College Top 25 Chat: March 4




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Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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 run.

    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?

Aaron Fitt: 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 the season?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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!

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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.

Aaron Fitt: 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.

Aaron Fitt: 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.

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: Yes.

    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.

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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 that group.

    Tim (Albany,Or.): What do you think of Andrew Moore of Oregon State?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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

Aaron Fitt: .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?

Aaron Fitt: 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.

Aaron Fitt: 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?

Aaron Fitt: 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.

Aaron Fitt: 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.