College Top 25 Chat: Feb. 18
OK, sorry for the delay — a mad dash on
the first College Monday of the year, but Three Strikes is finished and
will be posted shortly on the College Blog. Check that out for reports
on UC Irvine, San Diego State and Georgia Tech's Buck Farmer. Let's
Jeff (Orange County, CA): Hello Aaron, just
moved from Portland OR to So. Cal. My wife is a Fullerton Alum. We took
in the games this weekend and we were impressed with Fullerton's young
arms. I know it was only the first weekend. Plus they have a big
weekend with TCU coming up, but your thoughts on Fullerton's pitching
and how they looked so far?
Welcome to SoCal, Jeff! You're gonna love
it (just stay off the roads in LA county on Friday afternoon, for the
love of God. Actually, better to stay off the roads in LA County all the
time...). The Titans are obviously leaning heavily on young arms this
year, but they are quality young arms, and this weekend was a very
encouraging start. I'm a huge Justin Garza fan — he'll run it up to 94
with a sharp power breaking ball, and he's fearless. Thomas Eshelman
ranked among our top prospects in the West Coast League this summer and
has been very impressive in the offseason, so I wasn't surprised to see
him pitch as well as he did Friday. Grahamm Wiest is an excellent
strike-thrower with some funk and deception, and Koby Gauna is emerging
as well—he's got arm strength. I think it will be a good rotation.
Russell (Austin, TX): Hey Aaron, what impressed you about Texas this week? And also what does Texas have too do to crack the Top 25?
The most encouraging thing was how well
Parker French and Dillon Peters pitched, because those guys really will
determine whether or not this season is a success for Texas, I believe.
Mark Payton had a big weekend in the middle of the lineup — he's just a
really good player. I was surprised at the bullpen's struggles Friday,
and it sounds like Thornhill wasn't great Saturday, so the pitching
still needs to gel. Texas isn't far from the Top 25, but failing to
sweep Sacramento State at home won't get them into the rankings when
other teams earned their way in with unbeaten weekends against better
foes. Although I do think Sac State is improved this year and could be a
factor in the WAC.
Brad (Chicago): Do you really believe LSU will finish 6th in the SEC?
I believe the SEC is absolutely loaded —
seven teams currently ranked in our top 11! Honestly, those teams could
finish in any order, and I wouldn't be surprised at all — I expect it
will be tightly bunched, with a game or two of separation in either
direction. But obviously Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Arkansas are
going to be very formidable in the SEC West, just as LSU will be. I like
all of those teams, and I don't think any of them is markedly better
than the others yet. So yes, I think it is entirely possible that LSU
finishes sixth in the SEC — and still hosts a regional.
Windy (Chicago): Which Tulane offense was the real one: 14 hits in one game or 7 hits over two?
I think there's some middle ground there,
don't you? This should be a solid offensive club, although I don't think
they're going to have 14 hits every game. Keep in mind, the Green Wave
faced some quality arms this weekend — that was a strong field in San
Marcos. But scouts are really buzzing about the Tulane arms this
weekend. Rizzotti, McKenzi, Napoli and Byo all looked good, among
others. Will have more on Tulane later this week.
Nola (Houston): Hey Aaron,
Great to have college baseball back.
How impressed were you by Rice this weekend, particularly their starting
pitching, after taking 2 out of 3 from Stanford? The pitching as a
whole had some pretty big shoes to fill with the departures of Reckling,
Duffey and Chargois. Do you think this current staff has what it takes
to get the Owls back to Omaha?
You're right, the Owls needed some of these
sophomores to take big steps forward, in particular, and you have to be
encouraged with the way Jordan Stephens and Zech Lemond started the
season. Kubitza and Simms have had nice careers so far, but I would
really like to see them take that next leap to All-America-level
performance, and once again, early returns are promising. I'm excited to
see the Owls in two weeks at Minute Maid, which should give me a better
feel for whether or not this is an Omaha-caliber staff.
danny (florida): How bout them Mountaineers!
Another year with low expectations. Are you surprised they were able to
just beat down on Rodon? Expectations for the rest of the season?
Yeah, I think it's safe to say I was
surprised by that game Friday — Carlos Rodon hasn't lost a game since
his junior year of high school, and I think he is the best pitcher in
college baseball. The Mountaineers weren't scared, that's for sure —
sounds like Billy Jones has them playing with confidence once again this
season. Our guys who were there might not have characterized it as a
"beat down" — they say Rodon actually didn't look that bad, but App was
just ready for him and hit a couple of big home runs. I'm still not
ready to proclaim App State a regional team — I still think it will
struggle to replace the arms it lost last year — but this team is still
going to be a factor in the SoCon, I think.
Brian (Nor Cal): Hey Aaron, glad to have
college baseball back! Were you able to check out the new Fowler Park
at USD? What does that facility do for that program? More importantly,
what happened to the Toreros this weekend?
I did, and it was really a stunningly
beautiful facility. I always liked going to games at USD anyway because
that park is in a pretty spot, carved into a natural hillside bowl with a
nice view. Now you've got this gorgeous ballpark stuck in that same
setting, and it's very striking. They did a great job incorporating the
architecture of the campus (which is very pretty) into the ballpark,
starting with the vaulted entryway, and the sight lines are fantastic
all around the open-air concourse. It's a big league-caliber locker room
too. I think it really elevates the program — most importantly,
they'll be able to host regionals and supers now, which should finally
help this program get over the hump to Omaha. And USD has already been
able to land marquee recruits over the years, but I suspect they'll keep
even more of their big-ticket guys now, and lure more recruits away
from other SoCal powers. This is easily the best facility in the state
Alex (California): Aaron, Oregon's Jake reed
put together a nice first start at Hawaii on Friday I think he's one of
the best arms in the PAC-12. Your thoughts?
I've liked him since his high school days
because he's got a loose arm with good projection, and he already has a
really good feel for pitching, with a ton of life on the fastball.
That's a nice profile, I think. There are some awfully good Friday guys
in the Pac-12, between Appel, Plutko, Wade, Trevor Williams, Justin
Jones, Reed — it's a strong group.
EScott (Memphis): If you had to pick one, was
TCU's lack of offensive production more an indictment on their bats or
due to Ole Miss's pitching depth.
If I have to pick one, I'm crediting the
Ole Miss pitching staff, which I think is going to be elite this year.
That said, I don't love TCU's offense; in particular, I think it is more
vulnerable than usual in the lower half of the lineup. But the Frogs
will hit better than they did this weekend, and I don't think there's
any reason for panic. That's a great coaching staff, and it will find
answers. Runs figured to be tough to come by against Ole Miss, which
should be a fantastic run prevention outfit with the quality of its
pitching and its defense.
chase (chicago): Aaron brown better player as pitcher or hitter
I used to like him better as a hitter, as
most scouts seemed to coming out of high school, but that has been
reversed at Pepperdine, and scouts all prefer him as a pitcher now. It's
power stuff from the left side — up to 94 with a change for an average
changeup and slider. He's got a chance to be a nice draft pick as an
eligible sophomore this year.
Hank (Sarasota): After attending the Snowbird
Classic in Sarasota this weekend, I first came in asking where Mercer
University was from and didn't know much about them but they
surprisingly came out 3-0 with convincing wins over Ohio State, St.
Johns, and Notre Dame. What are you thoughts about Mercer as a
mid-major? And is Notre Dame a Big East favorite?
Hank, Mercer is a very good mid-major
program that has a chance to make some noise this year, as you probably
perceived. They returned all nine regulars and two weekend starters from
last year's team, they've got a big-time power bat as the centerpiece
of the lineup in Nick Backlund, and a good senior shortstop in Evan
Boyd. As for Notre Dame, I think it will be a regionals team, but I've
got it penciled in as the No. 2 team in the Big East, behind Louisville
(which we have ranked No. 4 in the nation).
ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): Thoughts on Jameis Winston's
college debut? Starting RF and DH 1st two games, then 3 innings of 2
hit, no walk ball with 4 K's on the mound
I sure get the impression that he is going
to make the biggest impact of all the two-sport guys they've brought in
over the last decade. Neat to see him play so much in his first weekend
of college baseball.
Chris (Arlington, TX): Great start by the Ole Miss Rebels with a 3 game sweep of TCU! Is this the Rebels year to finally make it to Omaha?
It really might be. We realistically might
have two Magnolia State teams in Omaha this year, because I am very
bullish on MSU and Ole Miss, and Southern Miss looks very strong as
well. I remember writing about the "Magnolia State Bumper Crop" in my
recruiting notebook a couple of falls ago, and we are starting to see
that banner high school class bear fruit.
TitaNation (So. Cal.): Among Fullerton, Irvine
and Cal Poly, which team had the most impressive opening weekend? It's
early, but do you see the Big West getting 3 Bids this year.
Even though I thought Baylor looked very
flat on Saturday, I still have to go with Irvine here — sweeping the
reigning Big 12 champions in very emphatic fashion is awfully
impressive. Sure, Baylor lost a lot, but those guys have plenty of
quality pieces back, as well. Certainly, all three of those teams stood
out this weekend, as did UC Davis, which won three of four against a
Washington team that I have been pumping up a little bit heading into
the season. Big West certainly looks reinvigorated.
Rob (Starkville, MS): After #2 Vanderbilt, #3 Arkansas, and #4 Louisville all lose, why didn't you move #5 MSU up any after they had a 4 game sweep?
We debated it in this morning's Top 25
meeting — there were those in our meeting who wanted to move MSU up.
But when teams win their weekends early in the season, we generally will
keep them where they are in the rankings, even if they only took two of
three. Especially in Week One, we are giving those teams a pass for
dropping one out of three. But MSU was clearly the most impressive team
of that group in Week One, which is the reason we did strongly debate
jumping those guys up.
Mike Garbus (Smithville, Missouri): I'm surprised that Jeffrey Gardner and Zak Wasseman aren't starting for Louisville. Any insights as to why, Aaron? Thanks.
It's because the Cardinals faced three good
lefties, so they wanted to give their righthanded hitters
opportunities. It sounds like Louisville is going to play some matchups
this year — they've got a lot of depth, and Dan McDonnell told me it
will be common for them to play 11 or 12 guys in a lot of games.
ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): which freshmen made the loudest debuts this weekend? Heard of the walkoff homer by FSU's Stewart, who else?
Yeah, D.J. Stewart certainly made some
noise with that one. He's one of those guys that looked like a sure-fire
Florida State star when he arrived at campus; sometimes you can just
tell with those guys. I've got to take one more opportunity to highlight
Bubba Derby, San Diego State's freshman closer — escaping two
ridiculous jams in back-to-back days to preserve those wins against USD
showed serious guts. Skye Bolt had a pair of big games for North
Carolina. Eshelman and Garza at Fullerton certainly came up big. This is
not an exhaustive list by any means, but those are a few guys that
stick out off the top of my head.
Steve (Austin, TX): Hey Aaron... I was one of
the record breaking crowds this weekend at Reckling Park this weekend
and I noticed how much more disciplined Rice was compared to previous
seasons.. Batters extending the count, pitchers getting and staying
ahead, dropping perfect, effective bunts, etc... Seeing this, compared
to previous season, I truly belive that this is one of the best Owls
squads in years. How much potential does this Rice team have? Is Omaha a
legitimate for this team? Thanks
Good observations, Steve. Wayne Graham
certainly seemed excited about his team this spring; there is reason for
optimism, Rice fans.
Ryan (New Orleans): There seems to be a lot of
disregard for losing a game early in the season after winning the series
as a whole. Shouldn't there be more credit for teams that can show they
have more depth at pitching and more consistent hitting to sweep an
early season series? Although it's early, I like the position of say LSU
who swept a Power Conference team over say South Carolina who was
unable to win all three games against a vastly inferior opponent.
LSU was certainly the more impressive of
those two teams this weekend, and I've heard from one scout already
today questioning whether South Carolina's offense will be good enough
to justify its preseason ranking. It's early yet, and I just think it's
important not to rush to sweeping conclusions after one weekend; I don't
like moving teams down after winning weekends, unless a team behind
them really did something eye-opening. Maryland is OK, but there really
isn't much difference between the Terps and Liberty — not enough there
for us to move LSU ahead of South Carolina.
Bill (Atlanta, GA): What was the biggest surprise the first weekend?
How about four preseason first-team
All-Americans losing (Appel, Rodon, Manaea, Gonzales) their season
debuts? Definitely did not see that coming.
Anthony (Oxford, MS): With all three of its
largest Universities in the top 25, is there a logical answer to explain
how the state of Mississippi became such a threat in collegiate
I did touch on the outstanding high school
class a couple of years ago, and most of those top guys went to those
three schools rather than signing with pro teams. But also there is a
really special college baseball culture in that state, with the crowds
and the media attention given to the sport. I remember sitting at a
restaurant near the state capitol building last year, and having casual
conversations with state legislators and other strangers who knew all
about what was going on with the Bulldogs and the Rebels on the baseball
diamond — I can't imagine that happening in Sacramento or Raleigh or
Boston, to name the capitals of three states where I have lived. They
have fantastic facilities, great coaches — I think it's pretty obvious
why college baseball is so strong down there.
Shane (Tallahassee): Do you think Florida State
can overcome the struggles that they had on the mound this weekend if
their offense keeps playing as well as it did?
I do worry about their pitching without
Compton, and Peter Miller's poor outing Sunday did nothing to alleviate
that concern. But I have worried about FSU's pitching plenty of times in
the past, and they always figure out how to win 40 or 50 games. In Mike
Martin I trust.
Thomas (Nebraska): I really liked what I saw
from Daniel Gosset and Scott Firth this weekend. I also really liked
what I saw from Shane Kennedy taking over at the plate. Do you think
Clemson is anywhere near being a threat to top teams nationally?
I also heard great reports on Gossett and
Firth, and it sounds like Jake Duggar and Tyler Krieger also looked good
in the lineup; that is a very exciting group of freshmen. I think
Clemson will have its ups and downs this year, but I certainly think
that team will be good enough to give any team a run for its money when
it is playing well.
Steve Rodriguez (Malibu): Hey Aaron. Saw you at
our game on Friday. What did you think of my team? Noticed you didn't
include us in your projected regional field this year. Hoping your
opinion might have changed after our dominating weekend.
It was a dominating weekend for the Waves,
albeit against an overmatched Western Michigan team. We did not include
the Waves in our field of 64 primarily because they lost middle
infielders Joe Sever and Zach Vincej (two guys who were really the
backbone of their team last year) and replaced them with freshmen. But I
will say that I really liked what I saw from Cody Nulph at shortstop on
Friday — I think he's going to be a very good player. Good actions and
an accurate arm at shortstop, and he handled the bat well. Scott
Frazier looked really good, too — 91-95, with a good curveball as the
game wore on. I could certainly see Pepperdine making a regional, but
there will be plenty of competition, and I remain high on LMU, which won
its opening series against Utah. Hard to see the WCC getting more than
three bids, and competition should be fierce between USD, Gonzaga, LMU,
Pepperdine and even USF (even though it had a rotten first weekend).
Clay (Mississippi): After the first weekend, who is the favorite to win the SEC?
Do you have a seven-sided coin I can flip?
gary (LA): What games did you attend this first weekend?
I was at Pepperdine and UCLA on Friday,
Irvine and USD on Saturday, USC on Sunday. I wrote about the Aztecs and
Anteaters today, and if I have time I will empty out my notebook with
other observations from the weekend for tomorrow's blog.
Alex (Virginia): Where do you see UVA right
now, did their two wins down at ECU move the needle at all for you? I'm
more than a little biased here but Virginia Tech gave up 14 hits and 9
runs to Kent State and they move in?
Yeah, it moved the needle — it came down
to four teams for our last two spots, and we went with Va Tech and
Irvine, with UVa and Miami right on the cusp, followed by Texas and
Arizona State. Certainly impressed with Virginia's weekend, but even
more impressed with Virginia Tech's 4-0 weekend against two good clubs.
The middle of Virginia Tech's lineup might be as good as any in the
country, and I thought it was very encouraging how well the Hokies
pitched in the final three games of their weekend. Even the game its
pitching struggled against Kent State, VT found a way to win, because
its offense is fearsome. And lest you forget, Virginia's No. 2 starter
(Silverstein) and its top recruit (Kirby) gave up nine runs to ECU this
weekend, and I don't believe ECU's offense is going to be spectacular
this year. Anyway, those teams are close, and you can make a case for
either, but we are high on the Hokies and wanted to reward them for
their four-win weekend.
WhenItStrikesMe (NYC): It was a weird weekend
in Nashville with some of the smallest strike zones I can recall pairing
with cold weather. Only two Vandy pitchers (Brian Miller and Kevin
Ziomek) and one LBSU pitcher (Hunt) were able to consistently find the
strike zone all weekend. Chalk it up to very cold weather and
belligerent umpires with nowhere to be, or should Vandy and LBSU worry
about a combined 32 walks and 9 HBPs in 50 innings pitched?
On the bright side, the new Vanderbilt field turf looked to play well.
Quick and true, with the added fun of allowing people to slide 15 or so
Yeah, the first weekend can be fluky,
between weather stuff and jitters and getting pitchers stretched out.
You can learn some things from opening weekend for sure, but I try not
to panic after one weekend, and I'm certainly not worrying too much
about the way those clubs pitched this weekend. Thanks for the
observations from Nashville.
Matt (OKC): Aaron, what can my realistic
expectations be from the Aggies in their first year in the SEC & a
relatively young group of guys?
I think it's a regionals team... even if it
winds up as the No. 9 team in the conference, which is where we project
it. I just really, really like those top 7 or 8 teams, and the Aggies
have a lot of young guys who need to establish themselves, as you point
out. But certainly, the talent is there.
Matt (Atlanta): When would you think the
Johnnies will crack the Top 25. They were a super regional team a year
ago, and maintained their solid pitching staff from that team.
Well, certainly not after an 0-4 weekend in
Sarasota! I've been pretty vocal about my admiration for that program
over the years, and I think those guys will be plenty competitive this
year, but I don't envision that being a Top 25-caliber team this season.
Just lost too much from last year
Bob (Birmingham): The Southern Conference had a
nice start to the season. Can you see the conference sending three
teams to the regionals again this year?
Sure, that could easily happen; we
projected the SoCon for two bids in the preseason, and three is not a
stretch. Good starts for CofC, Georgia Southern, App State (albeit in
just one game), Samford and Western Carolina, all of whom could contend
for regionals. And don't forget about Elon, which had a rough first
weekend but will be there at the end. Looks like it could be a very deep
Matt (Louisiana): I see SDSU missed the cut
(I'd imagine barely). They swept No. 25 USD while VT won all of it's
four, albeit against an above average UNCW team and a rebuilding, cold
weather Ball State team. What was the impetus for putting VT ahead of
SDSU? Thanks for the chats!
Well, San Diego State had more to prove,
for me — that team finished 26-34 last year, so one good weekend isn't
going to be enough to vault the Aztecs over the glut of teams that we
evaluated as being closer to the Top 25 heading into the season.
Certainly, I was very impressed with the Aztecs this weekend, but I want
to see them sustain some success before running them into the Top 25.
Virginia Tech has more established veterans and is a team we had high
expectations for coming into the season — those guys did not have to
make as much of a jump to get into the rankings.
Ben (Leland Grove): Is Kent Emanuel a potential 1st rounder in the works to you?
Yes, I think he has a real chance to be.
Some similarities between him at Sean Gilmartin, who was a
first-rounder, but I think Emanuel is better than Gilmartin.
Ralph (Phoenix): DJ Peterson should put up impressive stats this year. Do you think that continues after he's drafted?
The guy is a really, really good hitter with easy power potential. Yes, I think he's a big leaguer.
Jordan (Arkansas): My hogs looked great for the
first two games then fell apart Sunday. Any cause for concern? Big
games coming up in Arizona State and San Diego State. We need to get
Nothing to worry about. They do need to get
healthy; that will happen soon, and it will make a big difference. We
gave them a mulligan for Sunday.
Rob (NOLA): Can Cotton close for LSU? If not, who are the candidates to close?
It sure looks like it after he finished the
first two games this weekend! I like him in that role — he's not your
typical flame-throwing closer, like Nick Goody was last year, but they
really trust him because he has poise, command and solid enough stuff.
Matt (Chicago): IU had an impressive win
against Louisville this weekend and are your pick to win the Big Ten.
Any chance you see them cracking the top 25? How far off are they?
Certainly on the radar — in a group of
about 10-12 teams who fell outside the rankings on our Top 25 worksheet
this week. The next three weeks afford the Hoosiers plenty of chances to
prove they belong in the rankings, with trips to Georgia Southern and
Florida, plus games against Coastal and Indiana State.
OK everybody, I'm out of gas — it's been a
whirlwind weekend, but a very fun weekend. Hope you guys enjoyed Week
One as much as I did. Thanks for all the great chat questions, as
always. See you next Monday!