Preseason College Top 25 Chat

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Aaron Fitt: Good afternoon, everyone! I'm fired up for the college baseball season, and I hope you are too. The countdown is on. Let's kick it off with our first college chat of the year.

    Daniel (Seattle): Who would be your top ten non aq schools that are currently outside of the top 25?

Aaron Fitt: I don't have a formal list outside the Top 25, but here are some teams we were strongly debating for spots: Mississippi State, St. John's, Jacksonville, Stetson, Cal, Virginia, UC Irvine, Baylor. Couple other sleepers: Georgia Southern, FIU, Kentucky.

    Bob (Texas): Thanks for the chat Aaron. I'm a huge UCLA fan but losing Cole and Bauer are two huge losses. I'm a bit wary that a team can compete like they did when those two were at UCLA. How does this team earn that #14 ranking even without those two superstar and what kind of offense can we expect?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's quite a testament to UCLA's ability to reload on the recruiting trail each and every year that the Bruins enter the season ranked 14th after losing Cole and Bauer. The Bruins really did a great job preparing for the post-Cole/Bauer era last year, bringing in Plutko, Vander Tuig and Weiss — three guys are are going to be rocks for them the next two years. I am a little concerned about the depth of the staff, but I really like those front-line guys (I'll bet Plutko winds up as an All-American at the end of the season), and I think the offense will be dramatically improved. Check out my preseason top 25 capsules for more details.

    Daniel (Fresno): Will Fresno State be a contender to host a regional by the end of the regular season?

Aaron Fitt: I think that's too ambitious — the Bulldogs lost an awful lot from last year — Greg Gonzalez, Danny Muno, Dusty Robinson, Jordan Ribera just to name four very important pieces. I like Fresno's young talent — especially Chris Mariscal at shortstop — and I think those guys are probably the team to beat in the WAC as usual, but they won't be in the hosting discussion.

    Al (Wisconsin): DJ Baxendale had pretty impressive numbers in the SEC, how does he rank against other top College pitchers?

Aaron Fitt: He is among the best Friday starters in college baseball, for sure. From a prospect standpoint, he's a good prospect but not a first-round kind of guy, but he does have good stuff and knows how to use it. Great competitor, resilient arm — there's a ton to like about him.

    Mike E. (NC): Aaron, I'm a cold weather baseball fan and enjoy seeing premium college players come from the Midwest. Ive heard Torsten Boss from MSU has a chance to be a premium pick in June. Should I keep my eyes on him and anyone else?

Aaron Fitt: I don't see Boss as a premium pick — more of a top-10 rounds guy. He's a nice athlete, and I think moving from third base to center field will probably be good for him, but his value would have been higher if he could have stayed at third, I reckon. On that same team, keep an eye on Ryan Jones at second base — really good pure hitter, and a heady player. For next year, I'm really excited about RHP David Garner, who will be a weekend starter for the Spartans this year. Power arm, 91-94, very good slider.

    Chris (New Orleans): Aaron, With a healthy pitching staff and quite a few returning starters, what are your thoughts on Tulane this year? Were they being considered in your preseason top 25?

Aaron Fitt: We certainly considered them (if you recall, we had Tulane ranked last preseason, and it looked like a pretty good pick until the injury bug bit them hard). To me, it all depends on Randy Leblanc and Kyle McKenzie — if those guys really are healthy and can stay that way, Tulane can be really good, because those are two serious power arms. I love the athleticism up the middle, and there are some promising bats on the corners. The bullpen has a lot to prove.

    James (St Louis): After a couple of disappointing years at Mizzou how do you see them stacking up in their last year of Big XII play?

Aaron Fitt: Probably middle of the pack — a bubble team for regionals. Potentially a really nice one-two punch atop the rotation with Eric Anderson and Rob Zastryzny, but I think the key is for the talented outfielders — Blake Brown, Dane Opel, Brannon Champagne — to live up to their potential as juniors. Those guys have great athleticism and upside, but it hasn't really all clicked for them yet.

    Dustin (Jackson Ms): How good do you think Southern Miss will be this year? How good will CUSA be?

Aaron Fitt: I suspect Southern Miss will be a very good offensive team and a very athletic defensive team — very fun to watch. They've got some real exciting talents on the diamond (Dillon Day, Kameron Brunty, and of course the two freshmen, Connor Barron and Mason Robbins). The pitching staff is a major question mark, however. I loved their recruiting class this past year — I think we ranked it second in the nation — but the Golden Eagles will be asking an awful lot from newcomers right out of the gate, especially Jake Drehoff and Andrew Pierce.

    Nick DiCo (Raleigh, NC): Hey! Could this be the year the ACC finally breaks through in Omaha? With 3 of the Top 5 most CWS appearances, can the ACC finally break through and win their first title? Or are we looking at another year of SEC dominance?

Aaron Fitt: It's certainly possible — we've got five ACC teams in the Top 25 — but I wouldn't bet on it. This strikes me as another SEC year, or maybe a Pac-12 year. Most of the teams I regard as the strongest title contenders are in those two leagues, including all of our top five. The ACC teams are interesting, but they all have question marks. UNC is the team that has the best shot, I think, because of its Omaha experience and overall balance.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, thank you for the chat! Feels good to be kicking off the '12 college season. I certainly can't say they are conspicuous by their absence given the loss of talent, but how far off the pace of the Top 25 is UVA? Also, where do you see a personal cheesball favorite Derek Fisher lining up amongst this year's top Freshman?

Aaron Fitt: Joe, I am very intrigued by UVa. once again this year. I'm a huge fan of Chris Taylor (and of course Keith Werman) in the middle of the infield, and don't forget about Stephen Bruno, who actually beat out Taylor for the SS job before getting hurt early last year. He's a talented guy. The outfield has a chance to be extremely athletic and exciting — Fisher is one of the highest-upside guys in college baseball, though I would expect there to be a learning curve for him this year. I think you'll see Mitchell Shifflett bring some excitement out there, and Fr. OF Mike Papi could make a bigger impact than Fisher in the short term. The question is how will the pitching come together after Branden Kline, who is moving to the Friday starter job. It won't be easy to replace Hultzen/Roberts/Winiarski/Wilson. I bet this is a team that will get better as the season progresses and could be dangerous by June.

    hornontherange (Wyoming): With Jordan Etier now returning to Texas would that have affected the ranking of the Longhorns in your preseason poll (he's not listed in the lineup in the rundown)?

Aaron Fitt: He's not listed because I'm not convinced he's really better than Marlowe, though he is certainly more experienced and he probably will wind up playing more. But Marlowe is going to be a good little player. Etier's return had no real impact on where we ranked Texas — it's not like they're getting Brandon Loy back.

    Greg (Ohio): Aaron how does Nolan Fontana compare with Deven Merrero?

Aaron Fitt: Marrero has the higher upside — more athletic, more range and arm strength, a better chance to stick at shortstop, more power potential. Fontana plays above his tools; he's steadier defensively, he is incredibly disciplined and patient at the plate, he does a great job getting on base, his baseball instincts are off the charts. He's just a winner; I think he's a big leaguer, but I think he's more of a second baseman down the road, though I'm not writing off his chances to stay at short. Marrero, by the way, also has great makeup and instincts — he's the whole package. Marrero might be the top college position player drafted this year.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, though he lacks really significant power, the package of tools possessed by Michael Lorenzen is extremely intriguing (and one would think should continue to translate well to Titan-style baseball). What are your thoughts on him as a prospect for the next level?

Aaron Fitt: Really like Lorenzen — great speed, fantastic arm, good feel for playing the game, and I like the bat. I think he'll grow into some power at some point, too. I think he'll be a blue-chip guy for next year's draft.

    Dan (Charlotte, NC): Predictions for the SOCON this year? and is this the most MLB draft talented mid major conference in the country this year?

Aaron Fitt: Georgia Southern has to be the favorite, I think — obviously it starts with Roache and Beck, a pair of likely first-round picks, but the supporting cast isn't bad, either. I really like Eric Phillips at shortstop, the best all-around player on the team. Michael Burrus and Scooter Williams are nice complementary pieces, and Josh Adams has good experience behind Beck in the rotation. I'm also quite high on Samford — great arms in the rotation (Kyle Putkonen, Charles Basford, Josh Martin), a huge arm anchoring the pen (Lex Rutledge), and a nice lineup built around Philip Ervin, who was a freshman All-American last year.

    Greg (DC): What do you think of Jake Lamb?

Aaron Fitt: Lamb, the third baseman at Washington, is very interesting — physical, lefthanded-hitting third baseman with plus raw power potential and a strong arm at third base, though he needs work defensively and needs to polish his offensive approach. Plenty of upside, though.

    Chad (SC): Being from east coast I do not know much about Stanford. Please tell us why you feel they are #2

Aaron Fitt: Just read my capsules! That team is just overflowing with talent.

    Jeff (California): Aaron: Love following your chats. Although it has been awhile since a Big Ten team has made it to Omaha, they always end up with one or two impressive teams at the end of the season. Who do you feel will be the powerhouse in that conference this year?

Aaron Fitt: I think this is the year Purdue finally breaks through and snaps its century-long Big Ten title drought. Should be a dangerous, physical, veteran offense led by Kevin Plawecki and Cameron Perkins, a solid rotation filled with savvy strike-throwers, and a shut-down closer in Nick Wittgren. I also like Michigan State and Minnesota to factor heavily into the equation in the Big Ten.

    Gary S. (Fort Myers, FL): Who is the team not currently in the top 25 that could potentially surprise in college baseball?

Aaron Fitt: I'll go with Stony Brook. I honestly will not be shocked if the Seawolves win a regional. Travis Jankowski is the best player in the North, and maybe the best all-around outfielder in college baseball, and they've got a lot more than just him. Willie Carmona is a valuable two-way guy, Maxx Tissenbaum and Pat Cantwell are really good players at up-the-middle spots, and Tyler Johnson-Brandon McNitt should be a real nice one-two punch on the mound. Stony Brook guys were pretty outstanding all around the Cape last summer — they're not intimidated by quality competition.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Are Legg and Trajano similar to older CSUF MI's (Dave Bacani comes to mind)? Do they have enough tools to help lead Fullerton to a regional or super regional this year?

Aaron Fitt: You've got the right idea. Legg and Trajano fall under the "gritty" category — nobody is going to draft them No. 4 overall like Christian Colon. That's going to be an athletic, dynamic Fullerton lineup that will put a lot of pressure on people. There is a ton of competition for jobs all over the outfield and infield, which will make everyone better. I think Fullerton wins the Big West again, but I don't see it as a super regional-caliber pitching staff. Of course, I feel like the Titans always rise up when people doubt them...

    Ben (Leland Grove): Which round does Nolan Fontana project to get picked in, as of today?

Aaron Fitt: I'll go with round 2.

    Grant (NYC): Does Florida's Brian Johnson's draft stock have more value as a hitter or a pitcher?

Aaron Fitt: One of the few guys that really could get drafted either way — personally, I love the power in that lefthanded bat. Last summer, I informally polled about four scouting directors about this, and they all hemmed and hawed, but in they end they all said they'd take him as a pitcher — lefthanders are just too valuable, and he's got size, stuff and excellent pitchability.

    Daniel (Crowson): It seems to me South Carolina should be ranked no lower than second in the opening poll. Just look at the guys on this roster you have played meaningful roles in two national championship runs. Also, this will be Tanner's best pitching staff since he arrived at USC. Why do we continue to doubt this program?

Aaron Fitt: Well, I think the outstanding pitching staff and the team's overall toughness and confidence is why it's ranked as high as No. 3, even though it must replace starters at all four very critical up-the-middle positions. If you don't think Scott Wingo and Peter Mooney and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Brady Thomas were key parts of this run, you are fooling yourself. That said... we ranked them No. 3! I think that's a pretty strong sign of our regard for that program and the players that are back in the fold.

    Frank (Chicago): Does Appel draw any comps to you?

Aaron Fitt: Something between Brandon Morrow and Justin Verlander — two tall, electric-armed RHPs who were also roughly .500 pitchers in college. Like those guys, Appel has incredible upside, and I think it's only a matter of time before it clicks.

    Dan (CA): When can we expect the Top 50 by class rankings? Care to hint at the top Freshmen and Sophomores today?

Aaron Fitt: I believe those are coming out on Feb. 2. I'll give you this one: Tyler Beede is the No. 1 freshman.

    Johnny (Charlotte, NC): Hey Aaron, How soon will it be until Gamecock fans accuse BA of not giving them any respect?

Aaron Fitt: You're too late!

    Luke Gaspar (Franklin TN): Do you see Vanderbilts pitching staff as a top 10 program all season?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's got that kind of upside — the notion of Kevin Ziomek, Tyler Beede and Sam Selman all pitching up to their potential is frightening. I'm sure there will be bumps along the road — Ziomek was disappointing in the Cape last summer, so I'm eager to see how he adjusts to a starting role now that he's going to be fresher and more conditioned for starting. And Selman is really a great X-factor, but his raw ability is crazy. Can he command the zone consistently? We'll find out; it's a vital question for Vandy.

    Javier (Miami Gardens): Can you tell me about the Miami Hurricanes situation at first base? They seem to have had a big hole there since Yonder Alonso left.

Aaron Fitt: Miami is pretty excited about a freshman named Esteban Tresgallo, a guy they found in Puerto Rico who really has a great feel for the barrel. I think he'll be a real impact player for them, though not an Alonso-level star.

    Jeff (Columbia, SC): Do you think the SEC tourney expansion helps the lower teams in the league by giving them more exposure or hurts the higher seeded teams by exposing them to conference tourney upsets?

Aaron Fitt: I feel like most of the time, the higher-seeded teams in the SEC tournament have already pretty much locked up hosting spots and, often, national seeds. Upsets in the conference tourney won't hurt them much. I'm not sure the No. 9 and No. 10 SEC teams will get a huge bump by being in the conference tournament — I think making the SEC tournament will just lose some of its luster as a barometer for NCAA tournament worthiness — but a chance to win a few more games could be a benefit to them.

    Matt (South Carolina): I know you went to SC's practice last week, what do you gather from the new look infield at SC and the time you spent one on one with Michael Roth?

Aaron Fitt: I think the infield is pretty exciting — Joey Pankake is going to be a great player, but he's going to make some errors as a freshman, because that's what freshman shortstops do. Chase Vergason and LB Dantzler should be steady at second and third — Dantzler is very physical and will give them a nice presence in the middle of the order. The biggest thing is South Carolina just brought in so many athletes last year, between English and Costen and Carson and Pankake. As for Roth, spending a day with him was a blast — as everyone knows, he's a fun dude to be around.

    Carlos (San Diego, CA): What are your thoughts on my 2 area teams USD and SDSU? Both are young and seemed to tone down the difficulty/competitiveness of their schedules for this season.

Aaron Fitt: I could see USD winning the WCC this year — that league looks pretty wide open, as it often is, but if Covey continues to progress, the pitching could be awfully good. Getting Calvin Drummond back was huge, and I'm excited about Michael Wagner, who's also a guy who can run it up to 94. Paul Sewald, Paul Paez, James Pazos — nice pieces there. Bryant is a great lineup anchor, of course, and I think you're going to enjoy watching Austin Bailey and Andrew Daniel in the middle infield for the next few years. San Diego State also has some intriguing young talent — Swanson and Cederoth can be a pretty good one-two atop the rotation. I think the Aztecs probably need another year to mature before they're back in the regional discussion, though.

    Case Smith (Texas): What was the deciding factor that kept Baylor out of the top 25? They have a lot of talent and leadership returning.

Aaron Fitt: You're right, and I really like their lineup. I think Turley will be solid on Fridays, and Garner has potential as the Saturday guy, but overall the pitching strikes me as just decent, not great. Still, they were right on the cusp of the Top 25, and I think they're the No. 4 team in the Big 12.

    David (Los Angeles): Aaronm as a Pac-12 fan one thing I did not notice in your take on Arizona State was their move from the VERY hitter friendly on-campus stadium to the deeper and more traditional Spring Training complex that will now be their home. Any thoughts on how that may impact the line-up and their approach ... Does this make going into ASU a lot easier than before?

Aaron Fitt: Good point, David — that will be interesting to watch. Arizona State had already become more of a gap-to-gap team than a home run hitting team, but the difference is they played on a very fast track before, which played to their strengths athletically. ASU had a serious home-field advantage before; I'll be curious to see if it still does.

    John (Tuscaloosa, AL): Interesting BA has Ole Miss ranked #22 despite losing their entire weekend rotation. I realize the SEC is strong and Ole Miss is still talented (Alabama fan here) but why them over Mississippi State or even Alabama and Auburn? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: One reason is the all the veterans in the lineup, especially the infield. I also think Bobby Wahl has a chance to thrive in the Friday role, and I think you'll see major improvement out of Hively and Mayers behind him. And Josh Laxer and Hawtin Buchanan are going to be studs for Ole Miss — serious impact freshmen. I just think that's a balanced club, moreso than Bama and Auburn. Mississippi State is very close — those guys have a lot of upside if all the new starters in the infield perform, because the stable of power arms is very impressive. I'm intrigued by guys like DeMarcus Henderson, Adam Frazier, Daryl Norris and Taylor Stark, but those guys are unproven. I prefer to have veterans I know I can trust in the infield in this BBCOR era, when it is so important that you don't give away outs because every run is precious.

    Megan (AZ): I understand Stanford being ranked as high as they are, and I do think that they will do extremely well nationally,however I don't think that they will win the Pac-12. I also understand why ASU is ranked lower on here than them, but consider this...since ASU has no chance at a post-season this year and they return an excellent pitching lineup and some of their top hitters, don't you think that they have a great opportunity to win the Pac-12 with how they match-up?

Aaron Fitt: I think you're dead-on. They're going to play loose and easy and with a chip on their shoulders. I won't be surprised in the slightest if Arizona State wins the Pac this year.

    Brian (Georgia): Can you explain the optimism about Georgia?

Aaron Fitt: Tons of proven pitching back (look for Alex Wood to have a monster year, and Palazzone is very reliable and competitive), good balance and experience in the lineup, and the makeup of this team cannot be questioned. They proved their toughness last year, and now they can just go out there and enjoy playing without having to deal with any catastrophic injuries, finally.

Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, lots of great questions still in the hopper, but I'm afraid I've got to cut this off after almost two hours — back to working on the College Preview issue. Thanks to everyone for coming by — very enjoyable chat. Remember, starting on Feb. 1 we'll be rolling out fresh college preview content every day leading up to the start of the regular season, so be sure to check back often!