College Baseball Chat With Aaron Fitt

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Moderator: Aaron Fitt will begin chatting live from the American Baseball Coaches Association convention at 1 p.m. ET.

Moderator: In case you are wondering, our preseason Top 25 rankings will be released on Jan. 22, kicking off our college baseball preview, which will roll out over the following two weeks.

 Q:  Bill from Bozeman, MT asks:
Thanks for the chat, Aaron… what’s the mood regarding the baseball-related legislation that is expected to pass at the NCAA convention next week? Do you have a three-year forecast on the state of the game based on what you’re hearing?

Aaron Fitt: First off, welcome everyone to the first college baseball chat of 2008! I hope you all enjoyed the holidays, and the start of the college baseball season is just around the corner. I’m coming to you from the Marriott Philadelphia Downtown, site of the 2008 American Baseball Coaches Association convention. This event typically marks the beginning of college baseball mania around the BA offices, and it is usually accompanied by the release of our preseason top 25, but we have pushed that release back until Jan. 22, a month before the season gets underway, thanks to the new later start date. But there’s still plenty to chat about over the next hour or so — let’s get to it.

Aaron Fitt: Bill, the mood is decidedly mixed. There is a large contingent of coaches who really don’t have any major objections to most of the legislation, and a smaller but still sizable group that actually likes all of the legislation quite a bit. But then there’s a vocal group of opponents to the legislation, led of course by Ron Polk and Jack Leggett. As John Manuel and I touched on during the podcast last night, a lot of coaches expected an animated discussion last night during the Division I business meeting, but ABCA executive director Dave Keilitz really controlled the meeting and soothed a lot of concerns, and Leggett spoke eloquently and respectfully on behalf of the opposition. At this point, however, the changes are inevitable.

Aaron Fitt: As for the sport’s long-term forecast, if these academic reforms achieve the desired results in the APR, you can expect a strong push for an increase in the 11.7 scholarship allotment, perhaps to 14. I think that would be a very good thing for the sport.

 Q:  Jonathan from Troy asks:
What do you think about the Sun Belt this year? Any players to keep an eye on?

Aaron Fitt: Louisiana-Lafayette has to be considered the early favorite, thanks largely to a strong, veteran rotation led by Danny Farquhar, Hunter Moody and Brent Solis. The Ragin’ Cajuns also boast a talented, experienced lineup headlined by Scott Hawkins and Nolan Gisclair, and freshman catcher Thad Griffen is one of the most talented incoming backstops in the nation. But keep an eye out for New Orleans, which should once again score a ton of runs as it looks to build upon last year’s near-victory in regionals. Slugging second baseman Johnny Giavotella is back to lead the Privateers.

 Q:  Taylor from Houston asks:
Aaron, wonderful time of year again. Can’t wait for the College Classic down here in Houston, hope to see you there. Tell me about Texas. Who do they find to replace the departed Alaniz and Russell? That should be a scary lineup as well. Thanks for the chats, always good.

Aaron Fitt: I do hope to make another trip to Houston for the College Classic, which will again feature a terrific field to essentially kick off the season. Fortunately for Texas, they don’t have to replace Kyle Russell yet, because he failed to reach agreement with the Cardinals after being picked in the fourth round in June. He’ll return along with Jordan Danks and Russell Moldenhauer to form what could be the best outfield in college baseball, especially offensively, while another potential high pick, Preston Clark, returns behind the plate. The infield features a couple of key transfers in second baseman Michael Torres (a Southern California import) and juco transfer Brandon Belt at first, and Fresno State transfer David Hernandez will face the task of replacing Josh Prince at shortstop after Prince left for Tulane. Alaniz is gone, but lefthander Austin Wood is very capable as a Friday night starter, Kenn Kasparek is back from Tommy John surgery, and flamethrower Casey Whitmer has transferred in from Florida State. Those guys, along with Riley Boening and talented freshman Brandon Workman, give the Longhorns plenty of options on the mound.

 Q:  Doug from Richmond asks:
Hey Aaron, What are your thoughts on the Keydets chances this year?

Aaron Fitt: I think VMI’s very strong pitching gives it a chance to make noise in the Big South. Friday starter Michael Bowman has a terrific arm and is coming off a very good summer in the Coastal Plain League. Senior lefthander Trey Barham is an excellent competitor with very good command who finds ways to win without overpowering hitters, and junior righty Chris Henderson is another winner. I also like Kevin Crum in the back of the bullpen, coming off a 14-save season.

 Q:  Mark from The Vanderbuilt Library asks:
How much are we going to miss David Price…how much will Mike Minor soften the blow, and is he a legit prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Remember, the Commodores also have to replace an All-American closer in Casey Weathers. Replacing two top-10 draft picks is never easy, but Vandy is fortunate that it returns every key piece from a lineup that was very good a year ago and should be even better in 2008. Mike Minor was one of the best freshman pitchers in the country a year ago, and he is absolutely ready to shoulder the Friday night duties even in the SEC. With a terrific changeup and a quality fastball that he commands well, Minor could turn himself into a first-round pick in 2009 if he can improve his breaking ball. Filling Weathers’ shoes could prove more difficult, but pitching coach Derek Johnson knows how to get the most out of unproven players — just look what he did with Weathers.

 Q:  Hank from South Philly asks:
How well has Logan Forsythe’s summer put him up in the minds of scouts?

Aaron Fitt: Forsythe is one of those gritty gamer-types who plays above his tools, but his tools aren’t bad. He demonstrated impressive versatility this summer by handling the outfield well, and he definitely helped his stock quite a bit with his offensive performance as well. He’s a great baseball player, and I think he could wind up in the second or third round when it’s all said and done.

 Q:  Walter from Trojan Land asks:
How good can Grant Green be? Can he stay at short in the pro’s?

Aaron Fitt: He can be the best shortstop in the nation. Green is such a terrific, rangy athlete, and he’s got enough arm strength and footspeed to stick at short in professional ball, though he probably needs to become more consistent. At the plate, he has lightning quick hands and projects to hit for some power as he matures. Really, the sky is the limit for this guy, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he turns in an All-America caliber sophomore season and positions himself as an early favorite to go in the top 10 of the 2009 draft.

 Q:  Stephanie from San Diego asks:
Do you think AJ moves into the rotation this year, or is he still stuck in the pen? What do you think about his longterm future in baseball?

Aaron Fitt: I assume you’re referring to San Diego closer A.J. Griffin, who was a first-team Freshman All-American a year ago. I think he probably will remain in the pen because there’s simply no room for him in the rotation, with Matusz, Romanski and Couch returning and Kyle Blair, Matt Thomson and Sammy Solis joining the mix. For my money, USD has the best pitching staff in the nation from top to bottom, and an overshadowed reason for that is Griffin’s prowess in the bullpen. He has an elastic arm and the ability to give them multiple innings at a time and the ability to bounce back quickly.

 Q:  Wes from New Orleans asks:
Who’s the best college pitching prospect for the 2008 draft? What do you think of Yonder Alonso?

Aaron Fitt: Missouri righthander Aaron Crow might have the most upside, by a hair, but San Diego lefty Brian Matusz might be a safer bet, in addition to having very impressive upside. As for Alonso, I love his bat — not only does he have big-time power, but he’s got a very mature offensive approach. He’s also demonstrated power with wood bats in summer ball, particularly in the Valley League a couple of summers ago. College first basemen aren’t usually coveted on draft day, but Matt LaPorta went in the top 10 a year ago, and Alonso could as well. Particularly if some club believes he could catch and wants to try to convert him to behind the plate, something I’ve heard scouts speculate about in the past.

 Q:  James from Mississippi asks:
Is anyone going to be able to beat Ole miss this year? Is Cody Satterwhite a top of the 1st round pick and same question for lance Lynn? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: There are three teams that I see as the class of the SEC in 2008 — Ole Miss, Vandy and South Carolina. Of that group, the Rebels have far and away the best pitching, led by Lynn and Satterwhite, two legit power righties who could both go in the first round. I’ll be very curious to see how Satterwhite fares in the rotation this year after closing for most of his first two collegiate seasons, but his arm strength is probably the best in the nation. He just needs to command his stuff better. Lynn hasn’t demonstrated as much raw stuff, but he’s still a power pitcher with better command and an outstanding track record. If Satterwhite puts it all together this spring, he could be a top-10 pick, but he could also slip into the end of the first round or the second. I think Lynn’s likely to go in the 20s somewhere.

 Q:  Joe Deacon from Bloomington, IL asks:
What are the draft prospects for Zach Putnam, and in what position do you see a pro team favoring him?

Aaron Fitt: As a righthander who regularly reaches 94-95 mph to go along with a nasty splitter, Putnam looks like a first-rounder as a pitcher. He’s has so much success with his split-finger, in fact, that Michigan coach Bob Keller said yesterday he’s trying to show all his pitchers how to use it. I think his pro future is almost certainly on the mound, though he could hit 15 home runs for the Wolverines this spring.

 Q:  Colin from Philly asks:
Being from the Philadelphia I dont get to see a whole lot of big time college baseball who are the top 5 prospects for the upcoming draft?

Aaron Fitt: We released our top 100 college prospects this fall, but my pick for the top five as of right now are Pedro Alvarez of Vandy, Aaron Crow of Missouri, Brian Matusz of San Diego, Justin Smoak of South Carolina and Brett Hunter of Pepperdine. Hunter had a sensational fall, showing even more velocity than he has in the past.

 Q:  Joe from Easton, MD asks:
Aside from not being a great defensive third baseman is there any glaring weakness on the part of Pedro Alvarez?

Aaron Fitt: No. He’s the complete package offensively, with huge power and an advanced approach. That bat is can’t-miss.

 Q:  Sam from Adrian, MI asks:
How big of an impact will the starting date have on northern and southern schools. Advantages and disadvantages for both.

Aaron Fitt: Check out our upcoming College Preview for an extensive look at this issue. I won’t spoil it for you now.

 Q:  James from Rome,WI asks:
At this point what are the chances of the CWS staying in Omaha? I’ve been there the last 8 years and am planning my 9th this year. It has been a great experience and I have loved going to Omaha!!!

Aaron Fitt: 100 percent. There is absolutely no chance the CWS leaves Omaha. It might relocate from Rosenblatt Stadium to a brand-new facility downtown, but the city of Omaha is stepping up and making another major commitment to keep the event there for the long haul.

 Q:  Jeff Sullivan from Belchertown MA asks:
How good is Miami’s infield? Is it possibly the best in the country?

Aaron Fitt: Very possibly. With huge power bats on the corners in Alonso and Mark Sobolewski, and slick-fielding speedsters up the middle in Jemile Weeks and Ryan Jackson, I think Miami probably does have the nation’s best infield. I would also throw South Carolina (Smoak, Crisp, Havens, Darnell) and Virginia (Farrell, Adams, Miclat, Cannon) into the mix

 Q:  steve from edmond,ok asks:
How do you see Oklahoma State being this year?

Aaron Fitt: I certainly see the Cowboys as a regional team, and potentially a top-25 team. Impact transfers Matt Hague and Luis Flores help fill some holes, and Rebel Ridling is a very underrated player at first base. The same goes for Jordy Mercer, one of the nation’s best two-way players. The key will be how Andy Oliver responds as the Friday night starter — he’s certainly talented enough to handle the role — and how Tyler Blandford does on Saturdays.

 Q:  Steve from Nashville asks:
Keith Law said yesterday that Pedro Alvarez isn’t even the top prospect in the draft. With all due respect, Beckham has raw tools, Smoak is a switch hitter, and Matusz has good stuff, however with that being said, Pedro Alvarez is the best player in the country. Compare Pedro’s team USA stats to Smoak’s team USA stat’s and Pedro’s blow them out of the water. Sure Pedro’s strike out totals are high, but he still hit .386 last year. Thus when he doesn’t strike out he is hitting seeds all over the park. He has great actions and a strong arm at third base. He has made 16 errors each of the past two seasons while that isn’t fantastic, Pedro is still a very good defensive third basemen. He makes the bare handed play better then anyone I have seen in the college game. The kid is a great teammate and a wonderful person. Like I said with all due respect to Smoak, Melville, Matusz, etc. Pedro has been consistently amazing in his two years at Vanderbilt. There is no question he has the most power of any one in the country. His wrists are so strong and he gets his legs into the ground better then anyone. Please explain to me how he isn’t the clear cut number one prospect.

Aaron Fitt: I respect Keith, but I agree with you.

 Q:  Jeff Sullivan from Belchertown MA asks:
Who has the best rotation in the country?

Aaron Fitt: Sorry everyone, but this will have to be my last question for today — there’s never enough time to get to all the terrific questions! John Manuel and I debated Arizona’s pitching staff vs. San Diego’s yesterday, and we both settled on the Toreros … but it’s close.

Aaron Fitt: That’s all for now. I look forward to many more good chats starting next month. Have a great 2008 everyone!