College Top 25 Chat: March 11




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John Manuel: Aaron is wrapping up a file, so I'm going to pinch-hit for him for a few minutes here to get the chat started.

    Bill (Atlanta, GA): Are you looking at Furman as a potentially ranked team? I wouldn't want to see them in an "Atlanta Regional".

John Manuel: That's a great start to the year for Furman, with two nice series wins in SoCon play over Elon (on the road) and Appalachian State. Plus the road wins at Coastal and loss at South Carolina will be good for RPI purposes, if the Paladins can keep this up. I like how they nearly swept that series this weekend, rallying against App State's solid closer, Rob Marciello. According to the release I got, this is Furman's best start since 1926! So I'm not sure if they are printing regional tickets yet, but the SoCon looks very deep, and Furman's strong start is a reason why. The bullpen has been outstanding to this point, and that team has a lot of juniors & seniors.

    Harry (Pearl, MS): Mane Aaron, I can't belive MS Staate dropped that much. You have any ideas on what went wrong with Coach Cohens and the dawgs this weekend against Central Arkansas? Thanks for the chats bud!! GO DAWGS!!

John Manuel: There's more on Central Arkansas in 3 Strikes, but we talked about MState on the podcast some. The big questions there have been injuries, with Wes Rea out, the hand injury that hasn't seemed to slow Hunter Renfroe much, and now Jacob Lindgren's status after his leg injury Friday. The Bulldogs are a different club without him, because even with their pitching depth, I think they need a Friday guy, and Lindgren is the best bet to emerge as an ace. Most of that drop was them having a hiccup, which is natural, but give credit to the Bears. Good series win.

    Joel (KCK): I know the strikeouts have been there all year, but how can one explain Carlos Rodon's two bad outings from an earned runs standpoint? Will more games like this affect his status as the consensus #1 prospect in 2014, or are they simply just aberrations? Thanks

John Manuel: Hard to know if they are "simply aberrations" or what. The Ks are there. We have reports of his velocity fluctuating from start to start, but it does sound like consistently, his fastball velo is down a bit this year. That always creates injury rumors, and that's all they are at this point—rumors. Rodon is still showing swing & miss stuff, but he has made mistakes with his cutter & changeup and has been punished for them. The other thing to keep in mind is, he's human. He's a college sophomore. No one is perfect. At his best, he's better than anyone else in the 2014 class. He hasn't been at his best yet this year on two occasions in four starts.

    Eric S. (Orlando, FL): Has Florida dug themselves too deep a hole to pull out of? They are now 8-9 and play 17 of their next 19 games against Florida State, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Miss State, and South Carolina. We thought this would be a team that plays a lot of 3-2 games, but the pitching just hasn't held up their end of the bargain. A 4.53 team ERA in the BBCOR era simply isn't good enough.

John Manuel: Yeah, you should be worried about the Gators. That team has talent but not much margin for error. I think players are getting more used to the BBCOR bats, so I think we'll see offense improving in college baseball. But the Gators, while they have pitching talent, have little pitching experience. Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, Austin Maddox, Pado Rodriguez — that WAS Florida pitching for three years. Jonathon Crawford has struggled adjusting to being The Man on Fridays. The quality of depth isn't the same. And to use the bullpen to shorten games, you have to take early leads, and Florida's offense is not the juggernaut of past seasons. Lots of issues there for me. I think the offense wears some the blame as well. No way around an SEC schedule; there are no real soft spots. So the young Gators are just going to have to grow up.

    John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: Okay, let me see if I get this right - UVA steamrolls over veritable NCAA powerhouses like St. Peters, Toledo, GW, Harvard and Bucknell, splits with Maryland - all played at home - and they get ranked at 22? And to make it harder to grasp and understand, they move up three places from last week? Let's be real - is the ranking based on actual performance to date or Baseball America's perception of a team's potential? Looks like the annual love fest for UVA continues.

John Manuel: I take it John is a Hokie fan? Virginia won a 3-game series this weekend in conference play (not a split). It also swept East Carolina on the road to open the season. It also has a strong track record in recent years with several trips to the College World Series. I'd say it's more BA's respect-fest for Virginia's body of work & track record under Brian O'Conner and his staff. Also, listen to last week's podcast to hear Aaron's annual rant about how frustrating it is for UVA to play some of the creampuffs on its schedule. It's a good one!

    John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: If the Clemson chorus hasn't begun, please allow me to start: taking two of three from NCSU (in Raleigh!!) doesn't cut it?

John Manuel: Ah, so you're a Clemson fan John ... now I got it. You're a one-man Clemson chorus — 9-5 didn't cut it. I do like this team's toughness though, and that it's more offensive this year with the players Aaron detailed in last week's Weekend Preview. I'm a big Daniel Gossett fan and like Clemson's trajectory; it's a fairly young team growing up fast, and they didn't have a hangover after losing that series to South Carolina.

John Manuel: Time to pass the mic back to Aaron Fitt. He knows more college baseball than I have forgotten. (I think Pat Riley said that ...)

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, hectic morning today — thanks to John for filling in for me in the early innings. Let's see if I can channel Pedro Martinez out of the bullpen in the '99 ALDS and go 6 hitless innings to nail this thing down...

    Justin (Mississippi): After this weekend, I honestly believe that Stuart Turner from Ole Miss is the best catcher in college baseball, he is an outstanding catcher and is batting .491, do u believe he is the top catcher in college baseball?

Aaron Fitt: I'll tell you what, he's been the best catcher through four weeks — it would be pretty hard to be more valuable than that. He's a complete player with outstanding defensive skills and an impact bat. I have a feeling he's vaulting his way up the list of catching prospects for this draft, too.

    WISM (NYC): Aaron - It was a sloppy week for my Commodores, who relied on stellar pitching from Buehler, Ziomek, Beede and Pfeifer to come within one E5 of sweeping the weekend in Eugene. While VU starters have been nearly unhittable all year (yielding 0 or 1 ER in 14 of 17 games), they've relied on catcher Spencer Navin to backstop them with his defense. Navin injured his left ankle on Sunday and (though no word is out yet on what the injury actually is) even a mild sprain would mean at least a week or so out of the lineup. While it's far better that this happen now than in May or June, how much do you think this impacts the Dores heading into SEC play? Is Chris Harvey ready to step it up?

Aaron Fitt: I chatted with Vandy pitching coach Scott Brown today for a Golden Spikes Spotlight on Kevin Ziomek (check Three Strikes blog in a few minutes for that). He said he thinks Navin has a sprain, but "did not seem to be serious; he was walking around in the boot afterward." It's too soon to tell how severe the injury is and how much time he will miss, but I think Vandy is fortunate to have a backup as talented as Harvey, who has made progress with his defense, from everything I have gathered. Navin might be the best defensive catcher in college baseball, so if he misses any meaningful time it will be a blow, but Harvey was a blue-chip recruit who should be a more than able fill-in.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, thanks for the chat. Getting myself oriented for FSU coming to College Park this weekend and I was curious about your thoughts on Marcus Davis? Watched some video on him and reminded me a bit of Jonathan Singleton.

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, he's really strong, and he's got a good approach from the left side. Plate discipline is almost a prerequisite for Florida State hitter, and he's got it. Davis and Jose Brizuela have really stepped forward to lead that offense, which looks formidable as usual.

    Jeff (D.C.): 7 Louisiana State 10-1 Where would LSU be ranked if you counted their 4 wins this week?

Aaron Fitt: Thanks, wise guy — that typo has been corrected. We obviously knew LSU's record was 15-1 when we ranked the teams — but no team ranked above them has more than two losses, and they've all played stronger schedules. Although sweeps of Maryland and Washington are solid weekends; both those teams have some talent, and I will admit that I thought Washington was a borderline regional team heading into the year. Looks like I was probably wrong about that one.

    Barry (Mansfield, Texas): Is it time to just default FSU into your preseason top ten every year, regardless of roster turnover? Amazing job Number 11 does ever year with that squad.

Aaron Fitt: It is pretty crazy — I've often had that same thought. Of course, Florida State has yet to play a road game, and its four weekend opponents have an aggregate record of 15-38 (.283), so I think it's too early to pronounce this an elite team yet. I'll be curious to see how they handle the next three weekends, with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech on tap. We'll know a lot more about FSU at the end of March than we do right now.

    Brad (Chicago): Hey Aaron- If you were to rank only the teams that you have watched play this year, what would the rankings look like? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Fun question. I'll say: 1. North Carolina. 2. Oregon State. 3. Cal State Fullerton. 4. UCLA. 5. Rice. 6. Arizona. 7. Oklahoma. 8. UC Irvine. 9. San Diego. 10. Texas A&M. Others not far off: Houston, San Diego State, Minnesota, Pepperdine. This list is going to grow in the next few weeks — I'll see Oregon this weekend, then Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State and Louisville the following weekend, and LSU and Arkansas a few weeks after that.

    Randy (Columbia, SC): The Gamecocks got all they could handle this weekend from a very good Rider team. Rider's arms shut us down 2 of the 3 games. Joey Pankake has had to carry the load offensively the last 2 weeks. With Colby Holmes' ineffectiveness and Jordan Montgomery and Tanner English out will this eventually catch up to us?

Aaron Fitt: I think you should be encouraged by Pankake's surge — he needed to be a key piece of the offensive puzzle this year, and it's good to see that happening. It doesn't sound like the Montgomery and English injuries will be long-term issues, so I don't think there is any cause for concern. I have to imagine Holmes will get it going too — he's a savvy senior with so much experience, I think he'll figure it out. I'm not the slightest bit worried about the Gamecocks.

    JH (California): Is Skye Bolt establishing himself as the front runner for freshman of the year? Any thoughts on other contenders?

Aaron Fitt: He's certainly on the early short list, along with Alex Bregman at LSU, Eshelman and Garza at Fullerton, Andrew Moore of Oregon State, Ryan Kellogg at Arizona State, Brandon Waddell at Virginia. I'm sure I'm missing plenty of others, but those are some that come to mind.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Hey, Aaron. Saw the video of Jonathan Gray's start yesterday, and the kid looks amazing. Does he remind you of anyone in particular, and could you envision him going in the first ten picks?

Aaron Fitt: I mean, I know it's high praise to compare him to a former No. 1 overall pick, but he reminded me of Gerrit Cole. Just the way he held that high-90s velocity deep into the game (and generated that kind of heat with minimal effort), the way he could throw his slider in any count, the way he mixed in a nice changeup — it was very impressive. I saw a lot of Cole during his UCLA days, and he never hit triple digits on the BA Stalker gun as often as Gray did Saturday. He sure looked like a top 10 pick to me.

    Dee (Orlando): Gray, Anderson and Shipley have popped up as potential first round pitchers this year — are there any pop-up hitters with similar talent this year or next?

Aaron Fitt: All three of those guys were already on the radar, but you're right that all three of them have really boosted their stock. I think Gray and Shipley were closer to first-round consideration heading into the year than Anderson, who has made the biggest leap so far, for me. Well, Gray has made a huge leap too — he was a completely different guy Saturday than I saw a year ago at Pepperdine, when his command was erratic. On the hitter side... you know, I don't think there have been any huge surprises so far, guys that have jumped into first-round range from off the map. I have to imagine Daniel Palka is helping his stock with his stellar start, but they also haven't played the best competition, and I haven't chatted with any scouts about him recently. Here's a guy for next year: Dylan Davis at Oregon State has all kinds of talent, and he's really putting it together as a sophomore. He hasn't hit any home runs yet, but there's real juice in that swing, and it's encouraging to see him hitting for average.

    ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): Is this ASU better than thought and do they have a chance at one of the 16 regional hosts?

Aaron Fitt: I'm still going to reserve judgment a little longer on ASU. I think the pitching is very good, although I always get a little nervous about teams that rely too heavily on freshman pitchers, who so often wear down in May and June. I'm still not in love with the offensive firepower, but I do like the hard-nosed mentality of this lineup. If I have to make a pick right now, I think Arizona State is the fourth or fifth best team in the Pac-12. I still like Oregon State, UCLA and Oregon more, and long-term probably Stanford too (I still think the Cardinal will be very formidable when healthy). ASU and Arizona both have a few more warts, but at the moment ASU feels a little better than Arizona, to me.

    Andy (Louisiana): Thoughts on the SEC as we head into conference play this weekend? How have your thoughts changed since your preseason projections?

Aaron Fitt: The only major adjustment for me would be Florida, which is clearly not a top 20 team as we had it ranked in the preseason. I still believe the Gators could be a regional team by the end of the year, but right now they are just inconsistent, in the same boat as Texas A&M. But I still believe the seven SEC teams we rated highest in the preseason are all really good teams that are all capable of hosting regionals and could finish in any order — I'm talking about Vandy, South Carolina, Ole Miss, LSU, Kentucky, Mississippi State and Arkansas.

    Harry (St Louis, MO): Keith Law thinks Kevin Ziomek is likely a second rounder. Would you concur with this, or does he possess first round stuff?

Aaron Fitt: I think he could be a first-rounder, but I don't think he's a slam dunk. His delivery is unconventional, which could put some scouts off. Still, a lefty with his quality stuff and now results to match? If he keeps this up, I'll bet he climbs into the first round.

    Frank (DC): Aaron, what is up with the MWC ? Fresno, Nevada, SDSU, and New Mexico are all off to disappointing starts while UNLV is playing out of their shoes. Is this a one bid league if UNLV wins the conference tournament ?

Aaron Fitt: It's bonkers, isn't it? Fresno State has been horrific — really did not see that coming. I was not terribly impressed with Cal in the four-game look I got at those guys last week, and Cal just swept Fresno in a four-game set. The Aztecs aren't bad, but they have been swept in four-game series by two teams that are clearly just a lot better than they are, Oregon State and Arkansas. New Mexico will rebound — I trust Ray Birmingham to find a way to get that pitching staff to perform well enough to win a bunch of games, given the quality of that offense. UNM was never expected to be a great pitching team, and it doesn't have to be, as long as its pitching isn't horrible like it has been. The Lobos will need to get hot in order to build an at-large caliber RPI after this disappointing start, but I think they're capable of doing that — or of slugging their way to the automatic bid. It's awfully early to say this is definitely a one-bid league, but as of today, it's headed in that direction. UNLV is off to a great start, but I still believe New Mexico is the team to beat. We'll see how it plays out.

    Daniel (Arkansas): Why isn't UCA ranked after taking the weekend series against then #3 Mississippi State? Currently 14-2 on the year with their only losses being to #2 Vandy and Mississippi State.

Aaron Fitt: The Bears have played themselves right into the mix for our Top 25, which is a pretty huge step forward for this program even though they haven't cracked the rankings yet. The thing is, I still have reservations about UCA's talent level, so I'll need to see a few more wins against quality opponents before I completely buy in. Right now, the best wins on the resume other than this weekend are against Kansas and Wichita State — those are decent wins, but not great wins. If UCA goes on the road next weekend and wins a series at Southern Miss, then I will be convinced this is a top 25-caliber team, because that will represent sustained success against very talented opposition (even though USM has scuffled lately).

    Matt (Louisiana): I know the SEC is loaded, but with the emergence of Cody Glenn, does LSU have one of the top 1-2 rotations in the conference? Also, have can you give a brief scouting report on Glenn? Is he a legit prospect in 2014? Thanks for the chats!

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, Glenn's emergence has addressed one of our primary question marks about LSU coming into the season — that is a strong rotation now. Glenn is a solid lefty with an upper-80s fastball, a good curveball and feel for a changeup. He has gotten better in Baton Rouge working with Alan Dunn.

    Jason Rice (Clarksville, TN): No love for Austin Peay? I understand that they are a mid-major, but they've shown in the past couple of years, and with a 13-2 start this year, that they can get the job done.

Aaron Fitt: I really like that Austin Peay team — wrote about them as a threat to win a regional heading into the season. They've been on our Top 25 worksheet for several weeks, but right now the resume just lacks a real signature win, like UNLV's sweep of Stanford, or Indiana and FGCU winning series at Florida. When you don't play top-level competition, you can still break into the rankings with sustained, consistent excellence, but it takes longer.

    Navin (Pasadena, CA): Do you have an update on the injury status of UCLA closer James Kaprelian? I know UCLA ran up against some stellar pitching Friday an especially Saturday, but how concerned should I be about the slumping offense?

Aaron Fitt: John Savage told me Saturday that Kaprielian is going to have an MRI on his shoulder just to be safe, but he said all indications are that there is nothing structurally wrong, that it's likely a little impingement. Sounded to me like he expects Kaprielian back before too long, but we'll see. I don't think there is much cause for concern about the offense; we never thought it was going to be an elite offense, but guys like Brian Carroll and Kevin Kramer have taken steps forward as hoped to become offensive leaders, and I'm confident Eric Filia isn't far away from getting — he's flashed that innate hitting ability we know he possesses. The Bruins simply won't be as dangerous offensively as they were a year ago, but they should score enough runs to win behind that outstanding pitching staff.

    Dougner (New Mexico): Hi Aaron, CSF has played a pretty difficult schedule so far, do you think these tough games will serve them well over the long haul? By the way, your coverage of Cal State Fullerton and UCLA is always spot on and I am appreciative, ignore the trolls!

Aaron Fitt: Ha, I take it you saw my Twitter feed last night... To answer your question, yes, I think teams benefit by playing strong competition early in the year. The Titans will head into conference play as a battle-hardened unit, and they won't shrink when they encounter adversity. I love the way Fullerton schedules every year.

    Justin (Fullerton, CA): Hey Aaron, what are you hearing from scouts regarding Lorenzen on the mound? Any teams looking to draft him as a pitcher or are most looking at him for his bat/outfield? Also, what are your thoughts on Richy Pedroza? Does a team take a chance on him as a late round senior sign?

Aaron Fitt: Let's do another Fullerton question, then I'll have to wrap up. I saw the Titans yesterday, and Lorenzen didn't have his best stuff or command in the ninth, as he doesn't usually pitch in back-to-back days but he wanted the ball Sunday. I've usually seen him 94-96, and yesterday he was more 93-94, with less power to his slider. The Aggies touched him for two runs, but he showed poise by escaping a bases-loaded jam to end the game. Heading into the season, plenty of scouts were down on Lorenzen's bat and we heard more talk about him as a pitching prospect, but now that he's off to a good start offensively, I think a lot of scouts still prefer him as an outfielder. He can do a lot of things as a position player — he plays a great center field (and made a fantastic diving catch on a sinking liner yesterday), he obviously throws very well from the outfield, and he has bat speed. It was a limited look yesterday, but I thought he looked more confident in the batter's box than he did last year, too — there is just something different about his bearing. Maybe I'm reaching, but I think the coaches feel the same way. As for Pedroza, yes, I firmly believe he will get a shot in pro ball — I know some scouts who like him. Sure, he's small, but he has bat speed from both sides, he's a good athlete and he avails himself well all over the infield. And he's a really smart player.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that's it for today. I don't feel like this was a Pedro-in-99 performance, but maybe something comparable to Dan Slania's relief work against Oklahoma yesterday. Thanks again to John for getting things started today. Have a great week, everybody.