College Top 25 Chat: March 12

Follow me on Twitter

Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, hope you enjoyed Week Four. Let's get to the chat.

    Matt (Jackson, MS): Aaron what are your thoughts on the Ole Miss squad this year? About to enter SEC play this weekend with just 2 OOC losses and scoring runs in bunches. How far do you think they can go with hot bats and suspect/unknown pitching?

Aaron Fitt: I believe we've been higher on the Rebels than any of the other rankings in the preseason and the first month of the season. We've got them No. 12 now, which is a good indication that we think highly of them. I really like their offense — as you said, they can score runs in bunches. It's a deep lineup with three really good centerpieces in Alex Yarbrough (one of the most underrated players in college baseball, and one of the best pure hitters in the SEC), Matt Snyder and the red-hot Zach Kirksey, who has really put it all together as a senior. Ole Miss thought he had turned the corner in the fall and told us they expected Kirksey to hit double-digit homers and steal double-digit bases this spring. He hasn't stolen any bases yet, but he has six homers already and is hitting .467. But I've actually been encouraged by what Ole Miss has done on the mound so far, too. Bobby Wahl has proven that he is capable of being a legit front-line ace, as hoped, and Hively and Mayers have generally been pretty good behind him. Ole Miss entered the year with pitching question marks, but the Rebels have gone a long way toward answering them, for me, heading into conference play.

    Matt (Texas): Is Buster Posey a good comp to Mike Zunino?

Aaron Fitt: You know, I don't think I've heard any scouts make that comparison, but I don't think it's a bad one. I think Posey was more athletic than Zunino, but their offensive impacts seem quite similar, and both did a nice job behind the plate. Posey was the runaway choice for College Player of the Year as a junior, and Zunino might be on track to follow suit. He has been a force of nature so far for the Gators.

    jb (SC): What's going on at Clemson? I know it's early but their is a reason to hit the panic button. How do you feel about this team and it's recent struggles?

Aaron Fitt: I'm not hitting the panic button yet. Those were all close games this weekend, and Clemson lost two of them in the ninth inning or later. I know it is discouraging when a team can't seem to win those close games in the late innings, but it also means they are only a break or two away from winning those games — it's not like they're getting completely out-classed. North Carolina and South Carolina are better than Clemson — we believed that in the preseason, and we continue to believe that. I never thought this Clemson team really looked like an Omaha club, but I do think that team will get back on track and be a Top 25 team with a chance to win a regional.

    Michael (Georgia): What is your take on the Southern Conference for first month and rest of season(hows the league end up and how many bids)? Elon won 2 of 3 at CofC last week and swept GSU this week even though they are hitting .219 as a team? CofC is 12-3 overall but lost the Elon series. App St is 13-2 and won 11 strait. Samford just won 2 of 3 at UNCG. WCU is 12-4 but struggled in winning 2 of 3 at Citadel. GSU is falling hard and fast losing 8 of 10 since losing Roache. UNCG started great vs weak schedule and lost 2 of 3 at home to Samford.

Aaron Fitt: That's a pretty good snapshot of the league, Michael. It's going to be very competitive, I think, as usual. We liked Georgia Southern the best coming into the year, but without Roache, I'm abandoning that ship. We had Samford as our pick to finish second in the preseason, and I think I'll go with the Bulldogs to win the league now, just because I really like their pitching staff and some of the power in the lineup. But I could certainly see College of Charleston (another pretty balanced team with some nice, experienced arms), Elon and App State being in the mix as well. I see the SoCon as a two-bid league with a chance for three, and those four teams are the ones I like best, followed by Western Carolina. Really, it's going to be a dog fight, and I wouldn't be surprised if any of those five teams came out on top.

    Celeste Thompson (Miami, Florida): Was College of Charleston right outside the Top 25 after posting a 5-0 record this previous week and a top 20 pitching staff in America (team 2.00 ERA)? Those guys have played over 1/2 their games truely on the road(not neutral sites) and have the nations best road winning streak at 8-0. Thanks Aaron and BA!

Aaron Fitt: Just to piggyback on the last question, I do like CofC, but right now it would be hard to rank those guys ahead of Elon, which won two of three at CofC just last weekend.

    Bill (Atlanta, GA): It's not so upsetting that the Yellow Jackets lost a road series to a good team, it's the way they did it - looking like the "Bumblingbees". The loss to GA State mid-week was no better. Should GT fans panic?

Aaron Fitt: John Manuel was on hand for two of those games this weekend in Raleigh, and he came away with the impression that Georgia Tech's defense is a real area of concern. I wouldn't advise panic — I seldom do — because I think Tech will score enough runs most weeks (and pitch well enough most weeks, too) to win plenty of games. But right now, that team does not play Omaha-caliber defense in the infield — not even close. They're going to need to find some answers.

    Dougner (Albuquerque): Hey Aaron, After tough weekend series with Florida, TCU and A&M, Cal State Fullerton has been impressive so far. Do you believe they have the arms or enough power for a series run to Omaha?

Aaron Fitt: I'm still not in love with Fullerton's pitching staff, but what I really like is that team's toughness, which is usually its greatest asset anyway. By going 10-5 against a really, really difficult schedule over the first three weeks, Fullerton put itself in great shape to host a regional if it can win the Big West like it usually does. And if you host a regional, you have a pretty darn good chance to get to Omaha. Maybe this isn't a powerhouse Fullerton team loaded with pitching like last year's team was, but it is easy to envision this team going farther in the postseason than last year's team did.

    Taylor (Houston): Got to see the A&M/Fullerton matchup on Friday, and came away very impressed with Wacha and the Ags. Wacha was dominant, and Fullerton looked very average. What happened the rest of the weekend?

Aaron Fitt: To follow up on the last question, Fullerton does have a tendency to look average, but somehow find ways to win. If you look at the box scores from their two wins this weekend, nothing really jumps out at you — there are no brilliant starting pitching lines, no huge individual hitting efforts. They just win. Ultimately, though, I do think A&M is the better team and will go farther in June, but you've got to tip your hat to Fullerton for winning that series in College Station this weekend. That was awfully impressive. Fullerton definitely has a more impressive body of work than A&M, and I even advocated moving the Titans up above the Aggies in our rankings meeting today. I lost that argument, in part because A&M was 13 spots ahead of Fullerton last week, which is an indication that we think A&M is considerably better. Fullerton narrowed the gap this weekend — what happens on the field matters, after all. But we do place some trust in our evaluations, and I will continue to believe that A&M has the brighter future this year, until I have more evidence to suggest I am wrong about that. Two one-run games is not overpowering evidence — this is baseball, after all. Good teams lose back-to-back games.

    Frank (Denver): It's fairly easy to get a sense of players' offensive results through published stats, but not so easy to get a sense of players' defense. Who are the elite defensive infielders and outfielders among likely early round draft choices?

Aaron Fitt: In the preseason, we rated Arizona State's Deven Marrero as the Best Defensive Infielder in this draft crop, and Stony Brook's Travis Jankowski as Best Defensive Outfielder. Those assessments are based on evaluations from scouts of the players' abilities, not based on fielding percentage or any other statistical analysis. Some other premier defenders: Nolan Fontana is as reliable a defender as you'll find in college baseball, though some scouts see his range and arm as better fits for second base than shortstop at the next level. And Tyler Naquin at Texas A&M has one of the best arms in the country; scouts would love to see him play center field, where he would profile very nicely, but he has played right for the Aggies, and he plays it very well.

    Michael (Austin): Was Texas State's midweek win over Rice diluted by the fact that Rice played so poorly against Stanford. I noticed that Texas State only moved up one spot in the rankings.

Aaron Fitt: I wouldn't say Rice's weekend diluted Texas State's win at all — Rice is a great club, and that is a great win for the Bobcats. If Texas State had swept UT Arlington instead of going 2-1, it probably would have jumped up a couple more spots. But UCF did sweep its weekend series (despite losing a pair of one-run games to Florida State midweek), so we didn't feel like there was cause to move the Knights down much.

    Arthur (Denver): If Kevin Gausman keeps pitching like he did on Friday, does he moved himself into contention for the No. 1 pick in June? Hoping he stays around No. 10 so the Rockies can grab him.

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, I think he's on the short list of top candidates for No. 1 overall. Read my Golden Spikes Spotlight on Gausman in today's Three Strikes blog for more about Gausman's impressive maturation.

    Bryan (Palo Alto, CA): With the way Mooneyham has been pitching has Stanfords staff exceeded your expectations or is there still room for improvement?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, I think the Cardinal staff has exceeded my expectations a bit. I think we knew Mooneyham was capable of pitching this way — he is very talented — but I wanted to see him put it all together before buying in completely. And John Hochstatter has performed better than anyone could have imagined on Sundays. Stanford looks like a pretty darn complete team right now.

    Patrick (Memphis, Tennessee): I know that a 13-2 record is impressive, but Ole Miss hasn't played stellar competition just yet. They have Louisville and Southern Miss coming up soon, so do you think they'll be able to keep winning the way they have? Do you think they'll be able to hold on to their rank?

Aaron Fitt: Maybe Ole Miss hasn't played elite competition yet, but that schedule has not been a bunch of creampuffs. UNC Wilmington, Miami (Ohio) and Houston are all solid programs that gave the Rebels a nice test, and TCU was obviously a very nice series to start the year. Yes, I think Ole Miss is legitimately good, though it will experience ups and downs in SEC play just like almost everyone does in the SEC.

    Steve L. (Corvallis): What is your take on the Freshman Duo of Dylan Davis and Michael Conforto for the Beavers?

Aaron Fitt: I think they are really dangerous. We need a good nickname for them — the Rakers of Redmond? Surely somebody can do better than that... Anyway, those are the two most physically talented players in Oregon State's lineup, and they have really changed the complexion of that offense, I think. When you have a couple of legit power threats like that in the middle of the order, everyone else benefits.

    Ryan D. (Tampa, FL): I know they didn't have a strong weekend opponent, but how long until we see Pepperdine in the top 25?

Aaron Fitt: Pepperdine is in that next group of teams we considered, along with USC, Stetson, East Carolina, San Diego, Kentucky, Wake Forest and TCU. I'm actually more impressed with Pepperdine's body of work than I am with any of those others' — those series wins against Oklahoma and Fresno State are nice, and the road series at Louisville was only a minor setback (it was a tight series that could have gone either way). The next three weeks will give Pepperdine plenty of more chances to make some noise and break into the Top 25 (Kent State, Texas A&M and Gonzaga coming up).

    shane (oregon): what was your impression of the nike showcase at Oregon State and Oregon? what team made the best impression?

Aaron Fitt: The Beavers played their way back int our Top 25 with a 3-1 week, but how about Illinois going 3-1? The Illini have a nice athletic club with a pitching staff that is starting to come together, led by Kevin Johnson. They will be a factor in that competitive Big Ten race this year.

    Joel (KCK): Which college players if any, have a legitimate shot to challenge Mark Appel for the number one selection in this year's first year player draft? Is Kyle Zimmer a real possibility? What about Kevin Gausman? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: I think Appel is still far from a slam dunk at No. 1. Zimmer and Gausman are two of the strongest challengers, but I would also throw Mike Zunino and Deven Marrero in the mix. If you're looking for a big of a sleeper, consider Michael Wacha. I think his stock has really improved — gotten great reports on his stuff, and he's gotten results.

    Ryan (DC): What did you think of Wake Forest sweeping MD this weekend. Maryland looked a little sloppy, but Wake seems like a borderline top 25 team, and could they challenge the big guns in the ACC this year?

Aaron Fitt: I wrote about Wake in some detail in last week's Weekend Preview — I think that is an intriguing club, with quality pitching and some athleticism in the lineup. Whether or not the Deacs can challenge the top teams in the ACC has yet to be determined — I still tend to think there is a divide between the top seven or so teams and the rest of the conference, and I would still consider Wake to be in that second group. But Wake will be competitive pretty much every weekend, I suspect, and will win its share of games.

    Jared (Charlotte): How good can these two freshman pitchers Rodon and Jernigan be? Then with Austin, Turner, and Fincher also key players already as there hope for Omaha in the near future??

Aaron Fitt: Rodon and Jernigan look like blue-chippers. John Manuel came away from this weekend raving about them both — there aren't many weekend rotations that can match the kind of velocity the Wolfpack is rolling out there. We rated that recruiting class No. 4 for a reason — those guys are awfully good, and that foundation definitely gives NC State a chance to break through to Omaha in the next three years.

    Ryan (Arlington, VA): Who are the best MLB prospects on this year's Wake Forest team who is riding 13-game winning streak and began ACC play 3-0?

Aaron Fitt: Though he's not eligible this year, OF Kevin Jordan has the highest upside of any Deacon — incredibly athletic, multi-tooled player who is starting to figure it out at the plate. The best prospect for this year is LHP Tim Cooney, who has good feel for pitching, an average MLB fastball and a good curveball.

    Alex (Concord, NC): ECU had a nice weekend down in Alabama completing the sweep at the tournament. There hitting came alive a little bit more but still wasn't anything to get excited about. Also they got pound at Troy during their mid week game. How does ECU truly shape up? They have out standing weekend pitching, below average hitting and very shaky mid week pitching.

Aaron Fitt: I think the bats will get better. A number of ECU's key hitters (Wooten, McDonald, Reinheimer, Wright) haven't really hit yet, but those guys are all better than they've shown so far this year. They'll bust out of it, and when they do that offense will be fine.

Aaron Fitt: OK, that's all for today, folks. Thanks for stopping by, as always!