College Top 25 Chat: March 7

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Aaron Fitt: Greetings from Austin, where I've got to catch a flight in a couple of hours, so I'll have to keep this chat tight. Let's go!

    Arkham (Danville, PA): I'm going to ignore their record and utter lack of offense and just ask what you think the Bruins have in Adam Plutko. We now join my previously scheduled breakdown, already in progress.

Aaron Fitt: Hey, buck up, Bruins fans! Your pitching staff is filthy, and your offense will come around — I'm positive. It will NOT be a powerful offense at any point this year, but it will get better. Give Rick Vanderhook some time to iron out the kinks; in Hook I trust. As for Plutko, he's the real deal — can really command his fastball, with gets up into the low 90s and will probably add velocity as he matures, and he has good secondary stuff. Main thing is he's just so polished, yet has upside.

    Bob (Seal Beach, CA): Long Beach State doesn't have that impressive of a record at first glance, but when you look at it schedule (No. 1 in the country for strength of schedule) it is actually pretty good. Especially considering the are working with a very young team and a new head coach. I feel they are exceeding preseason expectations. What are your thoughts on the Dirtbags this year?

Aaron Fitt: If Long Beach's schedule is No. 1, that just shows you that SOS numbers are flawed. Certainly the Dirtbags have played a very good schedule, but almost all of their games have been at home. Give me the team that has gone on the road to face Rice, Vandy and Texas, thank you very much. But as for your question, there is no question Long Beach is exceeding my expectations. That's a rather anemic offense, but they really scrap and claw, and their pitching has been very strong. Troy Buckley will have that program humming along at a high level in short order, although I still don't expect LBSU to make a regionals run this year.

    jim (arizona): after loseing early can mew mexico come back and is freshman sam wilson a better pro prospect as a pitcher or centerfield he looks really good

Aaron Fitt: I wrote about New Mexico's early struggles in Weekend Preview last week, and the Lobos responded by taking 3 of 4 from UTSA. The team is better than its record — there were a lot of winnable games that turned into one-run losses early — but it won't be a regionals team. There's a lot of young talent there, but they just lost too many veterans. The future is very exciting, though, and Wilson's a big part of it. Scouts preferred him as a pitcher in high school, and I suppose I'd probably still lean in that direction, but he's an intriguing athlete in the outfield, too.

    jb (SC): Any surprises from the South Carolina vs. Clemson series?

Aaron Fitt: Each home team held serve; I think that part was pretty expected. Michael Roth carved up those Clemson lefties; also as expected. Kevin Brady's injury — now that was unexpected, and Clemson really needs good news on that front this year, because Brady is the team's best arm. The biggest surprise, though, was Matt Price getting hammered to blow a late lead yesterday. Price is as good a closer as there is in college baseball; didn't see that coming.

    Jeramey (Atlanta): Ga. Tech is a very young team but have played well so far. Pope and Bradley appear to be two solid arms. Are they good enough to give Tech a chance to win most ACC series and what are your thoughts on them so far?

Aaron Fitt: I think they certainly are, and it was good to see Buck Farmer turn in a strong outing Sunday. Tech and Virginia should have the two best weekend rotations in the ACC, and those staffs should carry them to a lot of wins. If Georgia Tech's youngsters (Palka, Smelter, etc) keep hitting like they did this weekend, that team could make a run at an ACC title.

    Todd (Bryant): Don't look now, but the Utah team that beat A&M and Baylor was swept by Arkansas the weekend before. But I still don't see Arkansas in your top 25?

Aaron Fitt: No, you don't. That Utah team had two nice wins... but it's stilla 2-6 team. Arkansas' best resume line right now is a tight series sweep of a 2-6 team from Utah that has practiced outside once all spring. Sorry, sweeping Delaware State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee don't tell me anything about how good Arkansas is, and I'm hardly impressed by a midweek split with McNeese State. Look, I like Arkansas, I think it's a talented young team — but it is very young, and it has not done enough on the field yet to merit a ranking over the likes of Tulane (which just won a road series at Ole Miss) or Georgia Tech (three quality weekend series against good Northern teams). I'm looking forward to getting a look at Arkansas this weekend in San Diego.

    Trace (Fairfax, VA): With Gausman and McCune terrific so far on Fridays and Saturdays, do you feel LSU's Sunday loss to Princeton was just a hiccup or a symptom of a greater concern? If Alsup can't right the ship, do they have someone that can emerge from the bullpen, a la Louis Coleman in 2009?

Aaron Fitt: Probably just a hiccup, but a pretty stunning hiccup considering Princeton was playing its first series of the year. Alsup still has a 2.30 ERA; I see no reason to mash the panic button there. But I will say that Ryan Eades is a bit of an X-factor. He's obviously got a huge arm, and should LSU need another potential impact starter at some point this season, he could be an option.

    Bobby (Portland): Looks like Oregon has a pretty good weekend rotation but can't seem to get a sweep. How good are the starters, and just how bad are the bats/fielders? Also, any predictions on where Anderson, McGough and Boer go in the draft? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: A sweep? I think the Ducks would have settled for a series win against a Long Beach team that really is not in the same league as Oregon from a talent perspective. Like UCLA, I think Oregon's offense will be better at some point, but man, those guys are fighting it right now. I've heard a lot from scouts and the Oregon coaches about how nice Jack Marder's swing is and how much of an offensive player he is; well, it's time for him to show it. I think Oregon might also need to get Stefan Sabol more involved. He has five hits in his nine at-bats this year, and he could give that lineup a physical presence it sorely needs. As for the arms — Anderson will be a first-rounder, barring a second-half setback. I could see Boer going in the 2nd or 3rd, but McGough needs to get it going.

    Joel (KCK): Love the chats Aaron!!! Which sophomores do you think have the highest stock for the 2012 draft?

Aaron Fitt: It's really amazing how wide open that 2012 class is, compared with how much the 2011 elite guys were starting to crystallize at this time a year ago. Right now I'd probably put Mark Appel from Stanford at the top, with Kenny Diekroeger, Deven Marrero, Jake Barrett and those Florida guys in the mix. I'm also really high on Steve Nyisztor from Rutgers.

    Andy (Baton Rouge): Any early thoughts on the Fullerton-LSU series at the Box this weekend? Can LSU's young guys win the series?

Aaron Fitt: Sure they can, but that doesn't mean they will. Fullerton seems to be finding its stride right now; Anthony Trajano has given the offense a real spark, and the pitching has been outstanding. I think Fullerton is much better than LSU on the mound, but the Tigers are more dangerous offensively... I'm just not convinced LSU is good enough with the bats to knock around that elite Fullerton pitching. And Fullerton is talented enough offensively to do OK against LSU's arms. So I think I'm taking the Titans on the road — they're clearly now cowed by tough atmospheres, as they proved with a series win at TCU in front of big crowds.

    Kevin (Chicago): Can you talk a little bit about Tulane's week and the club in general? Seems like their pitching has been lights out whereas their bats have been very quiet (lot of that going on...). Where do you see them this year?

Aaron Fitt: There certainly is a lot of that going around. That's exactly what I expected from Tulane coming into the year (in our preseason top 25 capsules, I graded Tulane's power as a 40 and its starting pitching and bullpens as 60s, on the 20-80 scale... that 40 grade looks generous, though). Tulane is constructed very similarly to teams like Texas and UCLA — teams that don't have a lot of punch but will win a ton of games with their pitching, defense and overall athleticism. Now, Tulane's arms certainly aren't in that elite class with UT's and UCLA's, but they're pretty good, and polished. I think it's a winning formula this year, and I think that's a regionals team.

    jared (houston): wow. what great arms at the Houston Classic this weekend. the rice/Baylor game sunday was wild. what are your thoughts on baylor? they seem to be a scrappy hard nosed group. Pinckard seems like a very special two way talent. do you like him as a pitcher or centerfielder?

Aaron Fitt: I was in Austin yesterday and was sad to miss Max Muncy's walk-off grand slam — I haven't seen one of those since BJ Upton hit one for the Durham Bulls on the 4th of July a few years ago. But I saw Baylor the first two days, and came away thinking it's a solid team, but not an elite team. I was pretty high on that offense coming into the season, and it figures the bats finally showed up after I left. I think the bats will have to do a lot of the heavy lifting, because I'm not really in love with the pitching staff after Logan Verrett. Pinckard does have a great arm though; he was up to 95 on Friday and seems to be making progress with his slider and changeup. I like him better as a power-armed bullpen prospect, but he's a legit two-way prospect, and in fact was drafted as an outfielder last year. That speed and athleticism plays.

    BL (Bozeman, MT): Aaron, thanks for the chat! I've been looking forward to it all weekend. It's been quite a last few days for some outside-the-top-25 programs... Nebraska's series win, Bill Kinneberg's Utah team played great in Houston, Creighton extended its good start, too many to mention, probably. Thoughts?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, and how about Cal State Bakersfield and Seattle? Bakersfield has won 10 straight, including a big win against Arizona State this weekend, and the Roadrunners cruised past the other three teams they faced this weekend, which is more than you can say for the Sun Devils (which had to fight for a trio of one-run wins). I'll be writing more about Bakersfield this week, to be sure. And Seattle stunned me by following up its series win vs. Notre Dame by taking two of three from what I think is a pretty good Portland team. Love to see upstart teams making statements.

    Glenn Clarke (Laguna Niguel, CA): I'm a Titan honk. I am so impressed with their pitching (as expected) but the hitting hasn't kept pace by a long shot. I'm not sure they have the sticks that they've had in the past. Whaddya think?

Aaron Fitt: Since you're basically my neighbor, I'll answer this one. The offense isn't as dynamic as it was a year ago with Colon and Brown leading the way, but I really do believe it's pretty capable. Lopez and Ramirez are real dangerous in the middle, Pedroza's just an exciting sparkplug guy, and Trajano has come out of nowhere to hold down the No. 2 hole. Fullerton SID Mike Greenlee tells me Trajano is very similar in his stature and style of play to former diminutive Titan grinder David Bacani. That's awfully high praise in the halls of Baseball America.

    BL (Bozeman, MT): What games will you see next week/weekend?

Aaron Fitt: I'll see UConn at UC Irvine on Tuesday, then see the Huskies again later in the week when Matt Barnes pitches down at USD. I'll also see Arkansas at San Diego State, and I'd like to get a look at Louisville at Pepperdine, and the Dodgertown Classic on Sunday. Busy week!

    James (Rome,WI): Aaron- Even though there's still snow on the ground in WI I have baseball fever again,(It helps that the Brewers made some good moves in the off season and high school baseball starts in 2 weeks!). Even though Miami got swept this weekend I don't think they will be that bad off. I know they're not playing well but it's not how you're playing in March as it is how you are playing in May/June. Please tell me they aren't going into the tank!! PS Too bad ESPN or CBS College wouldn't televise the Fullerton/LSU series this weekend, it would be great to see!

Aaron Fitt: I'm with you, James. There is no shame in getting swept by the best team in the country (and I firmly believe Florida is just that), and those last two games were very competitive. I've actually been fairly encouraged by how Miami's pitchign staff has performed, and that was my biggest question about the team coming into the year. They just need to get the bats going´┐Żespecially Harold Martinez and Stephen Perez, who is striking out at an alarming rate.

    Dave (California): The talk has been about Oklahoma's bats but their starting pitching carried them this weekend. What is your assessment of their pitching and how does it compare?

Aaron Fitt: Michael Rocha is a very solid college ace — not overpowering stuff, but Sunny Golloway told me yesterday he pounds the zone with an 88-90 fastball with tremendous life, and he really locates. Bobby Shore is a similar good college pitcher, with a nice mix and a fastball around 87-91. Burch Smith is the big power arm, with a heater that reaches the mid-90s, and if Oklahoma wins the national title this year, he's going to be a big reason why, I predict. Everybody needs a real overpowering horse in the postseason, and I see Smith as that type of guy, kind of like Sam Dyson was for South Carolina. I think it's a solid staff, but I'm eager to see how it will hold up against better offenses. My gut says it will hold up fine, but I don't think it's an elite staff in the class of the teams around it in the rankings.

    Bryan (Long Beach, CA): If Nebraska wins the series this weekend against Fresno State do you see them cracking the top 25?

Aaron Fitt: Yes. I had Nebraska pegged as a regionals team heading into the year, and certainly it looks like the Huskers have postseason-caliber pitching. This weekend will be another big test; that's a good Fresno team.

    Mike L. (Ohio): How weak is Big Ten baseball this season? Purdue has a good record, but hasn't played anyone. Michigan State is 7-3, but lost twice to Bethune Cookman. Michigan and Minnesota were supposed to be good, but have losing records against mediocre competition at best.

Aaron Fitt: Looks like a pretty mediocre league, I'll be honest. A one-bid league once again. I tend to think of the Big East and Big Ten as comparable conferences, but the Big East has really surged ahead in the last two years.

    Ben (Leland Grove): How would you grade this year's draft overall on the 20-80 scale?

Aaron Fitt: Fun question! I suppose I'll say a 65. Would be higher if the high school class was stronger, because it's a very very strong college class — probably a 70.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Would you project Sonny Gray as a top 10 pick?

Aaron Fitt: Yes!

    Cavman (Looking for my horse...): Did my UVa Cavs deserve a two spot bump after winning as many games this week as their opponents have all season?

Aaron Fitt: Winning 6 games in any week is hard, just because it taxes your pitching so much. And UVa. really dominated all those games, which is all you can ask of it. Ordinarily we wouldn't necessarily reward a team for beating up on clearly inferior competition, but a 6-0 week impressed me.

    Ray (Dallas): How would you rate Pete O'Brien's receiving skills?

Aaron Fitt: A work in progress, but a chance to be average.

    Jon (Hattiesburg): Have you heard of any serious pitch clock issues so far this young season?

Aaron Fitt: No. (this is the lightning round, if you can't tell.)

    JAYPERS (IL): Is Michael Wacha a potential 1st rounder next year? How would you evaluate him?

Aaron Fitt: Yes. He's a physical horse with a 91-94 mph fastball and a very, very good changeup. Still needs to refine breaking stuff, but the makings are there.

    Taylor (Houston): Caught the last 2 games at MMP on Friday and came away very impressed with Utah C CJ Cron. I knew he was a good prospect, but can you give me the rundown on him please?

Aaron Fitt: He really Croned John Stilson on Friday, to borrow a joke from my Twitter feed and the Minute Maid press box. He's one of the best hitters in college baseball, with power and a great approach.

    Wahoo (Charlotte): Who wins the pitching battle in the UVA/Clemson series this weekend?

Aaron Fitt: UVa. has the better pitching staff, and I think the Cavs have a real chance to go in there and win that series.

    Brett (Auburn): You gotta give a little recognition to Derek Varnadore...en fuego!! 3-0 to start the season with a 13K complete game performance last Sunday and an impressive outing against a top 25 C of C team this weekend to lead the Tigers to a big win. Look out for the Tigers, a well coached team who can play some serious small ball despite all the bombs last year.

Aaron Fitt: Varnadore has been huge for Auburn, that's for sure. He's got great movement on his fastball, and you know he's a big-time strikeout guy because he broke Tim Hudson's record at Chattahoochee Valley CC. I like Auburn; just outside the top 25 right now, along with Arkansas.

    Johnny (Austin, TX): Hey Aaron, hope you are enjoying Austin-Bergstrom airport... tell me what your impression of the Horns is as you leave this beautiful city. The pitching looks wonderful... but will the bats get them to Omaha?

Aaron Fitt: I had my early-season annual argument with fellow reporter Alan Trubow about this yesterday... and my answer is yes — sort of. The pitching will get them to Omaha, not the bats — but the bats will be good enough.

Aaron Fitt: OK friends, that's it for me — gotta catch a flight. Fun chat this week — thanks for stopping by. See you next week!