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Preseason Top 25 College Chat

Moderator: John Manuel, this year's winner of the Wilbur Snypp Award for contributions to the sport of collegiate baseball will begin taking your questions at 1 p.m. ET.

 Q:  louie from san diego asks:
have you heard any rumors on the ucla job and coach rich hill as a canadite for the job. University of san diego has had a great run these past couple of years, how do you feel they will do and were they at all considered in your top teams other than top 25

Moderator: Glad to be back chatting some college baseball . . . the year begins Jan. 15 with Kansas at Hawaii-Hilo, and that's when our college preview issue come out. Let's get started.

Moderator: I think I messed up and didn't properly answer the previous question, which was about the UCLA job. Rich Hill's a good name to throw out there on merit, certainly. Everything we have heard about the UCLA job indicates that alumni of the baseball program (like Troy Glaus and Todd Zeile) plan to be pretty involved, some more than others, and that gives current assistant Vince Beringhele a chance at the job. Other alumni could get involved but I'd rather not speculate with names right now. Let's enjoy Gary Adams' last season.

 Q:  Tim from Huntington Beach, CA asks:
USC is notably missing from the Top 25. What is the reason for this?

John Manuel: The Trojans have some major questions as they try to overcome last year's 28-28 season. Brett Bannister had Tommy John surgery and will miss 2004, and they really missed him last year. The Trojans are still suffering from the loss of Matt Chico and JP Howell, who would be juniors this year but both are gone (to pro ball and Texas). If Bobby Paschal, Ian Kennedy and the likes of 2002 regional hero Cory Compos can pitch better than the Trojans did last year, they'll be a regional team, but those ifs kept them out of the Top 25.

 Q:  pat from chula vista asks:
how do you feel the west coast conference will shape up this year with all the coaching changes..pep, usd, gonzaga

John Manuel: San Diego is the favorite, having won the conference tournament the last two seasons and getting Tom Caple back this season from injury. Also, look out for Santa Clara, where Mark O'Brien and his staff are slowly building the talent base. They could use Scott Dierks back, or someone else stepping forward the way he did for them last year, but the talent is there on the mound with the likes of Andrew Slorp and Jared Hughes. Steve Rodriguez and Mark Machtolf were two of the best assistants in the league and should be fine head coaches at Pepperdine and Gonzaga.

 Q:  Big KG from Chicagoland asks:
Where's UIC. Defending Horizon League champs and coming off their 1st NCAA bid and return ace Ryan Gehring. They'll make some noise on the weekend of 319 when they go to Miami. Mike Dee getting the job done in the city that works!

John Manuel: UIC is our Horizon League favorite. Closer Dave Haehnel was the NO. 1 prospect in the Jayhawk League, and the Flames also return Ryan Martin, who led the league in ERA. It's the league's top pitching staff and worthy of being the favorite in the league. Top 50? I don't see that kind talent there yet, but coach Dee is getting it done, I agree.

 Q:  Daniel Carte from Rock Hill, SC asks:
What kind of year do you see us having at Winthrop this year? Also, why dont you ever show me some love? All I do is hit, hit, and then hit some more.

John Manuel: I have a sneaking suspiscion that this isn't Daniel, but we have a few Winthrop questions. I have a feeling the Eagles feel slighted by not being on the Top 50, and I can see why. It's a team with talent, starting with Carte, who had a big summer in the Great Lakes League and was a freshman All-American. Coach Joe Hudak tells us this could be the best Winthrop team ever, better even thatn the 2001 team that finished the year ranked 24th. We don't quite see the pitching here that we saw in '01, and a lot hinges on the return of Jeff Reeves from Tommy John surgery, as well as improvement for Kevin Slowey and Mike Honce on the mound. Coastal Carolina and Winthrop should wage a spirited battle for the Big South title.

 Q:  Jesse from Stamford, CT asks:
Are there any teams or players in the Ivy League that could make an impact in the 2004 season?

John Manuel: Princeton's Ross Ohlendorf will be featured in our preseason issue. The Austin, Texas, native is one of the hardest throwers in college baseball, regularly pumping 94-95 mph gas. He gives Princeton a leg up in the preseason, but Penn also should be solid even though it had four players drafted last year, an Ivy League record.

 Q:  Steven from Georgia asks:
How much impact do you see the Georgia Tech freshman class having on the team this year?

John Manuel: It's going to be hard for the Tech freshmen to make a big impact this year other than 3B Wes Hodges, who should step in as a starter. The Yellow Jackets have so much returning talent . . . Perhaps Whit Robbins will get some ABs at DH or first base as well, or John Goodman on the mound if some of the veterans don't come through.

 Q:  Bill from Houston asks:
What will Rice do for a closer?

John Manuel: Looks like Josh Baker, but they planned to address that more when practice starts in two weeks. Baker went 8-0, 3.22 last year and is a former 4th-round pick, so he's a nice replacement for David Aardsma. There's always the chance Baker could pitch his way into the rotation and Wade Townsend (who had five saves last year) could close as well. Other candidates include sophomores Lance Pendleton, Matt Ueckert and Colin Matheny.

 Q:  Matt from Columbia asks:
John, I realize you are going to get a lot of questions about the power conferences, but what other leagues will you be watching with interest this season? Specifically, what's your take on the Southern Conference? Can The Citadel return to the NCAAs? Thanks.

John Manuel: We have UNC Greensboro and Western Carolina projected as earning regional bids. In the past the SoCon has received three bids sometimes, so Citadel will be battling those two teams and Georgia Southern for regional bids, most likely. Sr. Ryan Gordon is one of the nation's top two-way players and helps give the Spartans the leg up. Citadel got a boost with the return of two-way senior Chip Cannon and also should reap the benefits of the experience its young team gained last year. Coach Jordan does a great job there and usually, the Bulldogs overachieve, so it wouldn't surprise me if they prove us wrong.

 Q:  Steve from Houston asks:
John, You've recently been tough on the ability of ACC schools to win the CWS. Have you seen progress? If this isn't the year, when?

John Manuel: In one way, we saw progress. N.C. State had a big year last year and finally has a ballpark on campus worthy of hosting a regional. North Carolina won a regional on the road at an SEC field (Miss. State). But the progress critics are looking for are wins in Omaha. Georgia Tech, for example, is in a no-win situation. This is the third time in four years Tech has had more preseason All-Americans than any other school. In other words, major league scouts tell us Tech is the most talented team in the country. And Tech went to Omaha in 2002 and won the ACC in 2003, but flamed out in a regional. Anything less than going to the CWS would be seen as a disappointment. It's a high standard to hold a league to, but if you're going to claim you're the best conference in the country--as ACC coaches are wont to do--you have to win in Omaha.

 Q:  Flash from San Francisco asks:
You have them ranked #6 so I know BA feels strongly about their team overall, but I am interested to hear your opinion on the Stanford pitching staff this year. Who do you feel will emerge (other than Romanczuk)? It seems like somebody does every year. Thanks for all your great work on College Baseball and congrats on your recent award.

John Manuel: Thanks, Flash. Greg Reynolds could step into the rotation as a freshman. One day, Marc Jecman's size and talent might translate into being a good college pitcher, but don't count me among the believers. Matt Manship will be a very solid No. 2 starter, and Kody Quick also has a good arm. Those are the most likely possibilities for the Cardinal.

 Q:  Ralph from New York, NY asks:
Where do you see the University of Richmond this year? Which teams from the A-10 will be the strongest? Thanks.

John Manuel: Richmond will be a force again and should dominate the A-10 behind Ben Zeskind, Jim Fasano and the pitching of Jason Bolinski and LHP Tom Martin (if he can come back from Tommy John surgery). George Washington, however, is a program on the rise and should give Richmond a run this year again. The gap between the programs is slimmer with Tim Stauffer gone to pro ball.

 Q:  Josh from Brooklyn, NY asks:
Arizona is finally coming back above water. Do they have enough to make it to the CWS?

John Manuel: It's going to depend on the pitching. JC transfers Koley Kolberg and Luis Cortez are being counted on to replace Arizona's entire weekend staff of Joe Little (who lost his rotation spot last year but had started for 2 1-2 seasons) and Richie Gardner (both signed pro) and Sean Rierson, who is injured and may not pitch in 2004.

 Q:  Mike from Houston asks:
Thanks for the great coverage each year, John. There has already been a lot of talk about the big three for Rice. All three are expected to be first round picks. Niemann and Townsend were unbelievable last year and Humber was overshadowed a bit, but he is still in the mix of the top 5 or 6 college arms in the country. What is it about this guy that big league teams like so much?

John Manuel: Thank you Mike. What's not to like about Humber? He beat Stanford with a CG with the national title on the line with his third-best pitch, his splitter, being the difference. He's got a solid average major league fastball in the 89-92 mph range and a plus breaking ball when he commands it, a good, hard curve. Throw in the splitter and it could be a very enticing three-pitch mix. I'll be surprised if he's not a first-round pick.

 Q:  Robert Shortell from Portland, OR asks:
Thank you for your comprehensive and insightful coverage of college baseball. What can you tell us about the SDSU Aztecs prospects for the upcoming season and beyond?

John Manuel: Mr. Shortell, hope Rory is doing well. We like San Diego State's strides; this should be a better team with Ryan Schroyer on board to close and with 3B Chad Corona and LF Jake McClintock back to power the offense. Both those hitters struggled this year, but part of that is attributable to the awe factor of having Tony Gwynn as coach. Tony's not trying to make everyone a Tony Gwynn clone at the plate. With another year, those players will realize that, be themselves and be more productive. Also, the experierence of last year should make Tony a better coach, and he certainly has the passion for it, so we expect big things from the Aztecs in the near future.

 Q:  Lee from Fresno asks:
John, Does Jerry Weinstein have any chance of getting the UCLA job? He is an alumni.

John Manuel: He'd make a fine choice. Not many 50+ year-olds are hired as first-time D-I coaches, but it worked pretty well for Rice, where Wayne Graham had a similar track records as a JC legend and was hired to take over the Owls at age 54. Weinstein would make sense. AD Dan Guerrero has been on the Division I baseball committee and has a national pool to pick from, becuase UCLA is a plum job.

 Q:  mark from cleveland asks:
I notice the usual ACC teams in the top 25 - Tech, Clemson, UNC - any comments on them & how the rest of the conference shakes out?

John Manuel: The ACC looks deep with solid teams, and Florida State is down compared to the usual FSU talent level. N.C. State's pitching will be outstanding and deeper with the maturation of Nate Cretarolo and the health of Derek McKee (not quite back) and Daniel Caldwell. North Carolina should be very good on the bump with freshman Andrew Miller and holdovers Gary Bakker and Adam Kalkhof. Clemson's pitching also looks very good, and by its own standards, so does Duke's. If Virginia's pitching was healthier (two starters down with TJ), I'd pencil the Wahoos in for a regional bid, but they may come up a bit short, as they did last year.

 Q:  Steve from Owlton asks:
Rice has four top flight starting pitchers back, with Austin Davis, Chris "Gritman" Kolkhorst and Paul Janish as returning position players. How well has Wayne Graham filled the other holes, particularly at catcher, with Justin Ruchti and Jeff Blackinton moving on and Adam Rodgers moving behind the plate?

John Manuel: Rodgers is a key, because Rice let Ruchti call the pitches. Rice's pitchers are so experienced, Rodgers will probably rely on them to call their own games. Rice's offense will start with its outfield, and Matt Ueckert has big power potential from the left side at 1B. But that's really the big question for the Owls. They have a lot of offense to replace.

 Q:  Connie Meadows from Gainesville asks:
How is Florida ranked so low with Harrison and Hoyman coming back. Also what type of proprospects does Justin Tordi have?

John Manuel: Having those guys (and C.J. Smith) back is why the Gators are ranked. They're ranked 20th because they just didn't pitch well at all last year. Other than Hoyman, Florida's pitching was pretty much a disaster, so I thought this was a pretty good ranking, actually.

Moderator: Just FYI, we've switched the chat soundtrack from Guided By Voices to Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

 Q:  Ron from Seattle, WA asks:
Where do you see University of Washington finishing in the PAC-10? They lost quite a few pitchers as well as position players from their regional team last year, but have some relatively big time names returning.

John Manuel: The Huskies will be a very interesting team. Will Fenton, who didn't give up a run as a closer last year, moves into the rotation. Tim Lincecum should be one of the year's best freshman; he's 5-foot-9 or so, about 150 pounds and throws in the low 90s and can do it all day. They have an intriguing freshman class, one of the Pac-10's top players in Brett Lillibridge at shortstop and junior 1B Kyle Larson, who could lead the Pac-10 in home runs (non-Jeff Clement category) if he shakes his sophomore slump. Look for U-Dub to make another regional trip.

 Q:  Peter from Greenwich, Ct asks:
Big Wake Forest fan , what's going to happen to the Deacs this year? Tough schedule and lost experienced players. How do you see the '04 season?

John Manuel: Peter, Wake Forest has one of the top transfers in the ACC in JC RHP Justin Keadle, who starred in the Cape Cod League last summer, and while we don't have Wake pegged as a regional team, it wouldn't surprise if this team overachieves a bit. It would be amazing if they make a regional without Kyle Sleeth and Jamie D'Antona after failing to do so with them last year.

 Q:  Tom from Houston asks:
Can you please explain how Huston Street is not a first team all-american. Even as a Rice fan I can acknowledge that he is one of the best players in the country and the MVP of an elite program. Also, how was Rice's Josh Baker left off your all-america teams when he had better numbers than half of the pitchers listed and played for the team that won the last game of the season.

John Manuel: Tom, major league scouting directors vote on our preseason All-America teams. They honestly like the five guys picked ahead of Street better than they like Huston, who made the second team. There is amazing pitching depth in the college game this year. I think we all know how good Street is, and I respect no player more, especially after what Huston did last summer for Team USA. As for Baker, our preseason teams are not about numbers, they're about talent. Anybody can take last year's numbers and spit out a preseason All-America team. We try to be more forward-looking and try to project more than just taking a look back. Josh Baker is very good, but I like the other guys the scouting directors picked better.

 Q:  CW from NC asks:
I see you have Arizona State at 18 but Collegiate Baseball has them much higher at #7. BA ranked their incoming calss third in the country, they return AA's Pedroia and Larish, and Fr. AA Averill and Buck. They look like a top 10 team to me...

John Manuel: Put simply, I don't think we believe in Arizona State's pitching. They lost Ryan Schroyer and Bo Vaughn, their two best pitchers last year, and there's no obvious replacement. Jeff Mousser comes in from BYU, and ASU's last BYU transfer (Will Waldrop) worked out pretty well for them. But the Sun Devils will hit as they always have under Pat Murphy. We're just wary of them on the mound. Schroyer is a big loss; he won and saved a lot of games for them the last three years.

 Q:  Jeff Austin from Greenville SC asks:
What do think of Clemson's chances making it to the CWS this year. They return all the pitching and got some new guys that a lot of people don't know about like Sipp,and Santangelo. Thanks Jeff

John Manuel: The area scouts we know who saw the Tigers in the fall were very impressed. Tony Sipp sounds like a potential star as a one-year JC transfer who will pitch and play outfield. Santangelo is very good defensively; I want to see if he'll hit. He hit .260 at Seton Hall last year so I'm not quite on the Santangelo bandwagon that I've heard about. Brad McCann is a proven middle-of-the-lineup producer, though, and I'm a huge Garrick Evans fan and expect him to also contribute to the lineup. Clemson has gone to Omaha four times under coach Jack Leggett, and a fifth trip this year would not be a surprise.

 Q:  Mick from Chicago asks:
How excited should college baseball fans be when watching Stephen Drew play? The last I read on him, his tools grade a notch below that of his brother's, J.D. Will he be a shortstop in the pros, and are there any other SS's near his caliber?

John Manuel: Drew is certainly one of the best players in college baseball. We've had scouts compare him to Todd Walker and we've heard some naysayers about him at short. One question: where was Stephen Drew last summer? He hasn't played summer ball for two years because of injuries (foot, knee) and to my knowledge hasn't played summer ball with a wood bat at all. So that's another question he has to answer. If he works hard, he'll answer them affirmatively. He's talented and he plays hard, making him perhaps college baseball's most exciting player.

 Q:  Andrew from Philadelphia asks:
What do you see Florida State doing this year?

John Manuel: Tying in to Stephen Drew, this will be a team to really watch this season. FSU hasn't been to Omaha the last two years despite entering the postseason as the No. 1 team in the country, losing super-regionals at home both times to Notre Dame and Texas. This team isn't as talented as the last two--no Tony Richie, no bevy of offspeed lefthanders pounding the strike zone, and no Marc LaMacchia, who signed the day classes started, leaving FSU without its projected ace. However, FSU has talent on the mound with guys like Mark Sauls and Rhett James, who led the Cape in wins last summer, and Eddy Martinez-Esteve will put up very loud numbers if he is healthy all year. Watch Mike Martin squeeze 50 wins out of them again.

 Q:  Chris from Richmond, VA asks:
How are the teams in the Richmond area looking this year? Both VCU and UR have had solid runs lately, and was curious if that will continue.

John Manuel: I think I covered the Spiders before . . . VCU should be quite good again, especially on the mound. Justin Orenduff and Cla Meredith are back from the nation's ERA champs, and Jeff Parrish is one of the nation's better catchers. Virginia baseball as a whole is up, big time. UVa will be better, Va. Tech has to get better as it enters the ACC, George Mason and William & Mary have improved, and James Madison and Old Dominion are the state's traditional powers and are still very solid programs (especially JMU). The Commonwealth's prep talent is excellent and is the biggest reason why the colleges are better.

 Q:  Charlie from Wilmington, NC asks:
What are you thoughts on UNCW this year, after coming off a great season last year. How do you think they will fair in the CAA and postseason. Thanks.

John Manuel: I was just asking coach Scalf about this the other day. He's optimistic about the Seahawks. I'm not as much as he is. Jamie Hemingway was their offensive leader for several years and has graduated; pitchers like Brad Overton, Jake Mullis and Chris Coughlin are gone, but Jr. RHP Ronald Hill could be an ace and a good draft, and Will Hunt is a solid left. Closer Blake Cross is back too, so the 'Hawks should pitch. I just wonder who other than Matt Sutton will hit. Where's Magnus Pilegard when you need him? (Actually, he's probably in Sweden.)

 Q:  Bob from Poughkeepsie NY asks:
What is your take on Elon University and their change to the Southern Conference. How do you feel about their top players?

John Manuel: We don't get too many Phoenix questions. This is going to be a tough move, the Big South is a better conference than people think, but the SoCon is stronger and deeper. In Evan Tartaglia and Grant Rembert (Hickory, N.C., representing!), Elon has two good offensive players in the outfield. Mike Fratoe is a solid two-way talent and Mike Garner was an ace in the Big South. Elon has a shot at finishing in the top half of the SoCon, but I don't see a regional bid this year.

 Q:  Mike from Orrville, OH asks:
John, Is the weather the reason for the lack of northern teams in the top 25 or is it the fact that kids in the sun belt and west coast can play year round? I guess I am asking why the northern teams traditionally are not as good as the southern teams.

John Manuel: Mike that's a loaded question. Weather and the schedule are the two big reasons why the Sun Belt (the region, not the conference) dominates college baseball. In a story you can read in the next BA, we'll touch on the new Division I baseball issues committee the NCAA has created. It meets Jan. 11-12 and will begin with a presentation by Big 10 commissioner Jim Delaney regarding a change-of-season proposal, which we wrote about in last year's college preview. I personally believe moving the CWS back a month and having a starting date in late February or early March is the best solution, even though that solution wipes out summer college baseball. I don't think that will ever happen, though.

 Q:  Todd from Starkville, MS asks:
How are our bulldogs going to do this year? It seems every year people tell Ron Polk his team is not gonna be any good he goes to Omaha. I know they lost a few guys but they have some talent there as always. What do you think of them?

John Manuel: Well, we like Mississippi State; we have the 'Dogs 31st in our preseason Top 50. They have the same question they have had the last few years--will they hit? John Mungle, Brad Corley, Craig Tatum and the rest of that sophomore class needs to man up and produce some runs. Also, Paul Maholm was a three-year ace, and that's hard to replace, though Allan Johnson should be solid. Polk's teams always compete hard, but the SEC is really, really deep and tough this year. This might be as good as the SEC has been since 1997, when LSU beat Alabama for the national title. Eight SEC teams should get bids this year, and any of them would be dangerous in Omaha.

 Q:  CW from NC asks:
What's your take on B.C. this year? Is Chris Lambert going to be a one man show, or do they have enough talent surrounding him to make a run in the Big East?

John Manuel: Lambert has help, and BC should challenge for a regional bid in the Big East. Lefty Kevin Shepherd is throwing in the 88-90 range and gives BC a great 1-2 punch in the rotation. Drew Locke is the one who needs help; B.C. didn't hit as much as it needed to last year to complement that pitching and make up for its subpar defense.

 Q:  Tom from Atlanta asks:
Who do you see coming out of the Atlantic Sun Conference this year to earn regional bids. Can UCF rebound from an off year?

John Manuel: Florida Atlantic is the favorite for us by a healthy margin. FAU has a lot of talent back and will be trying all-league performer Jeff Fiorentino behind the plate; if he doesn't work there, he may play third and he could always move back to the outfield. Central Florida should be better, it's a big junior class and a few of those guys went through sophomore slumps. As usual, FAU, UCF, Jacksonville and Stetson are the top four teams in the league. Don't be surprised if a veteran Belmont team makes noise again, too.

 Q:  Mike the Tiger from Baton Rouge, Louisiana asks:
Seems as though LSU is really loaded with talent this year. They should have a great chance at going all the way at Omaha this year too. With all the talent on this year's team. I have been hearing that each and every position could be drafted and along with several pitchers. They could have as many a dozen players drafted this year. What are your thoughts on this happening? Has any other team had their whole team drafted?

John Manuel: Mike, LSU is loaded, no doubt. If Rice didn't have all that pitching back. LSU would have been a preseason No. 1 team. As for having a dozen drafted, well, Miami had 11 drafted off its national championship 2001 team, and two others signed pro contracts. LSU's top draft is probably RF Jon Zeringue. The Tigers need good health from two pitchers to make this season special, though: LHP Lane Mestepey has to show he's back after missing 2003, and closer Brandon Nall has to overcome the shoulder problem that sidelined him last year. If they are good, LSU will be scary.

 Q:  Bob from Buffalo, NY asks:
John, Is Thomas Diamond for real? Does the New Orleans star have a chance to go in the Top 5 in the June draft?

John Manuel: Diamond is for real . . . 96 K's in 69 innings isn't enough for you? He dominated the Northwoods League and has one of the best fastballs in college. The Top 5 looks like a stretch right now only because of the pitching depth of this year's draft. Justin Verlander, the Rice trio, Jered Weaver and Jeremy Sowers are likely to be drafted ahead of Diamond if the draft were held today, but there's a whole season to play. Let's see how Diamond reacts to being a starter all year. We expect he'll help carry coach Randy Bush's team to a regional bid.

 Q:  John from Queens, NY asks:
John: After his very impressive performance in the Cape Cod League this past summer, do you see David Purcey as a first round pick this year?

John Manuel: It sounds like Purcey had more admirers prior to last season. He has big stuff, no question, but scouts seem like they are waiting for him to put it all together. He was draft-eligible as a sophomore and pressed a bit; a relaxed Purcey would go a long way toward helping OU return to regional play.

 Q:  bud from Sunny Honolulu, Hawaii asks:
Thanks for your great coverage of college baseball and for taking the time to do these chats. How does the University of Hawaii look this year? With Rice probably a lock to win the WAC title and automatic berth, can Hawaii hope for an at large bid? Is this the year Coach Trapasso completes the turnaround? Any teams from the WAC to watch for at large bids? Thanks.

John Manuel: Bud, thanks for the kind words. This is year three for coach Trapasso out there, and this should be the year Hawaii fans start seeing results. The Ranbows have a lot of pitching to choose from, and JC transfer Robbie Wilder should be an exciting offensive talent in center field. The WAC has taken a hit with Sam Piraro's poor health really sidetracking a San Jose State program that was on the rise, but both Hawaii and Fresno State are on the right track. The league of course will be pretty much wrecked soon when Rice leaves for Conference USA, and Louisiana Tech could bolt for C-USA as well if TCU goes to the Mountain West, so who knows what the future holds for Hawaii and the rest of the league.

 Q:  Todd from Wichita asks:
What did you see the strengths to be of Wichita State to rank them at #14?

John Manuel: Veteran team in the field and at the plate, excellent pitching and coaching, and a No. 1 starter in Mike Pelfrey who might be the best ever to pitch at Wichita State. Considering they've had the likes of Braden Looper and Darren Dreifort in there, that's saying something. The Shockers should return to the top of the MVC.

 Q:  Joe Balsinger from Bellflower asks:
What do you think Long Beach State's chances are getting back to Omaha? Besides losing Abe Alvarez, they have Weaver back and 5 position players are back which led the nation in fielding.Thanks

John Manuel: Great point, the Dirtbags can pick it. Jered Weaver goes toe-to-toe with Jeff Niemann as the nation's top pitcher, and coach Mike Weathers has Long Beach State getting better every year; it's really impressive to take over for a legend like Dave Snow and make the program better. If John Bowker stays healthy and gives the lineup some thump, LBSU has a shot to dethrone Fullerton in the Big West. SoCal fans are very lucky to have such great college baseball to watch . . . now go watch it!

 Q:  bernard from new orleans asks:
I'm a big Tulane fan and was wondering how their starting pitching will do this season? Will Joey Charron start, or will he be used out of the bullpen?Also, who will play shortstop Junior Tommy Manzella or freshman standout Phillip Stringer?

John Manuel: Charron will close, because Tulane has plenty of starting pitching in Mohl, Crowel and Hahn, all back from last year. Stringer should step right in at short with Manzella at second, but they could always flip if Stringer struggles. The Green Wave should be very, very solid this year. Watch for Brian Bogusevic, who was lights-out in the fall and might make a big step forward this year as a Northern kid just getting acclimated to the competition and taking advantage of the opportunity to play and develop year-round.

 Q:  Chad Goldberg from Washington, DC asks:
John- Is there a better OF in the country than Stanford's with Brian Hall, Sam Fuld, and Danny Putnam?

John Manuel: Not by a long shot. Hard to imagine losing Carlos Quentin but still having the nation's best outfield. Getting Sam Fuld back is so huge for the Cardinal, and Danny Putnam must have turned some heads last year (esp. last summer), earning a first-team All-America spot. Hall is the X-factor, a versatile talent who can steal a base, and he should be better offensively now that he's settled into one position.

 Q:  Timmy McIntosh from Madison, MS asks:
What is your view on Ole Miss. With Alan Horne transferring what state does that leave their pitching staff. I know we got some good young arms and have Seth and Stephen and top recruiting class. Seems Bianco has got it going on. Thanks

John Manuel: Almost done, but Tim has blown our big scoop from the ABCA Convention. Alan Horne, a 2001 first-round pick, has transferred to Chipola (Fla.) JC, closer to his home in Marianna, Fla. Not sure what Alan gains; he was draft-eligible this year as a redshirt sophomore returning from Tommy John surgery. Ole Miss should still be good, with Stephen Head and Mark Hollimon fronting the rotation, but that's a big loss. You just don't replace a guy getting a full ride who was a first-round pick that leaves at the semester. Ask USC how hard it is to replace a talent like that; they're still hurting from Chico and Howell.

 Q:  Mike from Montgomery, IL asks:
What have you heard about the recovery of Notre Dame's Grant Johnson, and if he's healthy what would his draft status be?

John Manuel: Last question . . . I had a lot of great questions, just not the time to answer them all. Grant is throwing pain-free, but he has yet to really cut loose off a mound, so a lot of questions will be answered this spring with him. Whether his stuff comes back to its 2002 level still is not known, so the same has to be said for his draft status. He's a quality person and competitor, and he'll help Notre Dame whether he has that ace stuff or not. Chris Neisel is back to front the rotation and freshmen Jeff Manship and Derik Olvey will contribute a lot for the Irish this year.

John Manuel: Thanks a lot for all the great questions. We'll be doing Defend the Poll chats again this year, every other Tuesday, and our first in-season Top 25 will be coming up Feb. 2, so our next poll chat should be Feb. 3. Stay tuned for the college preview issue coming to the website soon.

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