College Baseball Chat With Aaron Fitt: Feb. 12

 Q:  Shawn from Austin asks:
Thanks for taking my question. Right now who are the top 10 closers in college baseball and which programs have the top 5 pitching staffs in the country going into the season from top to bottom?

Aaron Fitt: Good afternoon, everybody. Quite a weekend of college baseball - the action in Houston this weekend was outstanding, even if the weather was not.

Aaron Fitt: There are a ton of great college closers this year, but this was not a good weekend to be one. Former BA intern Bryan Smith sends along this little nugget: The following seven closers combined for one save this weekend: Josh Fields, Eddie Kunz, Brett Cecil, Wynn Pelzer, Paul Koss, Sam Demel, Brant Rustich. Here are their combined numbers: 14 IP, 29 H, 19 ER, 13 K, 9 BB -- 12.21 ERA. Ouch! Still, you have to put Fields, Kunz, Cecil, Pelzer and Rustich as five of the nation's top closers. For the other five, I'll go with Moskos (the best of all, for my money), St. Clair (if he's healthy -- that's a major, major "if" right now), Casey Weathers, Andrew Carignan and Cody Satterwhite.

Aaron Fitt: For the last part of your question, the best pitching staffs top to bottom, for my money are in no particular order, Rice (losing St. Clair hurts, but they've still got a ton of arms), Virginia, Vanderbilt, Clemson, Arkansas.

 Q:  Bob from Greenville, SC asks:
What do you think of the possiblity of Clemson and South Carolina being 1 and 2 when they play each a home and home at the beginning of March? How do you see that 2 game set turning out?

Aaron Fitt: They were almost 1-2 right now; we considered moving South Carolina to the top spot after their impressive opening weekend, but we decided to stick with our preseason order until Clemson and UNC get some games in. That home-and-home is going to be as interesting as ever -- really could go either way, depending on who's hot. I predict a split.

 Q:  Emil from Dover, Delaware asks:
Aaron, What does Nick Schmidt need to do or is lacking in order to be mentioned with the top arms (Price, Brackman, etc) in this years draft ? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Throw in the mid-90s. Nick Schmidt is certainly one of the best pitchers in the nation, and I think he's got a chance to be a first-rounder, but he's no lock first-rounder because he just lacks the power stuff of Price, Brackman, Savery, etc. Plus there is some concern among scouts about his innings totals the last couple of years... wear and tear could hurt his draft stock.

 Q:  Joe from Greenville, SC asks:
How about Vanderbilt? Can they keep it up?

Aaron Fitt: Really a wonderful weekend for the Commodores -- I was very impressed with the number of quality arms on that staff. We all knew about Price and Weathers, but Brett Jacobsen looked very promising Sunday, Mike Minor was outstanding in relief of him, and Cody Crowell breezed against a tough Arizona State lineup on Saturday. That's not even mentioning other quality arms like Nick Christiani, Ty Davis, Josh Zeid and Richie Goodenow, who could emerge as factors. Can they keep it up? Well, their next 16 games are against soft opponents, giving them a good chance to be near 20 wins by the time they open the SEC schedule against Ole Miss on March 16.

 Q:  Nate from Naples asks:
What do you think of Miami's first baseman Yonder Alonso?...I think that player has a great chance to be the best first baseman out there this year.

Aaron Fitt: Agreed. Justin Smoak gets a lot of ink, and deservedly so, but he's not the only first baseman in that class with thunder in his bat: Alonso's raw power rates as a 70. He didn't get much to hit last weekend against Mercer, but he showed what he can do when he gets a chance to hit on Saturday against UCLA, going 4-for-4 with a pair of bombs. He was my preseason pick to lead the nation in homers -- it's early, but I feel good about that one.

 Q:  Ray from South Orange, NJ asks:
Hi Aaron, With Merklinger & Black heading up the rotation what are your thoughts on Seton Hall's chances in the Big East this year ?

Aaron Fitt: I really can't wait to see both of those guys this weekend in Chapel Hill; the potential Black vs. White matchup (sean black against alex white) is particularly tantalizing. Junior righty Dan McDonald is also a quality arm -- I expect him to start on Saturday, though we'll see what Rob Sheppard has to say about it this week. I still think Notre Dame and St. John's are the favorites in that league, but with Seton Hall's pitching they really have a chance to surprise some people. Usually when SHU comes to Chapel Hill for their annual February series, it's a bloodbath. This year, I'm excited about it.

 Q:  John from Tempe, Arizona asks:
Arizona State has received a lot of early season press. Two questions: 1. Is their offense really as good as advertised? 2. Do you think Wallace, Davis, and Spencer will be able to match their early season performances against PAC-10 competition?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, and yes. I really have no concerns about that offense tailing off in conference play; those three hitters you mentioned are all legit. People are surprised by Spencer and probably expect him to tail off, but I think he's playing up to his talent. He probably won't hit .600 all year, but he'll have a very good season now that he's got a chance to play every day. The Sun Devils could end up being even better offensively than they are now if Andrew Romine starts to hit (remember, he led the team in batting last year, though he played in just 22 games) and if they get some production out of either Jarred Bogany or Tim Smith.

 Q:  Jack from San Diego asks:
UCLA at Miami. Seems UCLA's young team could have won two of those. All appeared close. Lack of timely hitting by UCLA with runners in scoring position appears difference. Any thoughts on UCLA?

Aaron Fitt: Lack of timely hitting is part of it, but they got big hits from Brandon Crawford and Tim Stewart to take the lead Saturday, but closer Brant Rustich couldn't nail it down. That was a big surprise to me -- we have gotten glowing reports on him so far this spring, and I thought UCLA's advantage in the back of the bullpen would help them this weekend. That was a tough series for the young Bruins. They really need to get Jermaine Curtis back from his academic issues -- as John Savage put it, he's a big part of what they do. I'm worried about their starting pitching; they're now 0-for-2 in auditions for Saturday starters with Charles Brewer sidelined with mono.

 Q:  Mike from Orange County asks:
Does the Big West have a shot for more than two teams in the postseason? Fullerton, Riverside and Long Beach all look really strong to start the year. They all seem to be able to hit and pitch with the best of them. Also who is more of the darkhorse... UCR or long Beach? Your thoughts...

Aaron Fitt: I still think Riverside is the far better team than Long Beach and will emerge as one of the top two teams in the conference by season's end. The Dirtbags have been the biggest surprise of the season so far for me--I didn't think they'd win either of their first two series, and they have now won both. It's a tribute to Mike Weathers' coaching, and it's an indication of their young talent, but I doubt they can keep it up for the whole season -- too many pitching question marks. The Highlanders, though, might have the best pitching staff on the West Coast. We heard another glowing report about senior Mark Rzepczynski this weekend, and James Simmons allowed just one hit in 6 IP Saturday.

 Q:  Kendall from Charleston SC asks:
How do you feel about the South Carolinas shaky game against UNC Wilmington?

Aaron Fitt: No real cause for concern. Actually, I think it was an encouraging game for them-- good starting pitching from Mike Cisco, three excellent innings of relief from Pelzer, and they rallied to win the game after coughing up a lead -- shows some character.

 Q:  John from Studio CITY asks:
how do you think pepperdine will fair this year against their tough non-conference scheduel?

Aaron Fitt: The Waves bounced back nicely with a sweep of Davis after stumbling against UNLV last weekend, but the road does indeed get much harder now. No. 11 Wichita State comes to town this weekend; that should be real interesting, because I love Wichita State's team this year, but this will be their first series of the season, and Pepperdine already has a couple of weeks under their belt. I think Pepperdine takes this series. Then it's Fresno State (a very winnable series), then across the country to the Keith LeClair Classic at East Carolina (Pepperdine shouldn't go worse than 2-1 there), followed by a very tough series at Oklahoma State. That team can mash; it'll be strength vs. strength, because the Waves can pitch.

 Q:  Matt from Oregon asks:
Oregon State has started off very hot this year. Sweepting Hawaii-Hilo was expected, but Georgia was a good test of the team, and a sweep was very impressive. What do you think of OSU's offense? The pitching seems pretty decent, but run production is slow to start games this year it seems.

Aaron Fitt: The Beavers are still trying to figure some things out offensively-- there are a lot of pieces that can be moved around, and Pat Casey has yet to find a combination he wants to stick with. But it almost seems like it doesn't matter who plays for that team right now; they just can't lose. Those two comebacks this weekend sure were impressive.

 Q:  Justin from Arizona asks:
Evansville in the top 25 over USC, who just took 2 of 3 from San Diego and is 5 and 3 on the season? Where's the love for the Trojans???

Aaron Fitt: Evansville started the year in the top 25 and did nothing to get kicked out -- they won their only series so far this season, whereas USC lost its first series to Long Beach State. That was a nice weekend against San Diego, and USC is definitely on the radar, but I've got them behind teams like Long Beach, Riverside, Mississippi, Arizona and Texas A&M.

 Q:  Brian from Atlanta asks:
Do you think Georgia Southern will be a qulaity team that could make the regionals or do you think they just caught tech team that started the season very cold. I was at both games and GSU has some very good, young bats in their lineup. Freshamn AJ Wirnsberger is hitting over .600 in the first 5 games. Also GSU's starters are young but had the Tech hitters off balance both days. College of Charleston and Elon are the favorites in the Southern Conference, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the Eagles chances. Also possibly 3 Socon teams making the regionals this year?

Aaron Fitt: For my money, Georgia Southern and Western Carolina are 3a and 3b in the SoCon, but the Eagles definitely helped their cause this weekend. They dropped a series at Hawaii last weekend, but that's a tough trip, and Hawaii is a solid team -- the favorite in the WAC. There's no way the SoCon gets three teams into the tournament, but after the way Elon started, it's not out of the question that Georgia Southern could sneak into that top two. Of course, last year the conference only got one bid, snubbing Elon after the Phoenix went 21-6 in conference play and 45-18 overall...

 Q:  Lawrence Landy from Brawley, CA asks:
I know it's very early in the season, but any thoughts as to whether or not Tony Gwynn has put together a team, at SDSU, that can compete for an MWC title or possible at large birth for the playoffs?

Aaron Fitt: Tony Gwynn's pitching staff looks real good right now -- Donnie Hume was very sharp until the seventh inning Friday, when he appeared to get tired. They experimented with Bruce Billings as closer, but he was back in the rotation Saturday with positive results (0 ER over 5.1 IP); he's a key guy for them, so that performance was encouraging. SDSU is the favorite in the MWC for me.

 Q:  J.P. from Illannoyed asks:
I realize this isn't college related, but where's the D-Backs' list & chat? It says today on the schedule.

Aaron Fitt: A legitimate question -- that chat has been moved until tomorrow, I'm told.

 Q:  Kenneth from Birmingham, AL asks:
Brett Jacobsen's line for Vandy on Sunday was very impressive (maybe even better than Price's just by looking at the numbers). Were the numbers better than his pitching, and will he be a solid Sunday starter for the 'Dores in SEC play? Also, how much consideration was given to Vandy for the #1 ranking after the weekend?

Aaron Fitt: Jacobson looked very good -- tall, projectable frame, and he was throwing BBs. I bet he ends up as their Saturday guy. There was actually a good deal of discussion about running Vandy all the way up to No. 1. As I mentioned in this morning's podcast, there wasn't a ton of difference for me between the teams in that 2-9 group entering the season, and Vandy had the best weekend of that group, so it wouldn't have been completely unreasonable for them to leapfrog everybody. In the end, we decided to stick with our preseason guns a little bit. I believed in the preseason that Clemson, North Carolina and South Carolina were stronger than Vanderbilt, and I haven't seen anything yet to make me doubt any of those first three teams. At the same time--I saw plenty from Vandy this weekend. That team is good.

 Q:  Steve from Atlanta, GA asks:
It looked like a long weekend for the Yellow Jackets. One bright spot was Danny Payne. What are your thoughts on him this year and also in the draft. I heard there was a ton of scouts in attendance to see him and Weiters. Do you think these two are enough to pull the Jackets through.

Aaron Fitt: With Wieters, Payne, Brad Rulon, Tim Ladd and Jared Hyatt, the bullpen should be a strength for Tech; the problem is the starting pitching, and this weekend did nothing to assuage those concerns. David Duncan and Ryan Turner simply have to pitch better than they did this weekend, or Georgia Tech is sunk. As for Payne, he's the heart and soul of that team -- plays extremely hard on defense as well as offense, and his arm is interesting. He's undersized, but scouts are somewhat intrigued by him nonetheless.

 Q:  Ricardo from Tucson, Ariz. asks:
Where is the love for Arizona? The Wildcats are taking care of business, as they should be. Will a series win at Cal State Fullerton this weekend open some eyes?

Aaron Fitt: My eyes are already open when it comes to Arizona -- the Wildcats are one of the five teams we discussed just outside the poll this week. This was a tough week to be on the periphery of the rankings -- none of the teams at the back lost a series, and we weren't prepared to run Tulane from No. 18 to out of the top 25, even though losing two to Southeastern Louisiana was pretty bad. Anyway, just check last week's blog if you're wondering if we're paying attention to Arizona. If they take that series against Fullerton, I feel pretty confident they'll be in the rankings next week.

 Q:  david from Omaha, NE asks:
The huskers open up this weekend in Arlington, TX and a lot of the talk has been about the pitching. With proven late inning relievers Eric Bird and Zach Herr, and new additions Steve Edlefson, Thad Weber, and ASU transfer Drew Bollman, could this be the best bullpen options in the country to counter one of the best we rotations?

Aaron Fitt: I think it has that potential, though I'm not ready to say that yet without having seen those guys in action. Right now I'd still take Georgia Tech's bullpen as the best in the nation, although as I mentioned earlier, I really like Vandy's pen as well. Having Crowell back there to complement Weathers and Stephen Shao makes a big difference.

 Q:  David Pitts from Riverside, CA asks:
Why is Texas still ranked in the Top 15 when they lost two weekend series in a row?

Aaron Fitt: Because Texas is unquestionably one of the most talented teams in the nation, a preseason top 5 team that has tumbled in the rankings after losing a couple of weekend series, even though they're still in the top 15. Plus, Augie Garrido coaches the Longhorns; you won't catch me writing off an Augie Garrido team in February. Texas stumbled early just like this last year, and was fine by the end of the season, despite bowing out in regionals.

 Q:  Brad from Oxford, MS asks:
What is the reasoning behind BA leaving Ole Miss out of the top 25 while most other publications have them in the top 20? They return all of their pitching, and they just reload at the plate just as they did last season.

Aaron Fitt: There are questions about Mississippi's offense, which lost a number of key contributors, which is why we started them off at 25. We bumped them last week because we needed to get San Diego in and Ole Miss was idle -- they're still hanging right on the edge. This week Evansville comes to town; winning that series against a veteran top-25 team will show us something and almost certainly land Ole Miss in the 25.

Aaron Fitt: I'm about running out of gas, everyone... got in late last night from Houston, then up early this morning. One or two more questions...

 Q:  Ryan from Daytona Beach, Florida asks:
What have you heard about that Bethune Cookman squad? They seem to have dominated a tough Mercer squad over the weekend.

Aaron Fitt: See today's Three Strikes in the blog -- John Manuel write about Bethune-Cookman in some detail.

 Q:  Jeremy from Columbia, SC asks:
Explain the reasoning behind moving a team up in the rankings that has not played a game. Makes no sense to have 3-0 & 7-0 teams ranked behind a team that has not played a game.

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, it's a bit awkward at the top this early in the year. Fortunately this is the last time we'll have to have this conversation, because next year the mandatory start date will likely ensure that all teams begin the season at the same time. In the meantime we'll just have to deal with a couple of 0-0 teams at 1 and 2...

 Q:  Javier from Miami asks:
How does Miami not move up in the rankings after sweeping UCLA??

Aaron Fitt: They lost a pair to Mercer last weekend -- that is still pretty fresh in our minds. Rebounding with a sweep of UCLA was big this weekend, but I'm much more impressed with what Vanderbilt did, which is why we moved them ahead of the Hurricanes.

Aaron Fitt: That's it for me -- apologies to the 100-plus good questions I didn't get to. You guys never cease to provide outstanding college baseball conversation.