Aaron Fitt: John Manuel is going to get the ball rolling with the chat — I'll be joining you in 10-15 minutes after I finish up Three Strikes.
Mike (Florida): At the Mid Season Point, after what you have observed who would be your 8 for Omaha?
John Manuel: Aaron and I didn't exactly put it this way on the podcast today, but I'm pretty sure we agree that the top six on our current Rankings would be in there — UNC, Vandy, LSU, Fullerton, Virginia and Oregon State. I am the least confident of UVA in that group just from a standpoint of youth and who they've played, but 29-3 is loud. Then I'm pretty sure Aaron would throw in Louisville and Indiana as his other 8 for Omaha teams. I would put Oklahoma and South Carolina instead. I don't see the Sooners dropping a super regional with Gray & Overton, and the Gamecocks almost seem to be in cruise control and still haven't turned it on yet, but by other teams' standards, they are having a great year.
Ted (Shreveport, LA): Afternoon Aaron. I always enjoy your chats and articles. Now, lets get down to business. I'm trying to understand the ranking system for the top 25. In reality, I know that college baseball rankings are really irrelevant for the most part until late in the season, but I was just wondering, is it possible to move up in the poll in any way if the teams ahead of you don't lose their weekend series? Considering that UNC lost to Clemson on Monday and have only faced 1 ranked opponent at this time, wouldn't it make sense that Vandy or LSU would ultimately move ahead of them? I understand not punishing teams for losing single games over the course of a week, but it seems that the ranking model doesn't reward teams for beating stronger opponents once the season gets moving. Again, I don't mean to be insulting at all. I appreciate all of the work you guys do. I'm just a little confused as to your system of ranking teams.
John Manuel: Ted, I appreciate the tone of the question. I don't think there's anything confusing about our rankings, though. North Carolina started the year No. 1 and has won 29 of 31 games. It hasn't been a strong schedule; that's a fair critique. But I do not see moving a team down from No. 1 for going 29-2, and I don't know any other sport where that kind of thing would happen. I would say Vanderbilt and LSU haven't had much stronger schedules. They have been stronger, but not by a ton, and not by enough to move them ahead of UNC. Vandy won a series at Oregon, its most impressive showing. sweeping Ole Miss looks good on paper, but you know, Ole Miss has lost three straight series. Other series wins vs. Auburn, Tennessee and Florida, which is clearly rebuilding and under .500 still. LSU's sweep of Kentucky and beating Miss. State in a series are better than what UNC has on its resume of beating Miami and Clemson, and the Astros College Classic. But neither of those schedules are "wow" schedules. The only "wow" schedule so far to me of the top five teams is Fullerton.
Robert (SoCal): The Top 25 seems to be a little west coast light right now. What are the other west coast teams you see moving into the Top 25 by the end of the season that aren't there now?
John Manuel: I guess that's because we moved Poly and USD out this week because they lost series. West Coast teams have been part of the churn at the back of the rankings as much as anyone else — seems like we've ranked UC Irvine and Gonzaga as well this year, and Stanford and Arizona . . . I could see any of those six teams moving back in at any time. No one seems to want to stay in the 18-25 range. Very frustrating poll year.
Hubert (South Carolina): Do you see Campbell getting into the top 25 anytime soon after sweeping a good PC team on the road? Hard to argue with that record they have.
John Manuel: Hubert, I just have to ask … did you look at the rankings before you posted this? Campbell is ranked!! Wow. Anyway, yeah, Campbell has won a lot of games. It hasn't been a great schedule and the Camels just lost a series to Radford the week before, but they have had consistent success this year against a decent schedule, and no one else will wins a freaking game. They took advantage of the general malaise among other teams taht probably are more talented. Campbell does run like crazy and has pitched better than we expected this year. It's a tough club, but I do not believe Aaron is a big believer that Campbell will unseat Coastal Carolina in the Big South. Right now though it's taking care of business in that league and beating solid teams in mid-week games.
Daniel (Montana): What does Jonathan Gray have to do in order to place himself ahead of Mark Appel as the first choice for the Houston Astros? Is it more a matter of Appel losing ground than Gray making it up?
John Manuel: Aaron and I talked about this quite a bit in the Google+ Hangout today, which is archived here: http://www.baseballamerica.com/college/college-top-25-google-hangout-april-8/ What we think matters less than what the Astros think of course. They may already have Gray ahead of Appel.
John Manuel: OK, guys, I'm handing it back to Aaron. Thanks for slumming with me for a few minutes . . .
Bill Fesmire (Collierville, TN): Vanderbilt has gotten plenty of love this season for the pollsters and the pitching has been great. The last several series, our hitting has stagnant save the outburst on Sunday. Do you think we have the offensive firepower to compete with the LSU and North Carolina's?
Aaron Fitt: Well, I do think Ole Miss has a very talented pitching staff, and teams generally aren't going to score too many runs against those guys, so I don't think this low-scoring series is anything to worry about. The previous weekend, Vandy scored 24 runs in three games against Tennessee, so I think the offense is fine. I think Vandy does have more offensive upside as Conrad Gregor heats up and some of the exciting younger players like Turner and Wiseman continue to develop. I think Vandy is right there with LSU and North Carolina when it comes to being a complete team — I am not worried about the firepower.
Zach (Louisville): How far do you see Louisville going this year with them relying on great pitching and a lot of 2 out hitting in big situations?
Aaron Fitt: As John guessed at the top of the chat, I think Louisville is an Omaha team — I really like the depth of that roster, the quality of the pitching, the experience and the athleticism. That lineup is filled with older guys who have been around the block, and I think that's one reason they have a knack for timely hitting. And that pitching staff is outstanding.
LMU Lion (Joplin, MO): Having held their own while facing the tougher teams in the conference so far, Loyola Marymount has a good shot at winning the WCC. But their lack of power worries me – they still haven't hit a home run (1,018 ABs!). Triples (they have 12) might be the most exciting play in baseball, but chicks dig the long ball. I'd like to see a few balls deposited into the netting above the Mikos Blue Monster.
Aaron Fitt: We were high on LMU in the preseason (we picked them to make a regional, in fact), so I'm not surprised to see that team playing better. I caught half of Friday's game against USD, and Colin Welmon is the real deal — guy really knows how to pitch, and the stuff is good. He was up to 93 with a power slider at 81-84, a good changeup and curveball. You're right that the lineup is not very imposing, but I'm surprised Colton Plaia hasn't hit any balls out yet, because he does have some pop. I think the WCC is pretty wide open right now, but LMU should be in the thick of it.
William (Montana): Aaron, you have no idea how much this chat helps get through a Monday! Any suprises with the UCLA/Oregon State game? I think you said you could see it going either way? Is Oregon State still seperating in the Pac-12 or is it bunching a bit more towards the top? Thanks!
Aaron Fitt: I thought that series could go either way because I was worried about OSU's defense without Tyler Smith. With Tyler Smith, I think OSU is the best team in the Pac-12, and the Beavers played well this weekend with Smith limited to late-innings defensive subbing. I don't think there is a huge gulf between Oregon State and the rest of that league, but I do think the Beavers are the most complete team in that conference, and I think they showed that this weekend. I still really like Oregon's team too, but the Ducks need to start beating the good teams on their schedule — they have lost all three of their series against ranked teams. I feel like the two Oregon teams are the two best teams in the league, then UCLA and Arizona State.
Chad (Texas): Aaron, what's your assessment of the Big 12 so far? Oklahoma seems to be the favorite but Baylor seems to have stepped it up after a slow start and OSU and the Kansas schools are playing a good brand of baseball. Overall, the conference seems pretty tightly bunched from top to bottom.
Aaron Fitt: I think there's Oklahoma, then a sizable gap, then everybody else. All the other teams seem pretty bunched together in my eyes — none of them has separated from the pack yet. To me, it feels like a pretty mediocre group, after Oklahoma. Baylor has won two straight series, but they're still just a .500 team overall, and I'm really not sold on their talent level this year.
Robert (Jacksonville, Oregon): What are your sources telling you when Jace Fry will return to the Beavers and how will that affect them in the playoffs?
Aaron Fitt: Soon! Pat Casey indicated to me yesterday that Fry could probably be available now if they Beavers needed him, but they are easing him back cautiously. Apparently he has looked really good in side sessions. You can never have too many quality arms — he'll give them a nice boost in the second half, because he's probably got the best arm on the whole staff.
Robert (Work): Have you ever heard of a situation where a scout/organization worries about a potential draft pick is "too nice?" I overheard a couple of scouts this weekend discussing Mark Appel, and they mentioned that they felt like he incapable of being a cold-blooded competitor like... (then they rattled off several names of HoFers and Potential HoFers) One of the scouts suggested that the numbers not matching the ability (before this year) could be explained by Appel's being "too nice."
Aaron Fitt: I'll tell you, Mark Appel is really nice — that is the truth. But too nice? I'm not buying that. He's a very good competitor, and it's hard to quibble too much with his results last year — he won 10 games and had a 2.56 ERA, there's nothing wrong with that. I liked how he battled Friday without his "A" stuff. I think he's got great makeup. He doesn't strike me as one of those guys who's filled with hate on the mound, but I don't think you need that kind of mentality to be successful. I think he's plenty competitive.
Daniel (Arkansas): Hey Aaron, you excited to come to Fayetteville this weekend? Baum should be insane. Thoughts on the series?
Aaron Fitt: I haven't been this fired up about a series in a long time — really looking forward to that atmosphere, and to seeing all the talent on both sides. That series is going to be a blast. The way LSU is playing right now, it's hard to bet against them, even on the road. But Arkansas has played much better over the last couple of weeks, so this should be a great test for both teams.
Whenitstrikesme (NYC): Aaron: We saw some incredible defensive catching in Oxford last weekend with Navin and Turner squaring off (and each chipped in with 4 hits on Sunday). Navin won the throwing battle, but man can Turner really frame up pitchers. If you had to rank the top 5 offensive catchers and top 5 defensive catchers, who would they be?
Aaron Fitt: From a defensive point of view, I think those two and Ty Ross are the cream of the crop. Offensively, I'll go with Indiana's Kyle Schwarber and New Mexico's Mitch Garver along with Turner. Turner is the best all-around catcher, the way I see it.
JH (CA): Too early for a 2015 draft question? If not (and acknowledging that everything will look different in 2 years) who's the better draft prospect, Alex Bregman or Skye Bolt?
Aaron Fitt: I would lean toward the shortstop over the outfielder (even though Bregman's probably not a shortstop in the big leagues), but Bolt is pretty special too. Like you said, a long way to go on that question. Both guys have serious offensive ability, athleticism and makeup.
Brett (Jax, Fl): Aaron- any thoughts on the season Scott Sitz is having for the Noles? After giving up 1 unearned run yesterday in 8 innings, he's 6-0 with a 0.57 ERA in 47 innings pitched. He's not as good a prospect as Luke Weaver (having an outstanding season as well), but Sitz has come out of nowhere to be probably the best Sunday starter in the country.
Aaron Fitt: Sitz has been a major key to Florida State's success, certainly. I wouldn't say he came out of nowhere — he was very good in Omaha last year, if you recall. But he's definitely gotten a lot better in the last 12 months. He's just a competitive bulldog who knows how to use his slider, almost the prototypical Florida State pitcher.
bill (hamilton,nj): Hey, Aaron...a little NE talk here....Delaware has now won 12 in a row, MAAC leading Rider swept a good Canisius team, Maine has been playing pretty good ball last month or so. The Ivy looks like the strength is in the Gehrig Division. Rutgers has done well vs. a very difficult schedule. Granted, there probably isn't a team the quality of Stony Brook 2012 out there, but what NE team stands the best chance of causing havoc in the NCAA's? Thanks...
Aaron Fitt: That was a nice statement weekend for Rider, because I admittedly thought Canisius was the team to beat in the MAAC. I don't see any of these teams being really dangerous in the postseason like Stony Brook was last year, but I am intrigued by that Delaware team. Very good offensive club with a real stud in Jimmy Yezzo. If those guys get hot at the right time, they could be dangerous.
Scott (Minnesota): The B1G. Indiana is very good, however, something tells me the B1G regular season title isn't theirs quite yet. Now that my Gophers have their top 3 starters back from injury, am I onto something, or am I on something, when I say that Minnesota could win the conference? Windle is just plain nasty and Snelton looked very impressive during his one hitter on Sunday. Your thoughts...
Aaron Fitt: Well, I believe that Indiana is clearly the best team in the league and will win the conference title. But you are right that Minnesota should be a real factor now that those arms are healthy. And Nebraska has played well in conference now that its meat-grinder preconference schedule is over. But I just don't think any team is as well-rounded as Indiana.
ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): any word on the status of ASU's talented freshman hurler Brett Lilek? He hasn't pitched in a while
Aaron Fitt: My understanding is he was dealing with some "arm tenderness," but frankly I thought he'd be back by now… He's a key piece for them, because pitching depth is not exactly their strength.
David (Laguna Niguel): Eshelman at Fullerton might go the whole season without walking a batter. Hopefully an IBB doesn't ruin it! Have you ever seen a college pitcher at any level approach 80-100 IP with nary a walk?
Aaron Fitt: I have not — it's just about the most insane thing I've ever heard. 58 innings without a walk? I mean, come on! That's just unreal.
Tim (Arlington, VA): With sweeps the last two weeks and two important pitching performances on Sunday (the return from injury of Jordan Montgomery and a return to form of Colby Holmes), is this starting to seem like another South Carolina team that could end up finding it's stride right in time for the post-season?
Aaron Fitt: It sure feels like it, doesn't it? The Montgomery and Holmes developments were huge this weekend.
Marty (Wilmington, DE): Hi Aaron. Love the chats. Any chance the CAA is more than a one-bid league this year? Delaware & W&M are off to strong starts. Thanks
Aaron Fitt: I do think it has a chance, yes. We even projected William & Mary as an at-large team in last week's field of 64 projection. Those teams are in solid RPI shape early, and both seem like pretty good clubs. I think the CAA does have a shot at two bids.
Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, that's all for today. Thanks for stopping by. See you next week from Fayetteville!