College Top 25 Chat: Feb. 21

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, hope you enjoyed the opening weekend as much as I did. Let's get to it!

    Greg (Glendale): How did the Bruins look overall this weekend? It seemed that their pitching was on but the hitting didn't show up that much. Should the slow start be a bigger concern for UCLA? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: I didn't see UCLA this weekend—was bearing down on non-West teams that I won't see again for a while—but obviously UCLA performed pretty much as expected. Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are the best one-two pitching punch in college baseball, and Adam Plutko lived up to his billing as one of the nation's top freshmen. I don't think UCLA will be a particularly offensive club, but they will hit better than they did this weekend, and they'll excel at manufacturing runs and stringing singles and doubles together. And honestly, even if they only scored 8 runs every weekend, they'd still win a lot of games with that pitching staff.

    Andy (Baton Rouge): What were your thoughts on the way LSU's freshmen pitchers thrw this weekend? Gausman, Eades and McCune all looked sharp for their first college outings.

Aaron Fitt: They really were sharp, and it's very encouraging for the Tigers. McCune was the guy who was a bit of a surprise—the Tigers liked him, but he wasn't billed as one of the key guys in that recruiting class. It certainly looks like he's going to be a key guy going forward, because the guy can pitch. Gausman and Eades have big power arms, and LSU must feel very good about the way they handled their first taste of Division I ball. LSU will be a strong offensive club, and if its pitching holds up like it did this weekend, that team can make a lot of noise in the postseason.

    Parker (Arkansas): After losing so much talent last year, where do you see Arkansas finishing the year?

Aaron Fitt: It's a very young Arkansas team, but also a very talented team. Ryne Stanek is one of my favorite freshmen in the country, and he was lights-out in relief Saturday, firing four innings of no-hit ball. He's going to be very special. Brandon Moore had a McCune-like impact, throwing six innings of two-hit, shutout ball on Sunday, and like McCune he was a bit under the radar coming in. But the big development for Arkansas was the way Kyle Robinson hit in the middle of the lineup—he was a force all weekend. They needed some guys to step forward and fill the void left by Andy Wilkins, Zack Cox and Brett Eibner, and Robinson looks like he's up for the challenge. I think you'll see a lot more out of Dominic Ficociello, too. The SEC West is wide open, and Arkansas will be a factor.

    Jon (Hattiesburg, MS): Aaron, Tulane went 2-1 at home in a trio of one-run games versus Sam Houston State and Rice lost its series at home against Stanford. Does this wash out the fact that five of the nine C-USA schools went 3-0 this weekend?

Aaron Fitt: Not sure what you mean by "wash out," but Rice actually impressed me with the way it pitched in a series loss against an extremely talented Stanford team—by far the best opponent that any CUSA team faced this weekend. The Owls are still the class of CUSA, but Southern Miss and East Carolina look strong also. As I said in the preseason, I think that league will rebound nicely in 2011, as all four of those teams look like regional teams to me. The league looks considerably deeper, too. Marshall made a really nice statement down in Charleston, beating Kentucky and Miami (Ohio) and playing CofC close. The coaching staff there does a great job, and the Thundering Herd could surprise some people this year.

    Chuck (Wichita): Any love for Wichita St. or Kansas St. after their opening weekend sweeps?

Aaron Fitt: Both teams made our Top 25 worksheet this week, but of course there really wasn't much room to bring in new teams (I didn't even really like dropping Tulane out after it won its series, but UNC had earned its way in), and there is a large host of intriguing Top 25 candidates. Wichita and K-State got off to good starts, though.

    Harris (Washington DC): Aaron, you have NO idea how good it is to be chatting with you again!! Happy Spring and I hope you are enjoying California. How will the new bats change the way big league clubs scout college kids? While I realize nothing quite matches wood, how much closer are the new metal bats to wood? If a guy like Mikie Mahtook, who's off to an amazing start really rakes, how much more "credit" will the scouting community give him this year?

Aaron Fitt: I heard multiple scouts say this weekend that they really like the new bats because "it makes it easier for us to judge who can really hit and who can't," as one of them put it. The best hitters will really rise to the top with these bats, because you have to square balls up in order to hit the ball hard, rather than being able to miss the sweet spot and still hit home runs as you could with the old bats. Mahtook is a good example of a top talent separating himself with these new bats, and Jackie Bradley Jr. did the same thing during opening weekend.

    Rodney (Austin): What is your impression of the Texas Longhorns this past weekend with the Maryland Terrapins? And what is your impression of freshmen Eric Weiss and Mark Payton. It is going to be tuff keeping those guys out of the lineup?

Aaron Fitt: I was surprised and impressed with Maryland for walloping Cole Green on Saturday, but give Texas credit for rallying back in the late innings in the nightcap, then coming out and blitzing the Terps on Sunday. Payton, in particular, is a key for that offense this year, and Weiss was a very nice surprise during opening weekend. How can you sit him after that weekend?

    Harris (Washington DC): Kenny Diekroeger vs Deven Marrero.....who do you like more and why? How close are they?

Aaron Fitt: They're thisclose. In fact, they were separated by just one point in our All-America balloting by MLB scouting directors (with first-team votes being worth three points, second team worth two and third team worth one). It's really a toss-up. Maybe I'd give the slightest edge to Diekroeger because he's a little more physical (and still extremely athletic) and I think he'll hit for more average, but really you can't go wrong either way.

    Matt (MD): I know it's only 1 week, but what's your early thoughts on Esposito's ability to stay at SS as a pro?

Aaron Fitt: I think he's got a shot — he has great hands and a strong, accurate arm. I'm not positive he's got the range for short at the next level, but he is a very good athlete and a hard worker, and I think he'll do a real nice job for Vandy at short this season. If he convinces scouts he can play short, that could really help his draft stock, because he doesn't seem to have the power potential to profile well at third base, where he is an elite defender.

    Greg (NYC): Aaron: You were out for two days of Vandy-USD. What are your thoughts on some of USD's young talent and, more pressingly, what do you make of Vandy's veteran trio of starters (Gray, Hill and Garvin), the Esposito "gambit" at shortstop and the revelation that Tony Kemp is actually Clark Kemp, the Man of Steal? Thanks in advance and Go Dores.

Aaron Fitt: I broke down Vandy in detail in Three Strikes on the College Blog today — check it out!

    Ryan (Baton Rouge): In your Top 25, how can you justify not greatly moving teams down that lost multiple games on the opening weekend? I understand that losing one game in a series is not a big deal in baseball even if it is to Oral Roberts or Eastern Michigan, but to lose two games like Oregon, UConn, and CSF did should merit other, lower ranked teams, to move ahead of them like LSU who played an oppenent of equal strength and won.

Aaron Fitt: It's a 56-game season, my friend. Jumping to conclusions after one weekend is folly. We did move down every team that lost two games, but we're not going to plunge them out of the rankings—we believe in those teams, or we wouldn't have ranked them as high as we did. As the season progresses, performance takes on more of a role in our rankings than potential, but in the early going our assessment of each team's potential is still a big factor. Isn't that the point of the rankings — so readers can get a feel for our opinions about each team's potential meshed with their performance? If you just want a Top 25 that has the teams with the best records at the top, why even look at rankings? Just look at records.

    Noah (Boone, NC): Georgia should probably just disband the baseball program now right?

Aaron Fitt: Harsh... but that's probably what people in Athens are thinking right now, particularly given the demanding natures of SEC fan bases. It's just one weekend, and I'm not ready to write off the Bulldogs... but getting swept down at Stetson is a lousy way to start the season.

    Christian (Whiteville, NC): Aaron, How far is East Carolina out of your Top 25? I know it was Youngstown State, but the Pirates only gave up 1 ER on the weekend.

Aaron Fitt: The Pirates were one of those teams that appeared on our internal Top 25 worksheet, and I'd say they can vault right into the rankings with a series win at Virginia next week. That will be a big test. ECU does have a very experienced pitching staff that should keep it in most games, but the development of some of the young hitters will be critical.

    Charlie (NJ): Stanfords Freshmen (Wilson, Ragira, Kauppila) went 9 for 22 with 4 runs, 7 RBI's, 2 HR's and a triple, with only 3 K's on the road against Rice pitching - Did you see that coming?

Aaron Fitt: We did rank that Stanford recruiting class No. 1 in the nation, and MLB scouting directors did vote Wilson onto our preseason All-America team, so I can't say I'm shocked. But oftentimes it takes even the most talented freshmen some time to adjust, so Stanford must be extremely encouraged by the way its youngsters played in a tough environment against a quality opponent.

    BL (Bozeman, MT): You had kind of a frenentic weekend, catching parts of a lot of different games. Anything about your first weekend on the Cali college baseball scene surprise you?

Aaron Fitt: I was very pleasantly surprised by North Carolina's young bullpen on Saturday. Some of the arms UNC went to after Patrick Johnson were really unproven and unheralded, and they performed very well. I blogged about that after Saturday's game, and I emptied the notebook with more observations from the weekend in SoCal in today's Three Strikes.

    BL (Bozeman, MT): You said in a tweet that the College Baseball Hall of Fame inductees looks a lot like your ballot. Who would you add?

Aaron Fitt: In addition to Francona, McDowell, Wallach and Wilhelm, I voted for Brent Strom, Mike Kelly, Clint Evans, Mickey Sullivan, Demi Mainieri, Rusty Adkins, Alex Fernandez and Jeffrey Hammonds.

    Keith (Long Island): if st johns went 3-0 would they have been higher in your poll? why didnt hansen start?

Aaron Fitt: Probably not much higher — most of teams ahead of them also went 3-0. Hansen was reportedly still working his way into top game shape, but he pitched well in relief Friday.

    Dave (San Diego): Watched the Vandy and USD Series this weekend. Vandy looked good but USD didn't look too far behind. How far do you think both teams can go this year? Also, I noticed all the teams seem to be playing too shallow due to the bats. I saw many routine fly balls get over outfielders heads and balls split the gap due to this. Seems like every fly ball hit they are going back on now. Did you see the same in the games you watched??

Aaron Fitt: Great observation, and I heard a scout say the same thing—he expects to see a lot more doubles and triples this year because outfielders are cheating in.

    Dave S. (Staten Island, NY): Aaron, How far can Ramirez and Pill carry Cal.St.Fullerton this season? I think if the offense can get timely hits, which so far after 3 games hasn't happend, I know its early, that CSF could go deep into the CWS.

Aaron Fitt: I agree with you. I think the Titans will be very, very good this year.

    Richard A (South Carolina): Does South Carolina repeat this year? Who will win the "Greatest College Baseball Rivalry" this year(South Carolina/Clemson)? GO COCKS!

Aaron Fitt: I'm sticking with my preseason national champ pick—Florida. The Gamecocks played better this weekend than Clemson, so at this point you'd have to give them a slight edge in that series. Should be a great series, though—I think those teams are pretty evenly matched.

    J (Charlotte): What are your thoughts on the amount of HR's hit during opening weekend across the country? I've read some anaylsts predicting team HR totals to decrease as much as 50% from last year.

Aaron Fitt: James Madison's onslaught notwithstanding, I agree with that analysis. Power numbers are going to plummet.

    JAYPERS (IL): If the draft were held today, give us your top 5 picks. Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: Rendon, Cole, Purke, Springer, Jungmann. Lots of guys in the mix after the top four — Bradley Jr., Jed Bradley, Gray, Bauer, Hultzen. Very strong college class.

    Jeff Sullivan (Belchertown MA): UCONN SS Nick Ahmed had a solid weekend. Can you see him sneaking in the top 2 rounds?

Aaron Fitt: Don't know that he's got a top-two-rounds bat, but I could see him going in the third with a strong spring.

    Travis (Tempe, AZ): Just sending prayers to Cory Hahn and ASU. Cory had neck surgery last night and is recovering in the ICU. Please pray for a successful recovery.

Aaron Fitt: Really frightening collision yesterday — feel awful for Cory, and like everyone else I'm hoping for a full, speedy recovery. Here's the statement released by Arizona State today: "The university is working closely with the Hahn family regarding any official updates regarding the health of Cory Hahn, who sustained an injury in yesterday's baseball game. The family would like Sun Devil fans to know that Cory has sustained a neck injury, that he underwent surgery last night and that he is slowly recovering. The family welcomes all wishes and positive thoughts from everyone at this time."

    Brandon Nichols (Fayetteville, AR): Why do you guys seem to be so down on the SEC West this year? This league is more than Vandy, South Carolina and Florida, you have LSU at 20, where are Arkansas or Auburn? Are they knocking on the door of your top 25? Everyone else has them ranked, where's the SEC west love?

Aaron Fitt: Arkansas and Auburn have a lot of talent, as does Ole Miss, but all of those teams have a lot of key pieces to replace. Let's see how they answer some of their question marks as the season progresses. I do like all of those teams, but I also feel strongly that they are all in a tier below Florida, Vandy and South Carolina, who are legit national title contenders. I really don't expect a team from the West to compete for the national title. But as I'm sure you'll gleefully point out, I've been wrong before!

    Tripp (Charleston, SC): Aaron, great to have you back for another baseball season on chat. The question surrounding whether or not Clemson can be a great team in 2011 seems to go to the starting pitching. What is your early take on the first weekend for the Tigers rotation of Weismann (solid start), Leone (poor start) and Brady (exceptional start)?

Aaron Fitt: You hit it on the head — the weekend rotation is crucial. Brady's start was a huge development, in my eyes — he's always had premium talent (see our our writeup on him in the Cal Ripken League top prospects list in 2008 or 2009), but he hasn't been able to put it all together in the past because of his command issues. He threw strikes Sunday, and his stuff was dominant, from reports. Weismann is a solid Friday guy, if not an elite guy, and I think Leone will come around — he's got a good arm and knows how to pitch.

    Umar (San Diego): Whats your take on the new look Anteaters? predictions?

Aaron Fitt: I really like their lineup, and not just because they put up a ton of runs against Nevada. I saw them in the fall and wrote that they would be an offensive team, and so far that looks to be the case. The question with UCI is the pitching—replacing Bibona, Bergman and Pettis is a daunting task, but the early returns were certainly encouraging. Fortunately Crosby Slaught is healthy again and pitching well, and it looks like Kyle Hooper is ready to hold down a weekend spot, too. That's a regionals team for sure, I think, and it might be a Top 25 team soon enough.

    Ted (Mississippi): I am glad college baseball is back. I noticed you do not have Miss. State in the tourney field. Does anything change after going 4-0 and only giving up 3 runs this weekend? Do you think Cohen will turn it around this year?

Aaron Fitt: That was a very encouraging start for the Bulldogs, giving hope that maybe all those raw youngsters that MSU brought in over the last two years are ready to elevate that program. But the SEC is so tough, and I'm just not ready to pronounce Mississippi State as one of the eight best teams in that league. The Bulldogs do look better, but everybody else reloaded, too.

    Eddie (Tampa): After seeing UF totally shut down USF this past weekend, is the UF pitching that dominate this year or is USF looking to be weak again at the plate this year? Trying to stay optimistic that the UF pitching is that dominate and USF can muster up some offense this year.

Aaron Fitt: Florida's pitching staff is ridiculously deep and talented. Adding Karsten Whitson to that mix is just unfair, and it sounds like he was exceptional yesterday. I actually don't think that's a bad USF lineup — they've got some quality veteran hitters like Sam Mende, Todd Brazeal, Jonathan Ksocso and Junior Carlin. But Florida's pitching can make anybody look bad.

    Alex (Greenville(SC)): After a solid weekend of baseball for the Gamecocks, how do feel about their pitching staff. Koumas, a Freshman, looked promising on Sunday.

Aaron Fitt: Koumas has an electric arm, making that great bullpen even stronger. The bullpen should be the strength of that staff, but South Carolina must feel great about the way Roth, Webb and Westmoreland pitched in the rotation. Those guys are capable of being a very solid rotation, if not a dominant one.

    Craig (Lynchburg, VA): Aaron - Did it surprise you to see Tyler Wilson take the ball on Saturday for the 'Hoos? I thought they would go with Hultzen, Kline, and Winiarski on the weekends. Will O'Conner keep Kline as the closer? Keep up the good work.

Aaron Fitt: Brian O'Connor told me yesterday he's still keeping an eye on how his pitching develops, and I think he'd feel comfortable moving Kline into the rotation if he thinks that works best for his team. But for the time being, he likes Kline in the closer role (and says he's capable of going multiple innings if needed, not just the ninth), and he was very pleased with Tyler Wilson in the starting role Saturday. He said Wilson has added a nice changeup to complement his fastball-breaking ball attack, and that makes him much more effective in a starting role. That's not a bad problem to have.

    Mike (MS): BA Vollmuth SS @ USM played pretty strong this weekend. He has a big frame for SS and swings a strong bat. Hopefully his defense shows strong improvement from last year. Where do you rank him in your top SS's this year?

Aaron Fitt: He's certainly one of the top draft-eligible shortstops, right there with Levi Michael and Joe Panik. Vollmuth probably has the most raw power of any shortstop out there, off the top of my head. A lot of scouts envision him as a third baseman in pro ball, but let's see how he handles short this year—he has the arm strength, just needs to be more consistent.

Aaron Fitt: You can put Brad Miller, Nick Ahmed and Austin Nola in that top group of draft-eligible shortstops, too. And I think D.J. Crumlich will have a big year for UC Irvine.

    BeeYellow (ATL): LHP GT arm Jed Bradley was dominant Saturday against Kent State except against their LHH right fielder. Is Jed a 1st rounder?

Aaron Fitt: No-doubter. Very strong chance to be a top-10 overall pick.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that's all for today. I think I'm going to try to make it up to Long Beach State for the finale of that series against Fullerton this afternoon. If I do, I'll have thoughts on Twitter (@aaronfitt) and a report on the College Blog. Thanks for stopping by — enjoyed it, as always. See you next week!