College Top 25 Chat: Feb. 27

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, will get started in just a moment.

    Mike (Arkansas): Aaron, LSU's lack of offense will keep them from competing in the SEC this season. Agree or disagree ?

Aaron Fitt: Disagree. LSU will certainly compete, because its pitching staff has a chance to be one of the best in the nation. It's going to be a grind; LSU will have to win games the way Texas is used to winning games, not the way LSU fans are accustomed to watching. But I think there are some competent offensive players in that lineup, and I think this team will hit better than it did this weekend — there's no question about that.

    mac (omaha): being in the big ten now, what does nebraska have to do to prove it belongs in the top 25? i assume just the nature of being in the big ten will make that a more difficult proposition.

Aaron Fitt: Well, for starters, it helps not to get swept at home in your first series — that puts Nebraska behind the 8-ball when it comes to rankings. The Big 12 does offer teams more opportunities to rack up high-profile victories, but we rank Big Ten teams at some point every season, I feel like. If Nebraska winds up establishing itself as the best team in the Big Ten, it will probably find its way into the Top 25. But I don't expect the Huskers to be the class of the Big Ten in 2012.

    John (Austin): You give Oregon a lot of credit for sweeping Vandy on the road but then discredit Vandy by dropping them from the rankings. What was your thought in jumping Oregon from NR to 18 in this scenario? wins over Hawaii? Belmont?

Aaron Fitt: Vandy dropping was a product of two horrific weekends in a row; Oregon getting ranked was a product of two stellar weekends in a row. The Ducks showed us something by winning five games this week, starting with Monday at Hawaii, then Thursday at Belmont, then sweeping a Vandy team that is very talented (even though it is off to a poor start). Just because Vanderbilt is 1-6 doesn't mean it stinks; give that team some time, and I promise you, it will make some noise. That doesn't mean Vandy deserves to be in the Top 25 right now, but just because we're not ranking the 'Dores right now doesn't mean we weren't impressed by Oregon doing what it did. Hope that makes sense.

    Wes (Louisiana): Who do you think do you prefer out of Mark Appel and Kyle Zimmer?

Aaron Fitt: I haven't made up my mind yet, honestly. But gun to my head, if I have to pick one today ... I probably go with Zimmer. They both have huge arms, but I think Zimmer's fastball is more deceptive, and that matters a lot.

    Bob (San Antonio): Texas has 2 wins this season against DUKE!! Why do they deserve a place in the rankings? Is it just because of the name on their jerseys?

Aaron Fitt: This seems like a good time to insert my annual disclaimer about our rankings process. In the preseason, our rankings are 100 percent projection — we are predicting which teams we think will be good and ranking them accordingly. In the postseason, the rankings are 100 percent performance — we have a full body of work to go by, and we know which teams proved to be the best. In between, it's a sliding scale: early in the year, our preseason ranking (our projection of each team based on what we know of its talent and makeup) still weighs heavily in the process, and the scales gradually tip toward "performance" as the season goes on and teams prove how good they are or aren't by the way they perform on the field. If you just want a ranking based on a team's record, what do you need us for? You can look at the standings and see Texas is 2-5 and decide for yourself they aren't a Top 25 team. We're telling you we still believe they are a Top 25 team — not because of the name on the jersey, but because of the personnel and the style of play and everything else. Texas will play much, much better than it has the first two weekends — you can take that to the bank. We dropped the 'Horns nine spots in our rankings because their performance dictated it, and if they keep losing they will drop out altogether. But for now, we're trying to avoid being too reactionary. It's still February, after all, and Stanford is playing out of its mind right now.

    Russell (Austin, Texas): Hey Aaron, what do you think about Texas and the start they have gotten off too? I think the team is extremely week at hitting. When do you think Augie is going to realize that his philosophy of small ball is not working. What does Texas have to do to be a better hitting team?

Aaron Fitt: Not working!?! Really? You do realize Texas won 49 games last year and made it to Omaha? You realize Augie Garrido has more wins than anyone else in history, and five national championships to boot? I feel like people in Austin mash the panic button every year about this time because the Longhorns aren't scoring a ton of runs. Soon enough, all the players will buy into Augie's system and his mental philosophy 100 percent, and they'll reel off some long winning streak (scoring 5 runs per game) and we won't have to hear about this again until next February, when you all panic again.

    Mike (New Orleans): Aaron, What are your thoughts on Tulane's sweep of Indiana this past weekend? They are swinging the bats well so far this season and the bullpen has been solid. How do you think they fare this week against SELU and Alabama?

Aaron Fitt: You're right, Mike, the bullpen has been key. D.J. Ponder, Alex Facundas and Alex Garner all turned in strong extended outings in relief this weekend, and that is very encouraging. So is another strong Randy LeBlanc start on Friday. I think that's a fairly deep pitching staff, which should mean Tulane can handle itself well in midweek action this season, but we'll find out. The Lions are playing great baseball, off to a 7-0 start, so that should be a good one.

    Peter (California): How far off are the Gonzaga Bulldogs from cracking the top 25? 7-0 so far. Team with a good pitching staff, a solid lineup, and a great deal of fight. Were they at least in the talk for the top 25 this week?

Aaron Fitt: I like Gonzaga, and I have definitely taken note of that 7-0 start. Problem is other teams have started out hot too, and some of them have even better early resumes (just looking in the WCC, I'm more impressed by Pepperdine winning series against Oklahoma and Fresno than by anything Gonzaga has done). Gonzaga is one of the next 10-15 teams outside the top 25, I'd say. It's so early, we're still waiting for the really legit team to separate themselves.

    Harry (Jackson, MS): How close is John Cohens and the Bulldawgs from cracking the top 25?? I love me some Dawg baseball sitting with the Dudes and ringin my cowbell!!

Aaron Fitt: Mississippi State is still team No. 26, as it has been since the preseason. We all wanted to rank MSU this week — they're off to a good start, and we really love the depth of the pitching staff. But Fullerton had to get back in (the Titans have held their own against a much tougher schedule), and Oregon leapfrogged a bunch of people by sweeping Vandy, so the Bulldogs will have to wait another week. We also considered ranking MSU ahead of Baylor, but on the whole I'm still slightly more impressed with Baylor's start, despite losing the last two games at UCLA. Baylor has played a stronger schedule and has been largely very impressive (and we had Baylor right next to Miss State in our internal preseason rankings).

    James (Georgia): Aaron, good afternoon. Wow is South Carolina's pitching impressive so far, I know that this was going to be a strong rotation going in to the season, but will the pitching be able to carry them toa 3 peat? What are your thoughts on this, and do they have enough pop in there line up to put up enough runs to get through a tough SEC schedule? Have not been very impressed with the runs they are putting up against sub par teams, I do think it can be a pretty potent lineup with speed and power. Your thoughts

Aaron Fitt: Well I think Elon is a quality series win — the Phoenix is near the top of the SoCon every year, so sweeping those guys is nothing to scoff at. I'm not at all worried about South Carolina's offense; on the contrary, I think it has been good to see some of the new guys settle in nicely (especially the freshmen Grayson Greiner and Tanner English). South Carolina has won two straight titles without being an offensive juggernaut, and as good as its pitching is, the offense should be more than good enough. I love the way South Carolina has played out of the chute, and I have to like the Gamecocks' chances in that Clemson series this weekend, because I don't get the impression Clemson has played nearly as crisply.

    Bains (Baton Rouge, LA): Who is your pick to win the ACC? I know it's early but Virgina doesn't look to be the same team they are used to being and there are about five teams who have set themselves apart in the ACC - GT, NC, Miami, FSU, and Clemson. All look pretty impressive so far, who is your early season prediction to take the conference? Thanks for all you do.

Aaron Fitt: I think you've got a pretty good handle on it — those top five teams are pretty close, and I could see any one of them winning the league. I do think the ACC will be more competitive than usual from top to bottom, with Maryland and Boston College looking much improved, and Wake Forest as well. People seem to forget about NC State too, but those guys can really swing the bats and will be a real factor in the league too. Should be a very compelling year in the ACC. I think you'll see a tightly bunched race at the top and another tight race for the last couple of spots in the ACC tourney.

    ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): seems that homeruns are back up a little. Is this due to bat companies making adjustments or players getting used to the new sticks?

Aaron Fitt: I haven't seen the early numbers, but I expected home runs to increase a little for just the two reasons you mentioned.

    West Coaster (San Francisco): Thanks for the chat! Who is closest to your Top 25 at this point- San Francisco, Gonzaga, San Diego, or Pepperdine? What are the chances the WCC gets 3 teams in the post-season this year? Seems like its the best the conference has ever been.

Aaron Fitt: Right now, I'd have to put Pepperdine at the top of that group when it comes to being close to the Top 25 — those two series wins were very impressive. USF and Gonzaga would be next, followed by USD (which lost its first weekend series at Sam Houston State). I really like all of those teams, as well as Portland (which is off to a fine start as well) and St. Mary's (despite losing its first WCC series to BYU this weekend). I projected the WCC to get two teams into regionals in the preseason, but I really do think the league has a chance for three, if it can continue to perform in nonconference play as it has so far (and given the overall talent level in the league, I think that is entirely possible). The tricky thing could be that the WCC is so deep that I could see those teams all beating up on each other and none of them putting together the kind of sterling conference records that the selection committee would like to see. So I'm still more comfortable with the WCC as a two-bid league, but the point is I think this will be a great season for the conference. I wouldn't say the best it has ever been, though — remember, it wasn't so long ago that San Diego was a national seed and Pepperdine was hosting a regional. I don't think there are any teams in the WCC this year that are elite like that. Just a bunch of very good teams.

    Jackson (Corvallis): What is your take on Oregon State at the moment? Can Jace Fry and Adam Duke turn this mediocre weekend rotation around? Bullpen looks fine but we can't seem to get to them. Very uncharacteristic Beaver team this year. Lacks the solid starting pitching, defense, speed, and ability to move runners over and in that we have grown accustomed to in Corvallis. We do seem to have more power than usual but can we win this way? LOB numbers are staggering! Confused in Corvallis.

Aaron Fitt: Yes, strange start for the Beavers, isn't it? I think Pat Casey has always recognized the value of a strong bullpen, and that's why he decided to build this staff by putting most of his most reliable arms (especially Matt Boyd) in the bullpen where they can impact multiple games over the course of the weekend. Getting Fry and Duke back will make a big difference — those are the two biggest arms on the staff, and they have the ability to make a serious impact. I'm not worried about the LOBs or the offensive execution or the defense — Oregon State always figures that stuff out, and I think the personnel are good and experienced enough that OSU will figure it out again this year, too.

    Not a Cardinal (East Coast): Florida over Stanford? Really? Florida was oh so impressive in sweeping who? W&M? Where are they ranked? Really? Stanford only blew a ranked team out of the water (and they were suitably demoted for that). There may be other perfectly valid reasons for keeping with Florida, but doing so "thanks to a midweek win over #19 and sweep of W&M" as in the Top 25 story hardly inspires confidence in the poll. Care to amend the poll?

Aaron Fitt: Sorry; Florida remains No. 1 because it was already No. 1 and it had an undefeated week, and we just don't demote teams that have undefeated weeks. The reason Florida was ahead of Stanford was because we believed Florida was better than Stanford, and we still do. The Gators should have a similarly imposing lineup once it really gets going, and its pitching staff should be considerably better. I am incredibly impressed with what Stanford has done — but I am convinced that Florida is the best team in the nation.

    Matt (Houston, TX): I understand Florida, Stanford, and South Carolina being 1-2-3. However, how does Rice not jump to #4 after a solid 8-0 start against very solid competition, while Arkansas won two one run games against NW State and Valparaiso, and lost the Sunday game to Valparaiso?

Aaron Fitt: We considered making that move just because we are so very impressed with Rice, but we're very seldom going to move a team down in the rankings after a 4-1 week. Those five-game weeks are tough for anyone, and it's not easy to go 4-1. Also, I think Valpo deserves some credit — sounds like a very resilient team that played extremely hard this weekend. Arkansas obviously has a ton more talent, but Valpo isn't a pushover.

    Bob (Texas): What are some of your surprise teams in the North other than Boston College and Maryland and some of your disappointments so far through this young season?

Aaron Fitt: You hit on the two main surprises, of course. Here's one more: How about Bucknell, sweeping preseason CAA favorite James Madison emphatically this weekend? That, certainly, qualifies as a surprise. I think St. John's, at 2-4, has to be considered a bit of an early disappointment, but I never write off those cold-weather teams after a couple of bad weekends — those teams (especially Ed Blankmeyer's teams) always play much better as the season wears on. Still, St. John's was a borderline preseason Top 25 team, so posting two straight losing weekends is a little disappointing.

    John (Ashburn, VA): Aaron: Any update on Richie Shaffer's hip flexor? Concerns from Clemson? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: Sounded like a mild strain — I don't think it's much cause for concern.

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, thank you for the chat, and as always, the outstanding coverage. After a huge weekend Colin Moran seems to have picked up where he left off last year as BA's Freshman of the Year. Could you give a quick breakdown on him as a prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, huge weekend for Moran. He's a hitter, first and foremost — extremely disciplined approach, can use all fields, and he's strong. Defense at third base is still a work in progress, but he works hard at it.

    Brian (Lacey, WA): Which freshmen have you been most impressed with so far this season?

Aaron Fitt: Out of the guys I've seen, I would have to say Aaron Brown of Pepperdine has stood out the most — he's going to be a real two-way star. I was quite impressed with TCU's Derek Odell this weekend (fantastic athlete, some life in the bat), and I think Kenny Mathews is going to be very good eventually for Fullerton, though his command is still developing and his breaking ball has a long way to go. But he's loose, athletic, lefthanded and has amazing life on the fastball and nice feel for the changeup. I'm even more excited about another freshman lefty, Stephen Tarpley at USC — talk about loose and athletic. He has more present stuff and present command than Mathews.

    Gary (Hattiesburg,MS): Who do you think will be the ace come the end of the season for Southern Miss? and a great closer like Collin Cargill was last year?

Aaron Fitt: I'm gonna go with the freshman Jake Drehoff. Really talented guy, lots of upside, and he's pitched very well two weeks in a row now. And two weeks in a row, James McMahon has followed with three innings of dynamite relief. Maybe he's the next great USM bullpen anchor.

    Carlos (San Diego, CA): Am I being too much of a homer or was USD more impressive (especially offensively for once) than expected? They had two lopsided beatdowns of K-State and Oregon State and held a good hitting Pacific team to 4 runs in 2 games.

Aaron Fitt: Certainly impressive—it was good to see the Toreros get back on track after a disappointing first weekend. I think USD's pitching staff is exciting (and they got strong starts this weekend from Drummond, Sewald and Covey, plus excellent bullpen work from Michael Wagner, who has a great arm). Kris Bryant is just an animal in the middle of the lineup, and the supporting cast started to emerge this weekend. That team could wind up being pretty darn good.

    Reid (Florida): Where is Florida Atlantic? Maybe top 25 with a win against Miami this Wednesday?

Aaron Fitt: Right in a group of teams just outside the Top 25 — lots of teams off to good starts, not room for all of them in the Top 25. Everybody wants to be ranked; we could appease them by ranking more than 25 teams, but we think it should mean something to be ranked in the Top 25. It's not easy to crack that list — there are a lot of good teams in college baseball.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Can UCLA hit enough to survive? I know this weekend was a good sign for the staff, minus Plutko they looked pretty solid, but the bats seems to be hot/cold

Aaron Fitt: As I wrote in today's Three Strikes, I continue to believe UCLA will be quite a dangerous offensive team, just as I think Fullerton will be. I don't think either team is special on the mound, but UCLA has more experienced arms than the Titans, which is what separates those two teams, for me.

    TJ (New York): What's your scouting report on Dan Langfield SP from Memphis? He has had an excellent start but I do not know much about him. Thansk!

Aaron Fitt: He's not real physical but he has a quick arm — he is capable of running his fastball up to 95 mph and flashes a quality overhand curveball, as well as a fringy slider and changeup. Real nice Friday guy and a top-five-rounds prospect.

    Clear Head (Uranus): If LSU is the 14th best team in the country, then..... Damn! I cant even finish that sentance. WTF?

Aaron Fitt: It's baseball, folks. Good teams lose series to teams that aren't as talented. It is a mistake to form sweeping judgments based on one weekend in February. We knocked LSU down seven spots in the rankings — a pretty substantial drop — but it's one bad weekend. Let's not be too reactionary.

Aaron Fitt: You just can't take a football or basketball mentality to baseball — it's not the same. Nobody goes undefeated in baseball. It's a long season, people lose games. People go through slumps and hot streaks. We ranked LSU in the Top 10 in the preseason because we believe that team will be good, just as we ranked Texas in the top 15 because we believe that team will be good. We are not prepared to abandon those opinions yet. Let's see how the season plays out a little bit. Repeat after me: It's February, it's February, it's February...

Aaron Fitt: On that note, let's wrap this thing up. Thanks for stopping by — see you all next week.