College Top 25 Chat: March 4
Hi everybody, might have to keep this tight
because I'm headed over to Reckling Park for this afternoon's Rice-Cal
game before I head back to California. Let's chat.
Jeff (D.C.): To say Arkansas was fortunate to
reach Omaha last year would be an understatement. They lost 5 SEC series
and went 2 and out in Hoover. They came from behind late to win their
regional opener 5-4 over SHSU then scored 1 run on 2 hits to beat Rice.
SHSU upset Rice in the loser's bracket and Arkansas was off to the Super
Regional where we all remember Baylor being an out or 2 away from Omaha
before hitting 2 batters in game 2 to score the tying and winning runs.
In game 3, Arkansas went scoreless through 9 before scratching 1 across
in the 10th. As luck would have it, they drew mighty Kent State in the
CWS opener. After that, it was back to their usual selves — good
pitching, anemic offense. It looked like much of the same this weekend.
Assuming luck is not on their side this year like it was in 2012, how
far can this team really go?
That's a pretty pessimistic slant on the
last two years, but you're right that Arkansas caught some breaks last
year and that the Hogs were quite disappointing during the regular
season last year. Yes, the offense was very poor this weekend, though
the opposing pitchers deserve some credit, but I still believe this
offense will be adequate enough for this team to go a long way with the
quality of its pitching. It was a rotten weekend, but the Hogs still
pitched well — those arms are going to be there all year, and better
days area ahead for the bats. Don't panic about a four-game offensive
slump. I'm not saying it's going to be a GREAT offense, but I think it
will be fine.
Nicholas Jeli (Corvallis, OR): Does any team have an overall pitching staff better than Oregon State?
I'd certainly put that staff on the short
list of best staffs in the nation, but I'd put UNC, Mississippi State,
Ole Miss, Arkansas (still), and maybe Vanderbilt in the same category.
Too early to say who's got the best staff — I'd like to see how some of
these staffs hold up against conference competition.
Jesse (Columbia): Arkansas at 16 and Arizona
State at 23. Arizona State beat Stanek with a midweek freshman starter.
How is there any doubt as to who is the better team right now?
I get what you're saying, but we're talking
about two close games decided by three runs. Arizona State has lost
games to Bethune-Cookman and Tennessee, but that doesn't mean those
teams are better than the Sun Devils. It's baseball, and it's a long
season, and I still believe Arkansas will be the better team in the long
Steve L. (Albany): It was good to see Ben
Wetzler back on the hill this weekend. I can wait until Jace Fry comes
back in May for the stretch run! What do you think is the Beavers
weakness this season?
Honestly I don't see a weakness. I think
this is the best Oregon State team since the national championship runs.
The power in the middle of the lineup is special — that's something
we're not used to seeing from the Beavers.
James (Nashville): After a couple weeks of
baseball where does Ole Miss stand in the SEC west with MS state, LSU
and Arkansas all projecting to finish higher then them at the start of
Toss them in a hat, shake it up, and pull
them out in any order you like — those are all very good teams, in my
book, and they could finish in any order.
Drew (Mississippi): Is Stuart Turner the fastest rising Catcher prospect for this years Draft?
You know, I think he might be, although I
haven't spoken with scouts about him in the last couple of weeks. But I
know that scouts are already sold on his defense, they just wanted to
see what he could do with the bat — and he's doing just what the Ole
Miss coaches insisted all offseason he would do. There are so few
quality college catchers available in this draft, I have to imagine
Turner is boosting his stock immensely.
Russell (Austin, TX): Hey Aaron, Listened to
the Texas and Stanford series this weekend, and it is quite obvious we
didn't even belong on the same field as Stanford. Anyway, what
problems do you see with the Longhorns this year? Me personally I think
their offense is going to be terrible again this year. What does
Texas need to do in order just back to their winning ways?
Well, now you know why we held off moving
Texas into the rankings last week — I'm just not excited about the
offense, and I think the pitching staff is thinner than usual. Just
feels like an average NCAA tournament team this year, not a threat to
host a regional or go to Omaha. But it's Texas — those guys will be
back at their usual elite level before you know it.
Taylor (Houston): A&M looks like they could
be a lot better than they are. They've got some talent out there, some
scrappy players. Tell me more about the Aggies...Thanks!
That's a pretty good way to put it — they
look like they could be a lot better than they are right now. Read my
post on the College Blog after Saturday's win against Rice — that
explains my thoughts about the Aggies pretty well. It's a team with some
talent, and I think they're going to get better over the course of the
season, but they are going to have ups and downs.
Mike (Nevada): What team has the (most talented) rotation in college baseball currently?
Tough one. If we're talking just about pro
talent, I think it comes down to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Arkansas,
Oklahoma, LSU. Tough to pick one.
Taylor (Houston): What's wrong with Rice? I
realize they lost to the top team in the nation, who I was very
impressed with, and they ran into a buzzsaw A&M team Saturday night
(nobody was going to be the Aggies that night), but an 0-3 showing is
definitely cause for concern, especially with the injury to Hoelscher.
It is some cause for concern — and I have
to admit, I was a little disappointed in what I saw of Rice from a
talent perspective. None of the pitchers showed stuff as good as I was
expecting. I mean, that staff will be fine — there are some good
college pitchers there, and most of them have a plus college pitch that
gets swing-and-misses, but I thought I'd see a bit more velocity out of
all of them. Even Lemond, who showed me a really nice changeup in
addition to his good curveball, was several ticks of velocity below
where he had been. The loss of Hoelscher hurts the offense, but Connor
Teykl is a nice athlete at third who should fill in nicely over there. I
do think Leon Byrd is going to be a great player — he's well on his
way — and they have nice veteran pieces in Stringer, Stainback, Aquino
(who impressed me this weekend) and Perrott (who is a nice
catch-and-throw guy). Ratterree needs to get going. All of this is a
rambling way of saying I'm not too concerned. I think this team is about
what we thought it was heading into the season — a top 20 team, but
not an elite team. Read today's Three Strikes for more on Rice — should
be posted soon if it isn't already.
Disgusted Dirtbag (Long Beach): Great chats
Aaron!!! Losing 2 of 3 at home to Seattle and haven't sniffed Omaha in
15 years...what is going on at Long Beach State? Maybe they should
move the fences in at Blair Field. BBCOR bats and inept play by the
Dirtbags is killing my interest in college baseball.
Definitely understand your frustration, and
this weekend was pretty surprising. I was actually pretty optimistic
about that Long Beach team before this weekend — I thought it had a
pretty good chance to be a regional team, and I'm not abandoning that
belief completely, but I need to see more of those guys to get a better
feel for what's going on with that team. I will say that I do like that
coaching staff, and I believe that Troy Buckley will get that program
going soon. It's taken some time, but I like how they've recruited, I
think their talent is improving, their depth is improving, and they are
only another year or two from being very good.
Bill (Hamilton, NJ): Georgia Tech is smacking
the ball around like some of their past teams used to. Team average is
.350 and Palka already is at 20 RBI, Gonzalez at 19 after 12 games.
Granted, the pitching they are going to see is going to get much better
starting with Mercer and Va Tech this weekend, but they have that look
of a hungry team that wants to win.
Think this GT team isn't going to collapse like previous recent years.
They are good. As long as the pitching holds up, they are going to be a
very tough out post season for anyone.
The thing is, they have been "good" many
times before and still swooned in regionals. As talented as this team
is, it's just hard to go all-in until they get back over the hump in the
postseason. But I do really like the talent on this team — I think
that might be the best lineup in college baseball, and the rotation
looks strong so far, with a senior who refuses to lose or even give up a
run atop the rotation. Georgia Tech showed me something in the ACC
tournament last year, with their backs against the wall a little bit,
they went out there and played very well and showed good toughness. I
tend to think you're right that this team has good makeup... so I'm
optimistic about the Jackets, just not all-in. That Virginia Tech series
should be a blast.
Ben (Leland Grove): Would you take Rodon over anyone in the '13 class?
Justin (Fullerton, CA): Is there a better 1-2
punch anywhere in the country than Eshelman and Garza right now? Both
guys have looked lights out for three straight weeks now. Thanks as
always for the great college baseball coverage and look forward to
seeing you out at Goodwin Field soon.
Those guys have really performed, and
Fullerton fans have to be ecstatic about the next few years knowing
those guys are leading the rotation. That said, they are two freshmen,
and I'm not ready to call that duo better than more experienced tandems
like Wahl-Mayers, Emanuel-Moss, Ziomek-Beede, Nola-Eades, Overton-Gray.
Freshmen have a long history of wearing down in the final month of their
first collegiate seasons, and Garza isn't very physical to begin with,
so that is something to keep in the back of your mind. Will these guys
be as good in June as they are now? We'll find out.
Brendon (Sunnyvale, CA): The Pac-12 looks to be
extremely top heavy this season. The top 6, seem to be way ahead of the
bottom 5. Which of the bottom 5 (Cal, Washington, Washington State, USC
and Utah) should the top 6 be most worried about making some noise in
conference play? And assuming you are sticking with Oregon State as your
Pac-12 champ, who is your early favorite to finish in 2nd?
I think you've got it pegged — there is a
significant gap after that top six. I was fairly optimistic about
Washington heading into the season, but I'm not feeling great about
those guys after a 3-8 start. Washington State has played well and looks
like the most dangerous team in that second group. Three solid weekend
guys with a big arm at the end of the game in J.D. Leckenby, and some of
the guys they needed to take steps forward in the lineup have done so
thus far. As for my pick for No. 2 in the Pac... I'm telling you, I
think it's a toss-up between UCLA, Stanford and Oregon. I suppose I'd
lean toward the Bruins because they have the deepest pitching staff of
Tim (Albany,Or.): What do you think of Andrew Moore of Oregon State?
Have heard great things about him. The
Beavers say he was electric this weekend, 90-93 with advanced feel for
three offspeed pitches, locating in and out and competing. Sounds pretty
darn good, but I haven't yet seen him in person.
Johnny (Charlotte, NC): Aaron, could you please
explain the seemingly opposite directions that the Clemson and South
Carolina programs are going? Why is Clemson, with it's tradition and
long time coach, unable to surpass South Carolina?
I really don't think Clemson is on a
negative trajectory, it's just that South Carolina has elevated its
program to an almost impossibly high level over the last four years, and
Clemson has stayed at its "very good" level. I mean, those teams have
played a bunch of close games that could have gone either way, from the
2010 CWS to last year's regional. The Gamecocks did better on the
recruiting trail with their current sophomore class, which is why they
are in better shape this year than Clemson, but the Tigers have a very
exciting freshman class that suggests the future is still very bright
for that program. Look, no team in college baseball has achieved at
South Carolina's level over the last three years, so it's not like it's
just Clemson that is struggling with the Gamecocks.
Patrick (Chicago): Part way into the season, how are the 3b prospects, offensivley and defensivley, lining up for the draft?
All four elite third base prospects in this
college class—Colin Moran, D.J. Peterson, Kris Bryant and Eric
Jagielo—stand out more for their bats than their defense, and all of
them have gotten off to solid starts offensively. Moran made a couple of
errors this weekend, but I still think he's improving at the hot corner
and has a solid shot to stick there. Pretty sure Peterson and Bryant
will have to move elsewhere—Peterson to first base and Bryant perhaps to
the outfield. Gun to my head, I'd say Jagielo winds up at first base
also, but he's got at least a shot at third. So for me, Moran's
defensive value coupled with his bat makes him the most valuable guy in
this group. It's a very nice group.
Arthur (Chapel Hill, NC): Hi, I know I'm a little biased here, but was the Emanuel/Kubitza game Friday the best pitcher's duel so far this season?
It was good — probably the best I've seen
so far this year — but that actually wasn't Emanuel's best, and Kubitza
didn't make it into the late innings, so I'd have a hard time believing
this was the best pitcher's duel anywhere this year.
Mike (Arizona): Any concern with DJ Peterson's
slow start? Will this affect his draft status in this years draft? Do
you still project him as a first rounder? Thanks
.344/.462/.844 with three homers in eight
games and more walks than strikeouts — that's a slow start? I suppose
he's not hitting .419 yet, but he's doing fine. And I still think he
might be the best pure bat in this draft.
Daniel (Los Angeles): Aaron, how do you see the
UCLA Dodgertown this weekend shaping up with ND and Oklahoma in town?
Does it take a Bruins sweep to finally get them to move out of the odd
12th spot you have them in?
Excited about that tournament — very nice
out-of-region talent coming in. It doesn't take a sweep to move up, but
it all depends on what the teams in front of them do. When everybody
ahead of you also wins, it's hard to jump over somebody. We make
exceptions on occasion, like this week when we leapfrogged Fullerton to
No. 10 and kept Kentucky and UCLA in their same spots, but the Titans
earned that by playing extremely well against great competition.
Fullerton has proven more to this point than UCLA has.
JR (Texas): What did you think of Kubitza's performance on Friday night...for the most part he out pitched Emanuel.
His slider had good depth, and he was able
to command it better than I have seen him do in the past — he could
throw it for strikes or get hitters to chase it. I was disappointed in
the fastball velocity — it was mostly 86-88 — but it had a ton of
arm-side run and sink on it, like usual, and he could use it as sort of a
changeup by subtracting a few mph from it (throwing it at 84 with extra
life). That innate ability to manipulate the ball is special. But
scouts I chatted with do not regard him as the elite draft guy we all
thought he would become when he was a freshman.
Tim (Evanston): What is going on with Justin Jones? Is he at risk of not even being drafted this year?
He looked awful Friday — mechanics were
way out of whack, velocity was poor, command was very poor. Just not the
same guy he used to be. He's a great kid, and I hope he figures it out,
but he looked pretty lost Friday.
OK folks, I've got to run down to Rice —
finally got some nice warm weather here in Houston, nice afternoon for a
baseball game at beautiful Reckling Park. Thanks for the questions —
see you next week.