College Top 25 Chat: March 3

 Q:  Harry from Jackson, MS asks:
What will Ole Miss have to do to take over the #1 position?

John Manuel: Good to be here everybody. It should be fun pinch-hitting for Aaron Fitt, it will be like a trip back in time to 2004 . . . Time flies. Just a reminder, if you haven't already, surf to our College Blog to read Aaron's takes on the weekend action in San Diego. It sounds like a cornucopia of college baseball delight was had all weekend. And our weekly college podcast will be recorded and posted tomorrow, when Aaron gets back from the West Coast, he had a flight to catch.

John Manuel: This one's simple—keep winning and hope Arizona loses. The Wildcats have a very, very tough schedule. Peep their upcoming opponents: UNLV, S. Alabama, TAMU-Corpus Christi, Notre Dame, then a grueling stretch with CS Fullerton, AZ State, Southern Cal, and Okla. State. Very few breathers in there. The Rebels have a similarly tough stretch, but as long as Arizona keeps winning, they will probably remain No. 1.

 Q:  Mike from California asks:
Pepperdine not in the top 25? After a 3-1 weekend. What do the waves have to do to crack the rankings?

John Manuel: You can change that ? to a . Pepperdine's off to a very solid start, no doubt, but so are about 20-30 other teams that are top-25 worthy. This one's more about other teams doing right than Pepperdine doing wrong. Bryce Mendonca has been as advertised if not better so far for the Waves, and Chase d'Arnaud and Brett Hunter are doing what upperclassmen have to do for teams like Pepperdine—lead by example. Both those guys have been real good so far. Pepperdine's in the discussion, we just chose other teams. Beating USC this week would help mid-week because it's hard to give a West Coast team much of a push after playing an Ivy League team (Pepp plays Columbia next weekend.)

 Q:  Geoff from Irvine asks:
27 innings without giving up a run!!! Lets go Eaters Zot Zot. Obviously UCI will not ride another 47 games of shutout baseball, but what are your first impressions on the team? Can you say Omaha

John Manuel: Certainly, Geoff, I am so happy that Mike Gillespie is back in college baseball and has the 'Eaters off to a great start. No, can't expect three straight shutouts every weekend, but Gorgen & Stowell can be a very good 1-2 punch, and this team is doing what it did last year in terms of executing offensively, pitching and fielding. I thought they lost too much offense in guys like Cipriano and Holliday to make another run but I would look forward to them proving me wrong.

 Q:  Jonathan from Troy asks:
I know they haven't faced the stiffest competition so far, but you have to be impressed with what Troy has done to start the year 8-1. The ERA is around the 2.00 mark and the hitters are doing just enough. You see good things out of this team?

John Manuel: Actually, it's decent competition—Wake Forest is the loss, Penn State should be solid this year and is a really veteran team, and Kennesaw State has some talent. Troy got to Kennesaw's Kyle Heckathorn, who came on in relief in the finale of that weekend and could be a first-round pick in '09. The Trojans have been stingy on the mound, and they usually don't beat themselves because they are well-coached. Good program and so far it looks like a good team.

 Q:  Darroll from California asks:
Eventhough Fresno State has started slow at 3-5, mainly because of its offense struggling, do you still see them as a top 25 caliber team and how far can they go?

John Manuel: I guess so Darroll, because we ranked 'em 19th coming into the year. Fresno lost some offense from last year's team, such as Appy League MVP Ozzie Lewis, but we thought they'd have the offense coming back to overcome that, plus they had that pitching. So far, the hitting has let them down, but it's the first weekend of March. Let's see how it plays out.

 Q:  Kevin from Cal Poly SLO asks:
With the 6 shutout innings by Derrick Saito and a FB up to 95 is he climbing up teams boards despite his size. He K'd 9 and showed 4 different pitches. He was a lot of fun to watch.

John Manuel: Saito won Best Breaking Ball in our Big West best tools (available only online to subscribers), and he's got big time velo to go with it. Our Matt Blood has an article on Saito that he's working on that we'll have online in the next week or so, delving into how unusual of a prospect he is and also into how Cal Poly keeps developing power arms. Now all the Mustangs have to do is break through and win a bit more consistently. Not easy to do out West, especially this year.

 Q:  Mike from Tampa asks:
What were the reports on Sean Ratliff on the mound on Sunday?

John Manuel: I haven't talked to anyone who was there yet but Ratliff has a huge arm, I've heard he's been in the 90s in the past (90-91). I wouldn't be shocked if he threw harder than that with some adrenaline, and he's lefthanded, so that's good velocity. All that said, he's an athlete who can play CF and he has power potential. He wants to hit, or else he'd have pitched a lot more. I think he's going to have to fail as a hitter before giving pitching a chance. I told you this chat would be like 2004—Stanford's good.

 Q:  Torero baseball alum from california asks:
Any thoughts on that USD team? They struggled against SDSU but came back to beat Beach and some quality teams this weekend. Are they back on track, can their bats pick up the slack, and can they get very far on just their pitching alone?

John Manuel: Aaron was there first-hand so I'd take his word for it. That said, I talked to a scouting director who was there this weekend this morning about USD (among other things), and he was enthused about their team and thinks they'll hit enough to go with that pitching. My joke to Aaron was maybe USD is throwing everyone off their trail early this year and will finish strong, instead of the other way around like last year.

 Q:  Bob from Chicago,IL asks:
John, I was curious where you see Coastal Carolina this season? I know it's early, but they are off to an 8-1 start which should have been 9-0 if they did not allow 8 runs in the last 3 inning to C of C. Do you see them breaking into the Top 25 with another solid week? Thanks

John Manuel: They were my Omaha sleeper in our College Preview issue. They are a top 25 program, really, and that means they pretty much could be ranked at any time. It's just a program that recruits well, develops talent and plays hard and well. Very impressive program. They haven't even really gotten going offensively yet this spring, so there's more to come. Nick McCully's off to a great start on the mound, he's got a power arm and gives them a nice 1-2 start with Bobby Gagg atop the rotation, with Dave Anderson giving the staff versatility. Dangerous team.

 Q:  Some body from columbia,sc asks:
So after Mike Cisco and Blake Cooper's dominating pitching performances against Clemson this weekend, can people stop doubting if we have enough pitching to win it all?

John Manuel: Not yet, not quite yet. Do it in the SEC, do it for more than a weekend. It's very encouraging, though, to see Reese Havens carrying over his strong summer into the spring, what a year that guy is having so far, .500-4-15 in 24 at-bats, pretty nice.

 Q:  Doug from Memphis, TN asks:
With the compacted college baseball schedule (5 games a week), depth of pitching staff seems to be a bigger priority. How do you guys think Ole Miss's staff stacks up nationally from a depth perspective?

John Manuel: Doug, maybe you read our college preview, which was kind of all about that, or noticed our preseason rankings, which also reflected that and is the reason we have more of a wait-and-see attitude about teams such as Arizona State, Miami and South Carolina. Waiting to see how they handle the compacted schedule, and it's a reason we ranked Mississippi high in the preseason—because it has depth and has one of its best offensive clubs, if not its best lineup of the Mike Bianco regime. Missouri, Arizona and San Diego still strike me as the deepest staffs, but Mississippi is probably in the next group.

 Q:  Jeff from Louisiana asks:
How close is LSU to making the top 25. I know they need to play some real competition first, but are they on the radar?

John Manuel: LSU's definitely on the radar, was in the preseason actually, but the team's combination of talent and experience is a bit shy for it to be ranked at this point with that schedule. Paul Mainieri doesn't give a whit about being ranked now; he wants his team ready for SEC play and he wants to get his team to 15-18 SEC wins; that probably would be enough for a regional bid, and would be a great step in returning the program to where LSU fans and administration and boosters want it to be.

 Q:  Carlton Dargusch from Columbus, Ohio asks:
Do you think Ohio St. can compete with UM for the Big Ten title? Ohio St. has a very good Frosh class that is getting a lot of early PT.

John Manuel: So far Ohio State has impressed a bit, and while we had Michigan ranked high early in the season, of course Ohio State and Minnesota (and maybe even Iowa or Purdue) can compete for the league title. Michigan State also has looked good early. The consensus of the scouts I've talked to so far is the pushed-back start date has helped the Northern schools be a bit more competitive, a bit closer to their Southern counterparts, to this point. Now we're close to seeing how that plays out in league play, can't believe we're almost there already.

 Q:  Eric from Huntington Beach asks:
I know there have been a lot of talk about all the great pitching staffs but Long Beach boasts one of the best. They have held their own against WSU and Rice. Liebel, Worley, and Thompson are really good. Plus their bullpen 1 ER in 18 innings. It will be interesting to see over the next few weeks how they do with their excellent schedule. (USC,UCLA,CAL,UCR,UCI) Have you been to a Long beach game and been able to evaluate?

John Manuel: LBSU definitely gets into that discussion, good point Eric, LBSU has a big time closer, three very good starters and serious depth. As for evaluating, I haven't been but then I've never been to Blair Field and I think I can still evaluate by being a good reporter. Everyone we've talked to so far has been impressed with LBSU, and I know we think they are the class of the Big West by a decent amount. Nothing against the rest of the league but it sounds like the Dirtbags have the best team and their best chance to get to Omaha for the first time since 1998.

 Q:  David from Orlando asks:
Has Cal's David Cooper moved up the draft ranks with his scorching start?

John Manuel: Sounds like he is. This guy was legit as a freshman at Fullerton, and he's putting himself into position to go high. Would you rather pay almost eight figures for Justin Smoak or maybe Yonder Alonso or get nearly the same player and production for less money in Allen Dykstra or David Cooper? I am a fan and the scouts I've talked to like his bat too.

 Q:  josh mitchell from lumberton tx asks:
did fsu impress you with their 4 game sweep of auburn?

John Manuel: More importantly they impressed Mike Martin. So far, they've pitched better than expected, though perhaps we should give them credit—they ALWAYS pitch better than expected. Buster Posey closing is really pretty cool, I'm glad to see him doing it as we got great reports on him as a pitcher out of high school. He's 9-up, 9-down so far in three outings, and Dennis Guinn is helping pick up some of Posey's offensive load with his huge start. Four homers so far after hitting 17 homers in his first three seasons, that's a huge help. FSU is always well coached and might have more talent than we figured.

 Q:  Steve from SC asks:
Ok so i dont understand this one... South Carolina is now 4-1 against top 25 teams, go 3-0 this week and even swept in-state rival then #13 Clemson, and move up 1 spot? Whats up with that?

John Manuel: There are eight teams that we think are better than South Carolina. Not hard to figure really. You don't get extra points for sweeping your rival, but that's a great weekend for a team that had some question marks on the mound coming in. Congrats to coach Tanner for getting to 900 wins, Benson, N.C., represent!

 Q:  Webb Corban from Starkville, MS asks:
After losing the series to North Florida and losing a game to Air Force, what is wrong with Mississippi State? Is this going to be a long year for the bulldogs?

John Manuel: Coach Polk's teams usually are playing better late than early, but this has been a surprising start, considering the new start date really was nothing new to Miss. State. I thought the Bulldogs would get off to a faster start. But then this team did lose its two best offensively players in Jeff Rea and Ed Easley, plus Mitch Moreland. Those are three of the four guys who really made their offense go last year, so maybe an adjustment period is natural. That said . . . it's not good to lose to Air Force. Air Force has won 33 games combined the last four years. So that's a discouraging sign.

 Q:  Mike from Florence, SC asks:
How is Vandy still ranked above USC? The Cocks took 2 of 3 from previously ranked ECU, swept Clemson, and demolished an undermanned UNC-Asheville team during a midweek game. Meanwhile, Vandy has gotten smoked by ASU and lost to Iowa??? I guess we will find out soon enough who is better.

John Manuel: Lot of questions in this milieu, and I've answered two, but Mike had the best answer—we will find out soon enough. We thought about dropping Vanderbilt because of the Pedro Alvarez injury, but we ranked Vanderbilt No. 3 in the preseason because of more than one player. They are better on the mound than S. Carolina with or without Alvarez, but we will find out soon enough—March 14-16 to be exact. Great point, Mike.

 Q:  David from Orlando asks:
Which 2008 draft-eligible guys have really pleasantly surprised you with their performances to date? Any really unpleasant surprises?

John Manuel: Dykstra turned around Brett Hunter and that caught some attention in the seasons' first weekend. Aaron Crow is off to a very good start and for me has edged in front of Brian Matusz, who hasn't had his best fastball so far, for the race for No. 1 pitcher. But Tanner Scheppers has just blown me away for his big stuff and great start. Read Aaron's blog and you'll see why. As for unpleasant surprise, Brandon Crawford is fighting it at UCLA and hopefully he can just relax and let his talent flow, instead of trying a bit too hard.

 Q:  Mick from Chicago asks:
I've noticed the hype on Tony Delmonico has taken a nose dive since his freshman year at Tennessee. Now that he is back to switch hitting and playing SS, do you see him as a first round pick if he has a good junior year at Florida State? Can he play SS as a pro with at least average tools, besides power, across the board?

John Manuel: Let me take a second to say it's fun to chat college baseball with some Guided By Voices leading the way. GBV was underrated.

John Manuel: I don't think we were so hyped on Delmonico so much as reporting that it was unusual when he skipped his high school senior season, essentially trying to help save his dad's job at Tennessee. That didn't work out and now they are together at Fla. State, and Tony's off to a nice start. But first-round pick, no, no one's saying that, and most are not saying pro shortstop. Most scouts have him turned in as a 2B and he could be a good one.

 Q:  ScottAZ from Phx, AZ asks:
As a big Arizona St fan I have to ask- Who is Marcel Champlaigne? This kid is a stud and I never read about him in BA and I notice he's never been drafted before. How is this? Leading us in hitting, 2nd in RBI... he is our best player so far

John Manuel: He's a Canadian who is a JC transfer, and we wrote this about him out of high school in 2005: SS Marcel Champagnie (11th rated player in Canada that year) was a lightly regarded prospect at the time he attended a Perfect Game USA showcase in Iowa in late April, but he dazzled scouts. He showed lightning-quick actions and an excellent arm at shortstop, along with 6.4-second speed in the 60-yard dash and surprising hitting ability. Canadian scouts remain skeptical.

John Manuel: He did hit .420 or so in JC ball and he is off to an amazing start, it's impressive and a story we're looking to develop more. He really has been a big lift for Arizona State. One reason we weren't as high on ASU as we were on Arizona and UCLA was a perception that ASU wasn't as strong up the middle as it was last year with Andrew Romine and Eric Sogard, and wasn't as strong up the middle as UCLA & U of A. This guy kind of changes that equation.

 Q:  Bill from Atlanta, GA asks:
Can you let me know how close GT is to breaking the top 25 in your poll? Our pitching has 4 shutouts in 8 games and we're 7-1, the only loss to a Rutgers team that looks pretty decent to me. Meanwhile, teams that got swept over the weekend are still top 25. Just curious.

John Manuel: In the discussion, Bill, but everything we hear is that Ga. Tech's offense is short. The pitching staff is very good and will put them in the ACC mix but offensively the Ramblin' Wreck lags behind the league's top teams, which is unusual to say the least. I think Wichita State's the only team that got swept that we left in, and taking them out of the rankings for having the guts to go to Long Beach in February seemed misguided. We'll give the Shockers' talented roster another week to find itself.

 Q:  Jonathan from Memphis asks:
Do you think any team has better 3-4-5 hitters than South Carolina right now?

John Manuel: Not right now, not with Dennis Raben hurt for Miami, but Miami might be as good or better with Alonso, Raben and Sobolewski.

 Q:  Brad from Grand Prairie, Texas asks:
What is your thoughts now on Baylor. I see they have moved just outside of the Top 10. How about this very, very young pitching staff that has a total team ERA under 3.00. Is this team shaping up to contend for the Big 12 title, and a possible run in Omaha? Thanks.

John Manuel: I'm excited about Baylor because of that young pitching staff and also because that young pitching staff has a real good infield behind it, guys like Beamer Weems and Shaver Hansen behind them, and should be better when Raynor Campbell gets healthy. (He's out with a thumb injury.) Good team, young team and they have an ace in Kendall Volz who can compete with anybody on Friday nights. Mizzou is our favorite for the Big 12 title but we bucked the consensus of the coaches, who picked Texas to win the league. Baylor might make both sides wrong.

 Q:  Jamie R from tampa, fl asks:
John, I know it's early, but do the first couple weeks give any indication of how the ACC looks thus far? How do you see the conference shaking down?

John Manuel: Miami sounds good; scout I talked to today really likes their pitching as being improved from last year, and they can be better offensively when they get going and Raben gets healthy. Alonso is a special hitter. Ga. Tech looks a bit better than advertised, and North Carolina had an impressive weekend. FSU is better, Virginia has yet to be tested but has talent, and Wake Forest has played some tough clubs and has looked solid doing it. NC State got a nice start from former closer Eryk McConnell this weekend and Eric Surkamp should be better. In other words . . . the league looks very deep, and conference play starts this coming weekend, so everyone better be ready.

 Q:  Dave from Milwaukee asks:
Wither Dennis Raben?

John Manuel: Back injuries are tough to monitor but he had to leave a game this weekend when it stiffened up on him. Miami should have enough offense without him but that's a potential first-round bat out of the lineup. Hope he's OK.

 Q:  Peter from Chicago asks:
Was Nebraska's 4 game sweep of the Co-Big West Champs this weekend a blip on the college baseball radar?

John Manuel: Not for me, they also played Stanford tough last weekend. Nebraska has a lot of seniors and a lot of newcomers. Sometimes that mix works out and so far so good. Right now, Johnny Dorn is leading they way for the whole staff, and he's a great senior leader to have for a pitching staff because he knows how to pitch and he's seen it all, good and bad. Encouraging start for sure.

 Q:  Jimmy from Richmond, KY asks:
Kentucky is destroying their competition so far this season. Are they a serious contender or is it just a product of the schedule? Scott Green was perfect into the 7th this weekend, how high could he get drafted?

John Manuel: Green's a potential first-rounder coming off what he did last summer in the Cape, plus he has first-round size and stuff. He has to do it over 13 weeks and just show consistency. Kentucky is a contender, they have some real veterans who can hit like Cowgill and Carroll, and they have arms. John Cohen has proved he can win there (2006 regular-season SEC champs) and they are contenders again, and the SEC champ is always a threat to get to Omaha.

 Q:  Jon from Hattiesburg, MS asks:
After a solid 6-2 start, Southern Miss probably has to go 3-1 this week (one @ Ole Miss and three @ Fullerton) to get in the top 25, right? Can redshirt freshman Todd McInnis (who nearly no-hit Alabama last year and has a career ERA under two in 40+ innings) hand the Rebels their first loss of the season?

John Manuel: Southern Miss always is on the cusp, it seems. They aren't even hitting right now and are off to a nice start. Kyle Maxie was a big Fla. State recruit, he's transferred in and is off to a nice start with the bat, and little lefty Tyler Conn is just dominating out of the bullpen. Anything can happen in one game—more important is what USM does over the course of the C-USA season. After Rice at the top, that league looks wide open, with Southern Miss, Tulane and East Carolina among the teams jostling for regional bids.

 Q:  Jared from Arizona asks:
C.J. Ziegler has shown a lot of power last season and early this season. Does he have any history with a wood bat or do people think his power will translate at the ML level?

John Manuel: He set a Coastal Plain League record for homers two summers ago, so he has done it with wood. I've asked a lot about him, I think he also set the Arizona state prep HR record. Scouts I've talked to think he's a DH with slider bat speed; that's usually the long and short of it. But he's a heck of a college slugger and a reason Arizona is our No. 1 team.

 Q:  Joe from Easton, MD asks:
John, what can you tell me about Tim Murphy? Last year I don't recall seeing anything special from him, but this year he has looked very strong especially this weekend. Number 2 or 3 starter type potential?

John Manuel: Was in the Northwoods League top 10 as an outfielder two years ago, just really shifted more to the mound last year and is still somewhat raw in that role. That said, I watched him Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, and he was spinning that breaking ball and showing average velo. Throw in his athletic ability and we have him rated pretty highly as a prospect. I've not asked any scout how high his ceiling is yet but he's got the makings of two plus pitches, as his fastball has topped out at 93 at times, including last year when he struck out 14 against Arizona State.

 Q:  Dave from Atlanta asks:
UCF is off to a 7-0 start with a nice win over Missouri. This is all without the best hitter in CUSA (Kiko Vasquez). What does UCF have to do to break into the top 25? Will a 2-game sweep of Jacksonville and a 3-game sweep of Monmouth throughout this week be enough?

John Manuel: Monmouth actually is decent, winning a game at East Carolina this weekend, so yeah, keep winning. Jaager Good is living up to his name right now with two outstanding starts, and Chris Duffy is providing the power the way an unsigned ninth-round pick should. I need to find out more on Dwayne Bailey, who has been quite the catalyst so far for the Golden Knights. It's an impressive start, and the Missouri win is a good one to hang your hat on, because we think Mizzou is pretty good.

 Q:  Jeff from Tucson asks:
Whats going on with Arizona's Ryan Perry? How can a guy throwing 94-96 get hammered so hard and not have any success? Do you see this hurting his draft stock?

John Manuel: One scout told me last night that he's just a better prospect than he is a pitcher right now. Eric Berger came in for him the other day, and Berger's a guy who was a single-digit draft pick after not pitching for a year—and he's like fourth in line at Arizona. That's how much pitching depth they have—the guy throwing 94-96 might wind up a middle reliever on this team, or a midweek starter.

 Q:  Jerry from Philly asks:
Any worries about Michigan after this weekend? Or is ASU just that good?

John Manuel: Both! Michigan has to show they are more than a one-man pitching staff while Zach Putnam works his way back to ace-dom.

 Q:  John from San Diego, CA asks:
After USD beats LBSU, Missouri, Fresno St. (all ranked in your top 25), Cal Poly, and only loses to Cal... how do they not move up even 1 spot??

John Manuel: They also lost to San Diego State last weekend, one of those games was in this week's record, it's a 4-2 week and a 5-4 start. I think No. 17 is pretty good for a 5-4 start for a warm-weather team that has made one bus trip so far this year (to LBSU). I'm fine with where they are ranked.

Moderator: Hope you all enjoyed the trip down memory lane as much as I did. Check back in tomorrow when Aaron & I podcast the morning away talking college baseball. Thankyougoodnight!