College Top 25 Chat: March 14

Aaron Fitt: Hey folks, hope you’re enjoying your Monday. Let’s get to it.

    Nick (Tallahassee, FL): Florida State has the toughest week on it's schedule coming up. 4 Road Games... A Tuesday Night contest at #1 Florida and a weekend series at #7 Virginia. How do
    you see the week unfolding? Would a 2-2 week keep them in the Top 10?

Aaron Fitt: Very big week ahead, certainly, and I think
it’s safe to say a 2-2 week would definitely keep the Seminoles in the top 10—and if that week included a series win at Virginia, FSU might even move up, depending on what the teams ahead of it do. That Friday matchup between Gilmartin and Hultzen could be special—two of the nation’s top lefthanders locking horns. We’ll have plenty more on that series in Thursday’s Weekend Preview.

    Andy (Baton Rouge): Now that nearly a month of the season has gone by, what are your thoughts on the SEC as we head into conference play this weekend? Any changes to your original thoughts in the preseason?

Aaron Fitt: I think it’s fair to say that LSU is the clear favorite in the SEC West now, and the Tigers have proven that they
are among the nation’s elite teams. I wasn’t convinced that they were an elite club heading into the season, just because they were so unproven on the mound. The young pitchers needed to prove themselves against good competition for me to fully buy in on LSU, and that’s exactly what they’ve done. I remain very high on Florida, Vandy and South Carolina, but now you have to include LSU as a fourth premier team
in that league. I also really like what I saw from Arkansas this weekend — dangerous young team that will be a major factor in the SEC.

    Mike (Phoenix,az): What do you think about Oklahoma State early on this season?

Aaron Fitt: The Cowboys look significantly improved, although I still want to see how they fare against better competition (that New Mexico team is extremely young and has struggled this year). Looks like Brad Propst and Andrew Heaney give OSU an excellent 1-2 punch
atop the rotation, and the Cowboys needed both of those guys to be good. Heaney, in particular, has real star potential, and OSU must be encouraged to see him pitching so well early on as a freshman.

    Ted (Shreveport, LA): What a great weekend for the Tigers. Some mistakes were made (Ty Ross not covering home on a bunt allowing a score for example), but the freshmen on this team are truly stepping up. Kurt McCune and Gausman were both strong against the
    CSF hitters and the Freshmen had no problems with the Titan pitching as
    well. Now, how do you see the Tigers faring against the current #1 Gators? I believe CSF also had some trouble dealing with the atmosphere
    at Alex Box, an atmosphere that is nothing new to Florida. Do you think that McCune, Gausman, and Alsup could have the same level of success against the Gator offense? Geaux Tigers!

Aaron Fitt: I do think Florida has a more dangerous offense than Fullerton, and its pitching staff is very comparable to Fullerton’s, so this should be a greater challenge for LSU. But the Tigers have proved they can hit good pitching—that looks like one of the better offenses in college baseball at this juncture. Those young arms just need to keep on keepin’ on against a very deep, balanced Florida lineup. Should be a really great series.

    Patrick (Okla. City, Ok.): What ever happen to Brett Loux did he sign???

Aaron Fitt: He signed with the Rangers as a free agent in the fall.

    Steve L. (Corvallis, OR): No Love for Pat Casey's Beavers? I know some of the latest opponents are not top notch,
    but 10 straight wins is impressive. How do you think they will do this
    upcoming weekend against LB State on the road?

Aaron Fitt: The Beavers are one of three teams that we strongly considered for the final two spots in the rankings, along with UC Irvine and Arkansas. None of them has played a particularly grueling schedule, which ended up being the reason none of them broke into the rankings, but I like all three clubs. We knew Oregon State could pitch—and Josh Osich’s successful return is a very nice boost�but I’ve been impressed with the Beavers’ offense. Andrew Susac has built on the promise he showed in the Cape last summer to emerge as the centerpiece of the lineup, and Jake Rodriguez has been a huge addition, as hoped. Long Beach is scrappy, but Oregon State has the more talented club and is the hotter team.

    David (San Diego): What is going on with USD so
    far this year? I see them forcing so many hit and runs and bunting their top hitters. Do you see coaches across the country trying to force this type of offense because of the new bats? Also, do you see them getting it together before league play and are they still the favorites in the WCC? I know palying a tough schedule can help but with
    Vandy, Oklahoma, UConn, Coastal, Arkansas, Oregon and now even Fresno State that can be a big hole to get out of before league starts.

Aaron Fitt: San Diego didn’t do its young roster any favors with that incredibly difficult nonconference schedule, which has made it hard for the Toreros to get into a groove and build confidence. Offense is the main problem there, as it is at so many schools across the country. Mainstays like Kevin Muno and Tony Strazzara have fallen into major funks and need to get going to make that offense go. It’s going to have to be a team that manufactures runs and plays small ball, because there’s not a lot of sock in the lineup aside from Kris Bryant. I
really like Dylan Covey and Calvin Drummond in that rotation, but I wonder if the rest of the staff is good enough to carry the Toreros to another WCC title. All those lefthanders are solid and competitive, but they are far from overpowering. That conference is completely wide open right now.

    Stephen (Shreveport, LA): After his quick start, has Sonny Gray solidified himself as a top-5 pick in June, or is he still in the 5-15 range? Do you project him as a starter or closer at the next level?

Aaron Fitt: It’s an extremely strong draft with about 15 college players I could see going in the top 5, frankly. Sonny is right in that mix, and probably toward the front of it. I think he’s got
a real chance to start at the next level, because he holds his velocity
deep into games even though he’s not real big, and his feel for pitching has really developed.

    Baseball Nut (California): Fullerton? Only power arms are Devensky and Floethe 91-94! Noe and Pill 88-91 and O'Connell about the same. They can pitch but need good defense behind them to be successful. Good change ups but not overpowering. Floro alot of movement but 87-89. Why do you consider them elite. They are very good but at this point not elite.

Aaron Fitt: It takes more than just 95 mph velocity to make a pitcher elite. Guys like Wes Roemer and Daniel Bibona and Scott Gorgen were elite college pitchers who did not have elite fastballs. Noe
Ramirez is in that same mold, except he does have a bit more velocity than those guys. Movement and location and command and good secondary stuff really matters in college, and all those guys have those things. Their stuff is very good, too. I still think that is an elite college pitching staff — one of the five or six best in the nation.

    Andrew (Durham, NC): Aaron, after a 5-0 week, how close is Georgia to being ranked? What's the outlook heading into SEC play? Last question, what did scouts say about Palazzone this weekend?

Aaron Fitt: Nowhere near being ranked yet — let’s not forget they lost their first three weekends, two of them at home and one
a sweep at the hands of Stetson. Kudos to Georgia for starting to dig out of that early hole, though (see today’s Three Strikes for more on the Bulldogs rallying around Johnathan Taylor). Palazzone has turned the
corner, from what I hear from scouts. He’s got a good arm, and his command is getting better. That’s a very encouraging development.

    Blackie (Cincinnati, OH): Hi Aaron. Thanks for another great season of college reporting. What can you tell me about FSU 2B Devon Travis? He seems to be off to a great start. Also, I've been following freshman starters off to strong starts like Andrew Mitchell and Kent Emanuel, but what can you tell me about Longhorn freshman reliever Corey Knebel?

Aaron Fitt: Travis has taken over the Tyler Holt role as a sparkplug atop Florida State’s lineup, and the Georgia coaches (who
played FSU last week) say he’s doing a great job in that role. He handles the bat well and is very athletic, and a tough out. Knebel has a
real power arm — I saw him sitting at 91-93 last week, and Augie Garrido said he’s been up to 96. He’s a fierce bulldog type who seems well suited for late-inning situations. His secondary stuff is still a work in progress, but he’s had some success in the last two weeks with a
newfound curveball after ditching his slider.

    Morrie (TX): About where would Andrew Susac fit into the draft at present, and would you consider him the best defensive catcher?

Aaron Fitt: He’s the top catcher on the board at this point, and the top college catcher often finds his way into the top 10 picks. I think he probably is the catcher with the most defensive upside, too.

    Josh (Fort Smith): Arizona (13-3)has an RPI of 116, has a strength of schedule rating of 255 and is ranked 11th in your poll.

    Arkansas (13-2) has an RPI of 96,has a SOS rating of 259, and is unranked in your poll.

    Please explain why two teams with very similar stats are ranked dramatically differently?

Aaron Fitt: First off, Arizona started the season in the rankings because it returned many more key experienced veterans than
Arkansas, and once you’re in the rankings, you usually will not fall out if you keep winning. And whatever the numbers say, Arizona’s resume is more impressive; Long Beach isn’t great, but that’s a better series win (on the road) than anything Arkansas has done. And Arizona split two
midweek games against Rice — which hasn’t gotten off to a great start,
but certainly that’s much better competition than Arkansas has faced. Still, Arkansas is knocking on the door to the top 25, and it will certainly be in the rankings if it proves itself against good competition in the coming week.

    JAYPERS (IL): What's your assessment of Sean Gilmartin's pitches? Does he have 1st round potential?

Aaron Fitt: Last year he didn’t really have a putaway pitch, but his changeup has become that pitch for him, and it’s made a big difference. As a competitive lefthander with advanced feel for pitching and solid stuff, he certainly has a chance to sneak into the back of the first round, but it’s such a deep draft class that I wouldn’t necessarily bet on it at this point.

    Jim (Tampa): Any idea why we have not seen Brady Rodgers pitch for the Sun Devils since opening weekend?

Aaron Fitt: He’s been dealing with tightness in his arm, according to reports, but it sounds like he’s getting closer to returning to the mound. The Sun Devils aren’t particularly forthcoming with injury specifics, so that’s all the information I have right now.

    Dan (Work): Which do you suppose is more difficult? @Rice, @Vandy, and @Texas on connsecutive weekends, or final exams @ Stanford?

Aaron Fitt: Exams are a piece of cake for those eggheads, right?

    David (Omaha NB): How do you see the Missouri Valley shaping up? Is it a one bid league again? Is there any stock in Illinois State beating Miami?

Aaron Fitt: Probably a one-bid league because of the RPI, but I could see Wichita, Creighton or Illinois State being that team. Really like the Redbirds, a team that we considered picking to win
that league, but Wichita’s pitching still makes it the favorite. Illinois State is really scrappy and well coached, though.

    Bill (Hamilton. NJ): Georgia Tech is a very young team that is doing well thus far. What is your take on the class? Wren and Palka have been hitting with purpose and the bullpen has been solid.

Aaron Fitt: We ranked Tech’s recruiting class No. 7 in the nation in the fall, and so far it has certainly performed up to those lofty expectations. Wren, Palka, Hyde and Smelter were going to have to be key cogs in the lineup for Tech to have a good season, and out of that group only Smelter has really scuffled so far. Palka earned Tony Plagman comparisons during my recruiting calls last fall, and he has five homers so far, so it looks like those comparisons were valid. Wren has provided a real spark atop the lineup — he’s probably the guy that was a little overshadowed in that class, and he’s really stepped forward.

    Casey (Oxford): What are your thoughts on Ole Miss starting rotation? What about the rest of pitching staff?

Aaron Fitt: The Rebels have to be happy with the job Matt Crouse, David Goforth and Austin Wright have done. Crouse has the best pitchability of that group, and Goforth has the best stuff, though one scout told me he was baffled that Goforth doesn’t miss more bats with the kind of mid-90s heat he brings. The bullpen might be the biggest strength of that team — it’s a nice luxury to have two proven closer types with Jake Morgan and Brett Huber, and I like the supporting
guys like Trent Rothlin and Eric Callender. I still feel like Ole Miss will be a significant factor in the SEC West, right in the mix with LSU,
Arkansas and Auburn.

    Micah (Alabama): So two weeks ago Auburn goes to C of C and wins a tournament including one game against C of C fairly
    easily. This past week Auburn hosts top 10 Arizona St. It was a tight
    series and when it's all said and done they looked like very close teams in quality. How do you figure that there are at least 20+ teams (including C of C) closer to Arizona State in quality?

Aaron Fitt: Auburn wasn’t quite in the rankings last week (though it was right on the cusp), and we’re never going to bring a
team into the Top 25 after it loses a weekend series—it doesn’t matter
how competitive the series was or how good the opponent was. You’ve just got to win your weekends to move up in our rankings, or break into them. Beating College of Charleston was a nice win, but Charleston started the year in the rankings because it has more experience back and
plenty of talent, and Charleston has won enough to stay in the rankings. If we always moved a team behind another team that beat it in one game, we’d have serious problems… (ie, is Houston Baptist better than TCU because it beat Matt Purke once? Is Arkansas-Little Rock better
than Oklahoma because it won a game?) Obviously this is a different situation — CofC and Auburn are much, much closer in talent than those other two examples, but hopefully you can see the logic. We don’t overreact to one game, when there is a larger body of work to look at. And Auburn does have other losses to Radford and Bethune-Cookman that factor into its body of work, as well. I like Auburn, I wouldn’t be surprised for it to break into the rankings at some point soon, but the body of work so far isn’t quite there.

    Peter (San Diego): Danny Hultzen's early performance has to be vaulting him up draft boards... Is he maintaining his increased velocity? Is he a legit top-15 pick? Top 10?

Aaron Fitt: I think he’s definitely a top 15 pick, and maybe a top 10 guy. I see a lot of similarities between him and Mike Minor, who went No. 7 overall. Both have advanced pitchability, great changeups, good breaking balls, spot their fastballs, excellent athleticism. Like Minor, I think Hultzen will move quickly in pro ball. He has maintained his velocity — a lot of scouting directors put him in
the same discussion as Purke, Jed Bradley and Tyler Anderson as lefties
with chances to go in the top 10.

    Peter (San Diego): So what is George Springer? Is he the potential 30-30 guy people claimed before the season, is he the guy who is struggling mightily now, or is he something in-between?

Aaron Fitt: He is a potential 30-30 guy who will need some refinement before he reaches that ceiling. Nobody ever said he was a
finished product — his draft stock is based very much on his very high
ceiling. His tools are really loud — it’s huge power potential, great speed, and he was fun to watch in center field this weekend (made an incredible diving catch on a sinking liner in the gap against USD on Saturday on a ball I thought he had no chance to get to — couldn’t believe the closing speed, and he did it so easily). Also, I wouldn’t say he’s really struggling mightily anymore — he’s started to come out of the funk he was in over the first couple of weeks. Jim Penders told me this weekend that he was impressed with Springer’s maturation as a hitter, specifically singling out a sac fly he hit with two strikes against UC Irvine. Penders said he wouldn’t have been able to do that in
the past. Springer will take some patience, but a pro team could really
hit the jackpot with him.

    Daniel (Fresno,Ca): Do you think that Fresno State has a chance at hosting a regional if they win the WAC easily? Any
    chance the WAC gets more than one team in this year?

Aaron Fitt: I think Fresno’s strong performance against
a fairly stout nonconference schedule thus far does give it a chance to
host a regional if it can dominate the WAC. Particularly since the WAC’s RPI should be improved this year, thanks to strong scheduling and decent early play from Hawaii and San Jose State.

    Kevin (Chicago): Can Tulane's pitching hold up after the loss of LeBlanc and the injury struggles Broach has had? They certainly did well last weekend but I don't know a whole lot about WSU's
    offense. Worried a bit about their midweek guys since it seems like they can barely scrap together a weekend rotation right now.

Aaron Fitt: It’s a concern, but Kyle McKenzie seemed to
pitch well Saturday, and I think he’s ready to deliver on the promise he showed when Tulane recruited him. That’s a major development. Moving Drew Zizinia into the rotation worked out very well also; not sure if that’s just a stop-gap measure or something Tulane will stick with moving forward, but it eases the midweek crunch a little bit by allowing
Alex Byo to move into the No. 4 starter role. The emergence of Facundus
as a setup man for Nick Pepitone maybe allows Tulane to make that move with Zizinia without hurting the bullpen too bad. And Tulane remains hopeful that Broach will be back before too long. I was very impressed that the depleted Green Wave was still able to win that series against a
quality Wichita State team. Seems like Tulane has some toughness and resilience, and you always like to see that.

    Jarred Holloway (Clearwater, FL): What happened
    to Domingo Ayala at Cal State Fullerton? His tryout with the team looked so promising. He looked like a natural team leader.

Aaron Fitt: Another casualty of the 35-man roster cap. What a shame…

    Jeff Sullivan (Belchertown MA): Where do you see Navery Moore going in the draft?

Aaron Fitt: Vandy’s closer has electric stuff, and maybe he sneaks into the first or sandwich round if a team is looking for a bullpen guy it can move quickly. Things working against him are the depth of starters available in this draft and his injury history, but it sure seems like he’s made a complete recovery from that Tommy John surgery, so maybe that’s not a factor. He’s a good one, and I did hear a scout say he looked like a first-rounder in San Diego during opening weekend…

    Rick (California): Aaron, what did you think of
    the showing by Cal St. Bakersfield this week at South Carolina ? Also, what is your take on the Mountain West Conference at this point ?

Aaron Fitt: The Roadrunners did as well as could really
be hoped, I think, by winning one of three in a very tough environment across the country against the defending national champs. The first two games seemed quite competitive, too. Kudos to Bill Kernen’s club.

    Ben (Atlanta, GA): Given that assured your readers that Fullerton would handle LSU in Baton Rouge this weekend, what's your take on the sweep by the Bayou Bengals? Did it hurt just a little to move them up that many spots in your poll? <g>

Aaron Fitt: I didn’t assure anyone of anything — I picked Fullerton to win the road series in last week’s chat, but that was hardly an assurance. Give LSU credit for sweeping a team that I still believe will be really good at the end of the day. I was delighted
to move the Tigers up in the rankings this week — they earned it. One of the fun things about my job is watching teams live up to or exceed expectations, watching young players mature more quickly than expected, etc. Anyone who’s read my stuff for the last five years knows how much I
admire Paul Mainieri and his coaching staff and program — I’m thrilled
for Mainieri that he has gotten his young players to perform at such a high level so early on. He’s one of my favorite people in all of baseball, and LSU’s fan base is unsurpassed in its fervor. It’s a great thing for college baseball to have fans that really care. How’s that for
a rambling olive branch of a chat answer?

    Teddy (San Marcos): Texas State had an incredible series against Houston this past weekend, sweeping them. Sitting at 12-3, winners of 10 of 11, are they entering your radar at all? Have Texas tomorrow night in Austin, should be interesting! Thoughts on the Bobcats at the moment? Appreciate your work.

Aaron Fitt: Indeed, Texas State is on the radar — the Bobcats are on our Top 25 worksheet, in that mix of teams competing for a
Top 25 spot. That’s a quality veteran club, and Tyler Sibley is really the engine that makes them go — exciting player.

    NickTaylor (Tampa, Florida): What are your thoughts on No. 1 Florida's weekend rotation so far? The top 3 of Brian Johnson (1.12 ERA, 25K:3BB), Hudson Randall (1.08, 19:1) and Karsten Whiston (2.21, 22:5) are undefeated through the first four weeks. The performances that Johnson/Randall put up vs. Miami two weeks ago left my head shaking. Are these guys really that good or have the new bats killed the offense that much?

Aaron Fitt: They’re that good. The bats help pitchers everywhere, to be sure, but Florida’s weekend rotation would be one of the best around with these bats or any others.

    Finny (Columbia, SC): Have you changed your mind on what the top conference is in the country. I would say the SEC is BY FAR the best conference so far with 4 teams in the top 10.
    UGA had a great weekend out west beating USC and UCLA. Vandy has beaten Stanford and LSU just beat CSF. South Carolina has beaten Clemson and Florida swept Miami. Does any other conference has that many quality out
    of conference series wins?

Aaron Fitt: I think I’d have to agree with you, Finny. I
think I said the Pac-10 was my pick for the best conference heading into the year, but through four weeks, the Pac-10 powers have not fared nearly as well as the SEC powers. Enjoy the view from the top, SEC fans!

    Kevin (Irvine): I know their schedule hasn't been the toughest, but the 'Eaters are 12-1. What's your take on them?

Aaron Fitt: I think it’s a really good offensive team that still has some questions on the mound, but the bullpen came up big this weekend. Decent depth on that stuff, but Matt Summers must continue
to develop into a true No. 1 starter for the ‘Eaters.

    Jonathan (Fayetteville, AR): Since you got to see the Hogs this past weekend, what did you think? Can our young pitching carry us thru a rough SEC where our bats wont always be there game in game out? We can all go 13-2 against who we have played but now
    can we do that in the next 15 games starting SEC play?

Aaron Fitt: That’s the big question, Jonathan. DJ Baxendale is the real deal on Fridays, but I think they need Ryne Stanek
to get healthy (he’s been sick the last couple of weeks, and he didn’t get out of the second inning when I saw him on Thursday) to give that staff a 1-2 pitching punch that can stack up with the SEC’s elites. Brandon Moore and Cade Lynch both pitched well this weekend, giving the Hogs some nice options, but they don’t have Stanek’s upside. Nolan Sanburn looks like a star in the making at the back of the bullpen — electric arm, capable of reaching 95 mph with a devastating hard breaking ball. Lot of nice pieces in place there.

Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, that’s all for today. Thanks for stopping by — see you next week!