College Baseball Chat With Aaron Fitt

Q:  Jerry from Albany, NY asks:
Aaron, How does the crop of college draft prospects stack up against last years? Who are the top hitters who will be eligable for the draft in 2007?

Aaron Fitt: Greetings, everyone, from the ABCA convention in sunny Orlando, where the internet connection is painfully slow, so please bear with me! We've been neck-deep in college preview work for the last month or so, and John Manuel and I are very excited about the upcoming season. Let's get started on the chat.

Aaron Fitt: On the whole, it looks like a weaker college crop this year than last year, although last year's group lacked impact bats as well. The strength of this class is relief pitching, led by Josh Fields, Cole St.Clair, Daniel Moskos, Bret Cecil and Eddie Kunz, although Vanderbilt's David Price is a high-upside starter comparable to Andrew Miller from a year ago. The top hitter on the board at this stage is Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters. Tennessee has a couple of likely first-rounders in Julio Borbon and J.P. Arencibia, and Matt LaPorta could re-emerge as a first-round talent with a big senior season. But there's not a whole lot of impact power bats like there were two years ago, with Gordon, Braun, etc.

 Q:  Al from Port Chester, NY asks:
Odds of Pedro Alvarez staying at Vandy after 2007?

Aaron Fitt: About 99 percent, since he's not eligible for the draft until 2008. But he's the very early favorite for the No. 1 overall pick in two years.

 Q:  Jason C from Harahan, La.... NEW ORLEANS asks:
Hey, how do you think the Green Wave will do this year. We lost Nathan Southard and Mark Hamilton but other than that we still have everyone else back. We are getting JR Crowel back after the elbow surgry. He has had a very impressive career. Also we have JC transfer Shooter Hunt. Could this teams pitching staff be as dominate as in 05.

Aaron Fitt: Pitching is definitely going to carry this Tulane team. Southard and Hamilton will be tough to replace, but freshman Preston Claiborne's got plenty of power and has a chance to emerge as a middle-of-the-lineup bat right away. Contributions from Crowel would be a nice bonus, but Tulane is going to lean most heavily on ace Sean Morgan and closer Daniel Latham. Hunt has big-time stuff, as he showed in the Cape last summer, and he'll be expected to hold down the Sunday starter spot, while senior Brandon Gomes pitches on Saturdays. The staff has plenty of depth and power arms — a lot to like there.

 Q:  Tom from Riverside Ca asks:
How does UC RIVERSIDE look this year? I hear they have a good pitch and catch combo in Simmons and Dunbar.

Aaron Fitt: UC Riverside was the toughest team to omit from our preseason top 25. I really believe this team could finish second in the Big West behind Cal State Fullerton, and maybe even win the conference. Simmons is legitimate, one of the best Friday starters on the West Coast, though not quite as accomplished as Wes Roemer at Fullerton. They also have a quality Saturday guy in Marc Rzepczynski.

 Q:  Jeremy Knight from Charleston, SC asks:
Does South Carolina have the pitching to make it to Omaha this season?

Aaron Fitt: Pitching is the big question with the Gamecocks, and it's the reason we started them off at No. 6 instead of higher. Clearly there are some power arms there, starting with Pelzer, who will close this year after moving into the rotation in 2006. He pitched plenty of innings last year and did not pitch this summer as a result, so his health is just a bit of a concern. South Carolina's top starter, Arik Hempy, had Tommy John and won't be back until at least March. Honeycutt and Cisco are solid, but the key will be whether blue-chip recruit Nick Fuller can step right into the weekend rotation. He's had some arm issues himself.

 Q:  Houndstooth from Tuscaloosa asks:
Alabama goes from SEC champs to not even in the top 50? Is this a reaction to the Saban hire?

Aaron Fitt: Alabama was a tough omission from the top 50, because I like Emeel Salem and Tommy Hunter coming back, but they also lost quite a bit. It will be tough to replace Wade Leblanc on Friday nights, and just as tough to replace David Robertson at the back of the bullpen. Plus the Crimson Tide had one player in double figures in homers last year, Kody Valverde, and he's gone. Where's the juice going to come from? The SEC is so deep, and not everybody can go to the tournament. I'm not sure Alabama has quite enough back to make it back to a regional.

 Q:  jon ray from ny asks:
Do you see Cal State Fullerton going to Omaha in 07? Who has the best freshman class? Also, when will we get the College Preview issue?

Aaron Fitt: The Titans are in the unfamiliar position of "rebuilding", having lost 21 players to the draft in the last two years. Still, we've got them in our top 15, thanks to a solid rotation led by Roemer and Jorgenson and a quality freshman class. Khris Davis and Nate Bridges need to have big years right away. It's a nice class, but our No. 1 class belonged to Baylor. As for the college preview issue, we're putting the final touches on it in the next week, and it should be available the week after that.

 Q:  jacoby from saratoga springs asks:
You player of year prediction 07?

Aaron Fitt: I'd be trying too hard if I said anyone but David Price. Last year I did not take the obvious choice (Andrew Miller), instead going with Ian Kennedy. Look how that ended up.

 Q:  Tim from Ocala asks:
What do you think about the Florida Gators this year and their starter Augenstein along with a solid lineup of Laporta, Leclerc, and Figueroa?

Aaron Fitt: It's nice to have those guys back, but Florida will be asking an awful lot from freshmen. Fortunately it's a stellar group of freshmen, led by Figeuroa (who should step right into the shortstop job), Bullock and Chapman (who should both work as starters). I could also see some of their freshmen outfielders getting meaningful at-bats, starting with Jonathan Pigott, who can flat-out rake.

 Q:  Mike from Fairfax, VA asks:
Is there a team in the 25-50 range that you could see possibly making a run and ending up a top 10 or 15 team?

Aaron Fitt: I really like Southern Cal, who we started out of the top 25 simply because it's going to be a very young team. Nobody knows what to expect out of Robert Stock, but he's got a chance to be a superstar, even as a 17-year-old. Grant Green, another freshman, could be superb, and the bullpen will be stout with Koss and freshman Hector Rabago, as well as Stock and others. Veterans Matt Cusick and Tommy Milone will bring some stability. Baylor is in a similar position with all its young players — if they mature quickly, that team could rise fast.

 Q:  Ty from la jolla asks:
How does Arizona State's starting rotation look this year? Can Flores be as dominant as he has been in the JC Ranks, and is the staff good enough overall to lead them to a Pac Ten title and possibly the College World Series?

Aaron Fitt: Pitching is the question with the Sun Devils, who should have one of the best offenses in the nation. It all hinges on Flores, who they're counting on to step right into the Friday starter role. Freshman Matt Leake also figures into the weekend rotation — that's a pair of guys with serious talent but no Division I experience. Let's wait and see how those guys fare before running ASU too far up.

 Q:  David L. from Cambridge, MA asks:
Who are the best draft-eligible collegiate players in New England, and do any have early-round potential?

Aaron Fitt: I haven't started my draft work from the Northeast yet, but the two names off the top of my head are Terry Doyle at BC, who was lights out in the Cape, and Steffan Wilson of Harvard, who struggled a bit in the Cape but was very impressive there two years ago.

 Q:  Scott from Raleigh asks:
How much of an impact will Andrew Brackman's decision to concentration 100% on baseball have on NC State's chances within the ACC and the nation. Do you see NC State as a threat to win the ACC andor make the CWS?

Aaron Fitt: Brackman is still raw, but he could put it together in a hurry now that he's giving baseball all his attention. He looked tremendous this fall, showing high-90s velocity and that devastating spike curveball, but he still needs to harness his command. His presence atop that rotation gives NC State instant credibility and a chance to make some noise in the ACC, though I'm not sure they've got enough bats or pitching depth to make an Omaha run. As loaded as the ACC is this year, I wouldn't bet on State winning the conference, but they can compete with anybody. That's what Brackman brings—if he can win on most Fridays, all the Pack has to do is steal one of the other two games and they've got the series. Of course, that may be tougher than it sounds in the ACC this year.

 Q:  Mick from Chicago asks:
There appear to be many more than usual good middle infielders in this and next years class. Would you name a few in order of their pro potential?

Aaron Fitt: Jemile Weeks from Miami is my favorite—I just love watching him play. It's amazing how disruptive he is. I might put UCLA shortstop Brandon Crawford next—he's incredibly slick with the glove, and expect his bat to take a major step forward in his sophomore year. Darwin Barney at Oregon State is a gamer who seems to make all the plays and has good speed, and Zach Cozart at Ole Miss is an amazing defender who also hit very well for the Rebels but slumped for Team USA. Of course, Brian Friday of Rice was our first-team All-American at shortstop last year, but people seem to forget about him. He's the leader of the nation's No. 1 team, and he's got some tools in his own right, starting with plus speed. Look for a big increase in his stolen base total this year, as he showed improvement in that area in the fall.

 Q:  Doug from Fountain valley, CA asks:
Will Joe Savery be a weekend starter, or even pitch at all for Rice this year?

Aaron Fitt: That's a critical question, but we wouldn't have ranked Rice No. 1 if we didn't believe Savery would pitch on weekends. I talked with Wayne Graham yesterday, and he said Savery's been throwing light bullpens for two weeks and feels healthy. They might take it slow with him to preserve him for the stretch run, but there doesn't appear to be any lingering pain.

 Q:  Jason Piraro from San Jose asks:
I know there are a lot of teams that are not mentioned in the top 50. There could at least be one WAC team in the top 50. Fresno State, Hawaii and San Jose State should all be worthy teams in 2007.

Aaron Fitt: I like Hawaii's potential all-lefty rotation, but Fresno State's the top team in that group. The bulldogs need to get a lot out of freshmen, however, starting with shortstop Tom Mendonca. They did garner consideration for the top 50.

 Q:  Jim from Littleton, CO asks:
Do you think that the Huskers Jake Opitz and Ryan Wherle both juniors are the two of the best defensiveoffensive middle infielders in college baseball this season?

Aaron Fitt: They're in the discussion, though I might go with Harbin and Widmann at Clemson, or maybe Friday and Luna at Rice. Luna's still adjusting to second, but he seems well suited for the position, and his bat is big.

 Q:  Junior Webb from Durham, NC asks:
The ACC seems to be loaded again this year. Who do you have winning the league title this year? Also, what do you think are the chances of the Heels reaching Omaha again? Look forward to a great season!

Aaron Fitt: We've got Miami highest in our poll, but I might bet on Clemson or North Carolina winning the league, because those two teams have the benefit of avoiding each other in the ACC schedule. Miami and Georgia Tech, on the other hand, have to play all of the heavy hitters (throw Virginia into that mix). It really is a tough choice between those five, but gun to my head, I'd take Clemson.

 Q:  Frank from Florida asks:
What is your feeling on the Colonial Athletic Assoc. ?

Aaron Fitt: There's no clear power in the conference this year. I really like Delaware — ton of big bats coming back, although the numbers are inflated because of their park. The problem there is pitching — they'll rely on a couple of guys coming back from serious injury. UNCW lost some key contributors from its CAA tournament championship team a year ago, but there's still plenty to like there. And VCU might end up being the best team in that league, with experience on the mound and in the field, even without Scott Sizemore. Old Dominion will also be solid, and James Madison has the best player in the league in Kellen Kulbacki.

 Q:  Jordan from texas asks:
How do you think freshman Miami ss Ryan Jackson will do at miami

Aaron Fitt: He became one of the slickest defenders in the country the moment he stepped on campus. His bat is a question, but Miami's coaches believe he could surprise some people at the plate.

 Q:  Mike from VT asks:
What do you expect out of Georgia Tech's David Duncan this season? What impact will Chris Dupart have?

Aaron Fitt: The Yellow Jackets expect Duncan to be their ace, and he's got the big pitcher's frame and lively stuff to do it. He just needs to put it all together, and I think he will. Curtis Dupart should have an immediate impact — an ultra-athletic freshman outfielder who can do it all. He should start right away.

 Q:  David from Huntington Beach, CA asks:
It seems like you folks at Baseball America really like to rank Vanderbilt high in the pre-season polls. I know they got through a regional a couple years ago and got spanked by Texas. I'm just wondering if they are ever going to live up to there potential; or is it that they just know someone well at Baseball America? I also noticed that after Omaha last year your ealy picks for Omaha included UCLA and I was really excited! Why aren't they good enough to be in the top 8 now?

Aaron Fitt: Our rankings are based on projections for 2007, not postseason success in 2005. Vanderbilt has arguably the two best players in college baseball in Price and Alvarez, plus a closer who throws close to 100 mph in David Weathers and a leader at shortstop in Flaherty. The supporting cast is solid, and the star power is very impressive.

Aaron Fitt: As for the Bruins, we still like them, but they're still young, particularly on the mound. We just thought it would be a good idea to take a step back and see how Charles Brewer and Gavin Brooks respond to D-I competition, particularly with UCLA's brutal schedule. If those guys mature as quickly as hoped, UCLA could indeed be an Omaha team. And if you asked me today who is going to win the national championship in 2008, I'd say either Miami or UCLA.

 Q:  Rich from Evanston, IL asks:
How good is Pedro Alvarez and how good could he become? Is upside comparable to Alex Gordon and Mark Teixeria (when he was 3rd)? Where would he rank in BA's top 100?

Aaron Fitt: I do think his upside is comparable to those two players. If Alvarez was draft-eligible, I would probably rank him No. 2, right behind his teammate, David Price.

 Q:  Russ from NY asks:
It's the final game of the CWS and you're the head coach. You can choose any pitcher to start the game. Who do you choose?

Aaron Fitt: Price has the best stuff, but I can't take him in light of the way he wilted down the stretch last year. I firmly believe he has corrected the problems that caused him to struggle, but still, I'd rather a pitcher with a better track record in big games. So I'm going to take Wes Roemer, who is tough as leather and knows how to win. Also in the discussion for me is Nick Schmidt of Arkansas, who has a similar competitive streak.

 Q:  Mike from North Carolina asks:
How good is Matt Mangini?

Aaron Fitt: He might be this year's Evan Longoria, at least offensively. Defense at third base is more of a question — the Wolfpack didn't really trust him in the field down the stretch last year. Still, great addition for Oklahoma State.

 Q:  steve a from guthrie, ok asks:
How do you think the Oklahoma State Cowboys will do this year? The offense is going to be scary.Do you see them getting to Omaha?

Aaron Fitt: Speaking of the Cowboys — you're right, the offense is going to be scary. With those bats and with that park, I'd bet Oklahoma State leads the nation in scoring. For me, the key is the new arms they brought in — lefty Andy Oliver and righties Tyler Blandford and Martin Beno. Those guys give the Cowboys some power arms to go with their power bats.

 Q:  Mike from Boston asks:
How does Terry Doyle compare to Chris Lambert? Does he have any pitch equal to that devastating curveball Lambert threw?

Aaron Fitt: Doyle doesn't have Lambert's velocity, pitching more in the 88-89 range, but he throws four pitches for strikes and has a very good changeup—his best offering.

 Q:  Shockfan from Kansas asks:
What is your outlook on the Shockers? Do they have any high draft players this year?

Aaron Fitt: I love Wichita State this year — experience and talent all over the field. They've got the best pitcher in the MVC in Shafer, and they've got the best overall player in the conference in Sublett, who is healthy and ready to resume his closing duties. Sublett is a potential top-three-rounds pick, and outfielder Matt Brown might be as well. That guy has legit five-tool talent - expect a big year.

 Q:  Nathan from Elon asks:
Elon had a great season in 2006 and usually when it comes to preseason rankings we are on the lookout for College of Charleston. How far off are they and what are Elon's benefits for 2007?

Aaron Fitt: Charleston was not too far off — clearly that program is the class of the conference, and you can never write them off. That said, they lost a slew of key contributors from their 2006 super-regional team, including Larry Cobb, Jess Easterling, Joey Friddle, Phillip Coker, Josh McLaughlin and Graham Godfrey. It will be very difficult to replace those guys, but Elon's got a veteran team with many of its key players returning.

 Q:  Ryan from Houston asks:
What does the rotation look like for Rice after Joe and Cole and who will be the closer now that St. Clair looks to join the rotation? Looking forward to the College Classic at Minute Maid...perhaps a Price vs. Savery matchup in the opening game?

Aaron Fitt: At this juncture, the Owls plan to use St.Clair in the bullpen again, though that could change if Savery can't hold down a weekend spot. But assuming Savery is healthy and pitching on Sundays (which he likes to do so his hitting doesn't suffer on Friday or Saturday), you'll probably see Bobby Bell on Friday nights and transfer Chris Kelley on Saturdays. The X Factor could be senior Ryne Tacker, who the Owls think is healthy. He certainly has the stuff to hold down a rotation spot, but he's missed a lot of time and it's hard to count on him.

 Q:  baseballfan from PA asks:
how do you think the big ten will fair this year? Any hopes for Penn State to make a regional?

Aaron Fitt: Ohio State and Michigan are the two teams to beat in that conference, though Minnesota is also in the picture. Penn State is a real longshot, though that program is headed in the right direction, with the opening of a beautiful new facility.

 Q:  cody from mesa,az asks:
If justin smoak was draft eligible this year,were would he rank in the draft? And is he comparable to Mark Teixeira at the point in there careers? They seem very similar,with teixeira being more physically mature and smoak being better on defense

Aaron Fitt: Smoak ranked No. 1 in our Cape Cod League top 30 prospects list, even ahead of Brackman and Wieters, so that shows you just how highly he's regarded. The Teixeira comp is not a bad one, and Smoak could wind up having just as much impact at the collegiate level.

 Q:  frank from fl asks:
where do you see farina fitting into clemson pithing rotation?

Aaron Fitt: With a 92-93 mph fastball and a hammer curve, I think he'd make a fine setup man for Moskos, but it sounds like the Tigers are planning to use him as a midweek starter. That team has pitching coming out of its ears, even though its entire weekend rotation from a year ago is gone.

 Q:  Steve from Fort Lauderdale asks:
Any teams not in the Top 50 that could surprise some people and possibly end up ranked or make a regional?

Aaron Fitt: For me, Florida is that team, assuming LaPorta bounces back and the freshmen live up to expectations. That team could make a run.

 Q:  Dan from St. Louis, MO asks:
Which team will be the best in Missouri? Mizzou, MSU, SLU, SEMO?

Aaron Fitt: Missouri and Missouri State should both be good. I'll give the edge to Missouri State because of Detwiler, who could be in for a monster year. Him and Roger Kieschnick of Texas Tech are two Team USA guys with huge upside that I think could emerge as all-americans by season's end.

 Q:  Bruce from Tucson, AZ asks:
The West looks terribly down this year. What will happen come tourney time if only one (or even none) Western team is deserving of a #1 seed? There is no way the NCAA committee would ship a bunch of teams accross the country.

Aaron Fitt: I don't think you have to worry about that. The Pac-10 doesn't look half bad between Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal— a couple of those teams will wind up as No. 1 seeds. Fullerton's young, but you know they're going to be in the mix at the end. Pepperdine has more experience and could end up as a 1 seed as well.

 Q:  Andrew V from Colorado Springs, CO asks:
How well do you see the USC Trojans doing, and will Oregon State even make a regional in 07?

Aaron Fitt: I've already addressed USC. As for Oregon State, I would be shocked if they don't make a regional. They've got quality veterans back in Canham and Barney, plus pitchers who have shined on the biggest stage in Turpen, Stutes and Kunz. Sure, they lost a lot, but it's definitely a regional team, all the same.

 Q:  Eric from Newport Beach, CA asks:
UC Irvine lost some quality players last year. How good are their incoming pitchers and how will they do in 2007?

Aaron Fitt: The Anteaters will be OK thanks to a very nice group of freshmen that flew under the radar. Christian Bergman and Daniel Bibona will both be significant factors as freshmen — Bergman and Corey Hamilton have a ton of movement on their pitches. Plus Luis Tovar and Francis Larson will fill holes at shortstop and catcher, respectively. UCI should compete with Fullerton and UC Riverside in the Big West.

 Q:  Steve from Owltown asks:
Who's got the best pitching and why?

Aaron Fitt: I really like Virginia's pitching, with the reigning ACC player of the year providing a legitimate ace (Sean Doolittle), outstanding sophomore Jacob Thompson and crafy lefty Pat McAnaney filling out the rotation, and a senior closer in Casey Lambert. But Rice's pitching will be even better if Savery stays healthy. Even if he doesn't, no team has the pitching depth Rice has, not even Clemson.

Aaron Fitt: I'm about out of time, but I've really enjoyed all your questions and I'm looking forward to chatting more throughout the season. (Apologies to all the questions I didn't get to - and there are quite a few good ones left.) Check back in just over a week for our mountain of college preview content. Thanks for stopping by, and have a great weekend.