CUSA, though I think Rice will still have something to say about that.

    Matt (MD): Aaron, can you rank the 2011 draft college arms after Cole at this point in the season including Hultzen, Grey, Bradley, Jungmann, Barnes and Purke? How many of them profile as ML-aces?

Aaron Fitt: We'll have our midseason top prospects update soon!

    Bill (Atlanta): I am thrilled at the Yellow Jackets upcoming series hosting UVA, while also quite concerned. Virginia seems to sweep through opponents on the road with ease. On the other hand, I think GT is the best they have yet faced away from home. Is there much chance for a Jacket series win?

Aaron Fitt: With Geogia Tech's pitching, it has a chance to win any series, anywhere — especially at home. That's going to be a very compelling series that could go either way. I do like Virginia a bit more than Georgia Tech overall because of its experience, but I don't necessarily like UVa. more than Tech enough to make up for the natural advantage of playing at home.

    Jeffrey (New Orleans): As a Tulane fan, should I believe that Rick Jones will eventually be able to get top tier talent (particulary offensive talent as we had 2 blue chip pitchers succumb to injury recently) back to Tulane (as he was able to do from 2000 to 2006)? We routinely finished in the top 25 in recruiting but haven't had a class ranked that high in a few years now. Katrina was 6 years ago and we have upgraded the facilities. We are looking at back-to-back seasons of not even making the conference tournament.

Aaron Fitt: This year's team had plenty of talent, earning a Top 25 ranking and playing up to that ranking for the first five weeks or so. But injuries have just ravaged Tulane this year — it's a shame. But I suspect Tulane will be very good next year, assuming LeBlanc and McKenzie make strong recoveries from Tommy John surgery. This year's not a lost cause, but my expectations for Tulane have diminished greatly — I no longer think that's a regionals team, without those arms.

    Eddie (Orlando): The more Georgia keeps winning, the more that is helping Stetson out for an at-large bid if they don't win the A-Sun, right? Do you think 40+ wins, with 20 of the them in conference play, a 3 game sweep over Georgia and a win at Florida St., and a solid showing in the conference tourney get them in? Also, when will Baseball America start unveiling their tournament projections for the field of 64?

Aaron Fitt: The resume you describe is an at-large caliber resume, yes. And our midseason field of 64 projection will come out this week — tomorrow, I believe.

    Jared (Charlotte, NC): Charlotte 49ers....Any consideration? I realize the A-10 isnt very good and that hurts them but 23-6 record, their pitching has been unreal and have beaten some decent clubs including UNC along the way.

Aaron Fitt: Yes, Charlotte was in a group of four teams that got strong consideration for our one open Top 25 spot this week (Texas State and Rice were the other two, along with Oklahoma State, which got the spot). I profiled Charlotte in Weekend Preview two weeks ago — very good pitching and defense, very athletic club, will have to grind for runs. Seems like a lot of teams fit that description this year (Troy and Alabama are constructed similarly, to name two other teams in that 20-25 range).

    Mke (San Diego): WCC action starts next week. Who would you say is the favorite to win the league at this point? Do you feel it is only a one team league come tournament time? Who do you feel are the top five prospects in the league?

Aaron Fitt: I'll go with Gonzaga at this point, but I think that's the most wide-open conference in college baseball. It does look like a one-bid league, though — none of those teams did well enough in the preconference schedule to put itself in good position for an at-large bid. I'll give you three top prospects for this year's draft: Ryan Carpenter (Gonzaga), J.R. Graham (Santa Clara), Martin Viramontes (LMU), Jason Wheeler (LMU), Calvin Drummond (USD).

    Bullwinkle (Frostbite Falls, Canada): A few years ago, Rhode Island was snubbed while Baylor received an at large. With so many mid majors lurking around the Top 25 and having good RPI's, what teams from the Cold Lands are possible at larges? Don't mean BCS teams from Oregon, etc., but from second tier conferences.

Aaron Fitt: At this point, I don't see any unless UConn gets hot. Kent State has the talent and is currently inside the top 50 in the RPI, but that number will drop considerably as conference play progresses.

    Bob (Chicago): Aaron, Coastal Carolina got off to a bad conference start losing 2/3 to UNC-A. After CCU swept Liberty are they still the conference favorites and what do you see them doing this year?

Aaron Fitt: Coastal made it clear this weekend it is still the favorite in the Big South. Liberty couldn't beat Coastal last year, and it kept the Flames out of regionals despite a 42-win season. The Flames looked like Coastal's biggest competition this year too, but if they still can't beat Coastal even when it is less of a juggernaut, they're in trouble. The Chanticleers look like a No. 2 seed in a regional somewhere.

    Peter (Hendersonville, TN): Is there a better fastball-curve combo in this year's draft than that of Vandy RHP Sonny Gray?

Aaron Fitt: No.

    BL (Bozeman, MT): Hi Aaron, thanks for the chat. Nick Martini's streak is quite an achievement... what is his offensive game like? K-State has a tough chunk of the Big 12 schedule out of the way, it the Wildcats get it going can they still be a regional team? Looks like a pretty important stretch coming up.

Aaron Fitt: Martini is an athletic, speedy line-drive hitter with great patience and quick wrists. He's a gap-to-gap type hitter who does a really good job working counts. I wrote more about him in today's Three Strikes. As for the Wildcats, I see their regionals streak ending this year — it will be tough to recover from a 2-7 start in conference play, and I think that hole is only going to get deeper this weekend against Oklahoma.

    Matthew (Savannah): Hey Aaron, After going a few weeks into the conference schedule, how do you see the Southern Conference playing out and how many teams do you think they will get into Regionals

Aaron Fitt: Seems like that's always one of the toughest conferences to figure — just a lot of pretty evenly matched teams in the top half of that league most years. This year is similar; I still like College of Charleston's talent and think that team will be in the mix at the top by the end of the year (a sweep against WCU this weekend was a boost). Elon and Georgia Southern are sharing the driver's seat now, and I'd say all three of those clubs have good shots at making regionals, especially since leagues like the Big East and Big Ten are likely to send just one team to regionals, and the Big West doesn't look like more than a two-bid league. I think that creates openings for teams in the SoCon and Sun Belt.

    Dave (Mass): What will it take for UConn to get back in the top 25?

Aaron Fitt: Probably about two more weeks like the one the Huskies just had. UConn has work to do on its resume after that rough first half.

    Toast (Kaneohe, HI): Thoughts on Kolten Wong after a great series against Wichita State?

Aaron Fitt: He's a great all-around player and a likely top-half of the first-rounder. I think he's the nation's best second baseman, and there are a lot of good ones this year.

    Bobby (Santa Maria): Looks like another down year for my boys at Cal Poly, but I've heard they might have a couple decent draft prospects. What are you hearing on Bobby Crocker? Seems like a nice package of speed in a big body. Also Jeff Johnson has had a nice year as the closer, and Matt Jensen was a guy coming into the year. Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: Really like Crocker — very nice overall tools package, good athleticism, strength in his swing. Johnson is a big-time draft sleeper — Larry Lee told me last week his velocity has jumped into the 92-95 range, and he's throwing a nasty 86-88 split-finger.

    Scott (Nashville): It seems like half a dozen Vanderbilt players have been mentioned as possible 2011 first-round picks. How many first rounders do you think they can expect? What about in the top three rounds?

Aaron Fitt: In the first round (not counting supplemental picks), I'd say one: Sonny Gray. Top three rounds, I'd say five: Esposito, Westlake, Moore, Armstrong if he bounces back strong in the second half, and I'll say Garvin too.

    Will (Alexandria, VA): Aaron, Is there no end to Ray Tanner's lineup magic? Is there another coach in America who gets more from his pieces? It seems EVERY lineup move and in-game pitching switch works to perfection. It's uncanny.

Aaron Fitt: He pushed all the right buttons last year, and watching the way he made the most of all his parts convinced us to name him our college coach of the year — it wasn't just an automatic thing because he won the national title. The guy can really, really coach.

Aaron Fitt: Lots of good questions left, but I'm out of time — have to get ready for an interview with our midseason player of the year, which will be announced this week, along with our midseason All-America team and loads of other midseason goodies. Have a great afternoon, and see you next week!