College Top 25 Chat: March 19

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, sorry for the late start today — had to finish recording this week's podcast. Let's get cracking.

    Ryan D. (Tampa, FL): With Kentucky perfect on the year and with the Gators reeling off 17 straight, I am wondering who has the longest winning streak in the history of D-1 baseball? I know I could 'Google' it, but that's no fun.

Aaron Fitt: The record is 34, held by Florida Atlantic (1999) and Texas (1977). I wouldn't expect Kentucky to get there, with SEC play underway, but it wouldn't shock me if Kentucky stayed unbeaten for another week, even though it is on the road. The next five games are all quite winnable.

    Ryan D. (Tampa, FL): I know a catcher with leadership is hard to come by in the college game, but who is more valuable to the Gators: Mike Zunino or Preston Tucker?

Aaron Fitt: I'll still say Zunino because of the position, but certainly Tucker has a ton of value too. I don't think there's a better power combination in any lineup in college baseball.

    Jon (Walnut Creek): Looks like Patrick Wisdom is heating up, and St. Mary's has a good pitching staff. Any chance the Gaels make a run at the WCC title? Also, who goes higher in the draft, Wisdom or Martin Agosta? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: I do like St. Mary's and expect that team to be right in the thick of an extremely intriguing, competitive WCC race. I've talked about this a bunch already, but this looks like a banner year for that league, and I think it has a solid chance to send two teams to regionals. As for Wisdom or Agosta, I've talked with scouts who like one better and scouts who like the other better. It's too early for me to say who goes higher, but both feel like 2nd-rounders or so.

    NorCal Bruin (Sacramento, CA): Is USD's Kris Bryant a 1st rounder in 2013?

Aaron Fitt: I think that's pretty likely, yes. Legit college power bats like his always get drafted high, and he's an underrated athlete and defender. One of the best players in college baseball, I think, and maybe he doesn't get as much attention as he deserves.

    Ryan D. (Tampa, FL): Is Pepperdine in the 26-30 rankings? Will a 4-1 week bump the Waves into the top 25 or do they need a 5-0?

Aaron Fitt: Just about, although right now we've got them behind Louisville, which beat them two out of three last weekend and has had just one losing weekend on the season. I think a 4-1 week would very likely get the Waves into the Top 25, considering three of those games are against Texas A&M.

    Bill (Atlanta, GA): Clearly it would have been disastrous for GT to drop a 2nd ACC series, especially at home, so a big win Sunday over VT. The Jackets really need a stable infield - junior Sam Dove can't play all the positions at once. Any opinion on the Jackets?

Aaron Fitt: I think your concern is valid, and I don't really have an answer for you. Mott Hyde and Connor Winn have both really struggled, it sounds like. I think Georgia Tech just needs those guys to play better — they don't have the option of trading for any other infielders. Whether or not Georgia Tech can fix its infield will determine whether or not this season winds up being a success, I think.

    Carlos (Dallas, TX): How high are you on Chris Stratton? Is he 1st round worthy to you?

Aaron Fitt: I'm quite high on him, but I wouldn't go quite that high. He's got a big arm, with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a really hard slider in the mid-80s and a much improved changeup. He still needs to prove to me that he has the makeup to thrive in a starting role over a full season, but Friday was a great start. If he maintains a high level of performance as a starter, I could see him making a run at the first round.

    Daniel (Porland, Oregon): How do you think Oregon State's young pitchers will be able to hold up this weekend against Arizona?

Aaron Fitt: I really like that Arizona offense — that will be a great test for those OSU pitchers. Certainly the Beavers are talented enough to win that series, but I also expect them to have their ups and downs as they mature. It's tough to predict at this stage when the bumps in the road will come, but I wouldn't be surprised if this weekend presented some adversity, if only because I have such high regard for the Wildcats' lineup.

    jb (SC): With Kentucky's surprise sweep of South Carolina, does this tell us more about the Wildcats or the Gamecocks? How do you see the upcoming series vs. Florida unfolding? Thanks again for your great coverage of college baseball.

Aaron Fitt: I think it tells us more about Kentucky. We already knew that South Carolina's offense wasn't exactly explosive, and that the Gamecocks would probably have to win a lot of low-scoring games. They lost three close games this weekend, but that series easily could have gone the other way. South Carolina is very good — there is no reason for panic on that front. But I do think we learned that Kentucky has the mental toughness to go head-to-head against a team that has become renowned for its mental toughness, and come out on top. We already thought Kentucky was talented (go back and read last week's Streakin' blog about the Wildcats). But I wanted to see Kentucky prove something against better competition, and it has done so.

Aaron Fitt: I should add that I do think South Carolina will get its bats going — that team will be better offensively at the end of the year than it has been over the first five weeks.

    ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): Marcus Stroman vs Sonny Gray, give us a head to head comp. Both power armed righties, dominant power breaking ball, developing change. Both have compact builds but labled too small to be starters and called closers. At this point, IMO, it would be a waste to stick a guy that sits 95 in the 7th inning in the bullpen

Aaron Fitt: What a fascinating question — sounds like a great idea for a Scout's Take. Sonny is a bit taller than Marcus, but not necessarily more physical (Stroman is really strong physically). Both are exceptional athletes with electric arms. Stroman probably has the easier delivery. Both are relentless competitors, but Gray had the longer track record as a pitcher—though Stroman has the fresher arm. I guess it comes down to the fineness of their command, and I'm tempted to give Stroman a slight edge there, believe it or not. You're splitting hairs; I don't know which guy I prefer, but I would give both a chance to start, and I think both can do it.

    Nick (Fort Worth): Why no TCU in this week's top 25? 9 game winning streak after the sweep this weekend.

Aaron Fitt: Knocking on the door, but we just didn't quite have room this week. We gave Texas a slight edge, because sweeping Oklahoma trumps any series on TCU's resume, but it seems the Frogs are back on track, and they'll be back in the Top 25 before long.

    Joel (KCK): Can you tell me a little bit about Oklahoma State's Andrew Heaney? Just noticed that he's leading division 1 in strikeouts. Is he in the same tier with Appel, Zimmer, and Gausman going into the draft? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: I wrote up Heaney in this week's Golden Spikes Spotlight in Three Strikes on the College Blog. I liked him quite a bit in the Cape last summer, and he's really carried over that momentum into this spring. He's completely different from those three power righthanders you mentioned — Heaney is polished lefthander, though he run his fastball up to 94 so he's not a soft-tosser. He has an innate feel for pitching and could move quickly in pro ball. I think he's got a chance to be the first college lefthander drafted (Brian Johnson is probably the favorite for that, and you could throw Alex Wood and Brett Mooneyham into the discussion), which gives him a pretty good shot to go in the first round.

    Daniel (Kingston, Jamaica): To clarify, do the numbers in the Top-25 Tracker reflect wins over currently ranked teams or teams ranked at the time the games were played?

Aaron Fitt: Rankings at the time the games were played.

    Justin (Toronto): Should Rice fans be concerned about Austin Kubitza's struggles and decrease in velocity? If he continues to struggle, does Rice become a Super Regional caliber team instead of an Omaha caliber team?

Aaron Fitt: I am concerned about Kubitza — this is a solid month of really poor performance, and he is certainly vital to Rice's Omaha hopes. I wonder how much longer the Owls will leave him in the rotation while he tries to figure it out; maybe he would benefit by a weekend off and a reset. He's got too much ability and too much track record of success to struggle the way he has for this kind of extended period; they need to do whatever is necessary to get him straightened out, obviously.

    Jeff (Houston): I'm a Rice fan, but I have to admit that this team is far from Omaha (especially after yesterday's abysmal loss), what with its incredibly inconsistent offense, Kubitza's issues and lack of real shutdown power in bullpen. Do you think Rice is just underachieving or are they really not that talented?

Aaron Fitt: I think they are undearachieving a bit, because I do still believe in the talent. It's not like this team has tanked, it just hasn't dominated the way I think it is capable of doing. I don't think there's any reason to panic. Rice usually peaks in the second half, even when it struggles in the first half, and I'm confident it will do so again this year.

    Gantt (Athens): Will Georgia's starting rotation be able to propel them to Omaha? Wood has been solid and Palazzone gave signs this weekend he is turning into his old self from last year. Once Maloof comes back that will not only boost the bullpen, but also allow Dieterich to start (and he has been lights out closing). If the dawgs can hit a little, I feel that our pitching is definately strong enough to win a super regional

Aaron Fitt: Getting Maloof back would be huge, and I would feel better about the Bulldogs with Dieterich in the rotation and Maloof at the back. That was the formula coming into the year, and I think all four of those guys will have to lead the way if Georgia is to make a deep postseason run. I also think it's really important for UGa. to get Levi Hyams going again, and he had a couple of big games last week, which is encouraging. I feel like he's a huge key to that offense; when he's doing right, he really helps make them go.

    Daniel (Kingston, Jamaica): I'm sure you'll get plenty of questions on this topic, and I also realize that you can't abandon what you think you know about teams too early in the season, but isn't it hard to justify keeping South Carolina so far above Kentucky considering that they just got swept, have a worse record, and don't have a significantly more difficult schedule? Admittedly, the games were close, but a sweep and an undefeated record are hard to ignore.

Aaron Fitt: It's certainly a fair question, but track records come into play here. Not only has South Carolina played a much better schedule in the first four months of the season (not just the Clemson series, but also a solid series against Elon), but the Gamecocks still have a roster loaded with players who have proven themselves over and over again on the sport's biggest stage. Nobody on Kentucky's team has played in a regional. I think it is proper to reward Kentucky in the Top 25 after this weekend — and we vaulted them from unranked to No. 16, which is a pretty significant jump. But I'm also not prepared to give up on South Carolina as a top 10 team after its first bad weekend in ages. At the end of the season, I still feel confident that South Carolina will have proven itself better. Now, if Kentucky swept South Carolina in May, and they had comparable bodies of work, that would be a different story.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Will the draft prospect watch list be revised at midseason/some point?

Aaron Fitt: Pretty sure we do a midseason update, and then other updates as the draft gets closer.

    Bob (Texas): Are there any impact freshman that have been helping UCLA's recent surge?

Aaron Fitt: Certainly Grant Watson has been a huge key. He's a pitchability lefthander who has thrived in the bullpen, in a midweek starting role and even in a weekend start against ASU yesterday. It's not overpowering stuff — just 85-86 with the fastball — but he works in and out, mixes speeds and locations, just knows how to pitch. He's going to have a lot of success in college.

    Larry Braverman (Long Beach, CA): Seems like Long Beach State has taken some major steps backwards. The team seems to have no identity, they play like a team with no tradition to uphold, what is going on at LBSU?

Aaron Fitt: I think that's way too harsh. Long Beach has been very competitive all season long, they've just lost a bunch of close games, many of them in gut-wrenching fashion. Even this weekend, they lost a pair of tight 2-1 games against a good Fullerton team, then came back to win the finale. LBSU plays a tough schedule every year, which makes it hard for some of their younger guys to build confidence, but I like the young core there, and I think Long Beach still will be a factor in the Big West — I see that team finishing somewhere in the top four, along with Cal Poly and Irvine.

    Tommy (San Diego): Thanks for the chat! Wanted to get your thoughts on USD. They have always been able to pitch in past years, but their achilles heel always seemed to be at the plate. How do you see them doing as conference starts? And can they keep up the swings at the plate?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's a pretty balanced team, actually — some nice power arms on the mound, a good mix of lefties and righties, good athleticism up the middle, a solid lineup and even some thump with Kris Bryant and Dillon Haupt. We haven't written much about the Toreros yet, but we will — I still like that team to win the WCC, and I think the bats will continue to perform.

    Brian (Michigan): Is it time to start paying attention to Michigan State 2B Ryan Jones? How high could he go in draft and what are his chances at All-American? Doesn't seem like there are a lot of second basemen better then him.....

Aaron Fitt: I think he's a great natural hitter — I wrote a little about him two weeks ago when I saw Michigan State at Texas A&M. He actually came in neck-and-neck with Indiana's Micah Johnson in the scouting director voting for the third-team second base slot on our preseason All-America team, so he is a legit All-America-caliber player. I don't think he's a premium draft talent, because he's a second baseman whose other tools don't match his bat, but his bat will play in pro ball, and it could carry him inside the top five to seven rounds.

    Dan (Deland): Hey Aaron! What does Stetson have to do this week to possibly crack your 25 finally? 2 weekday games in Tallahassee and a series at Belmont. Think the Hatters are capable of sneaking up on the Noles?

Aaron Fitt: I'm not sure I would even call it "sneaking up" — I think everybody in that state knows that Stetson is a darn good team, and I don't think there's any way Florida State would take those games lightly. But yes, I think Stetson could win one or two of those games, which would propel the Hatters into the Top 25, because we've had that team on the cusp of the rankings since the preseason. They just haven't played the kind of competition that has allowed them to make a statement that they are Top 25-worthy.

    Micah (Alabama): Auburn seems to have a legitimate pitching staff for the first time in a long time. Coming off a big series win at Ole Miss, do you think they have the potential to make some noise by the end of the season?

Aaron Fitt: You know, it is a good staff, with a lot of experienced guys and a couple of talented freshmen, most notably Daniel Koger. Derek Varnadore hasn't even really pitched up to his abilities yet, and if he can do so, that staff has a chance to be quite good. I don't think it's an overpowering staff like LSU, Arkansas or Florida have, but it should be good enough to make Auburn competitive most weekends in the SEC. I'm still not sold on the Tigers as a regionals team, but they've certainly got a shot, and this weekend showed they're dangerous.

    Brant (Baton Rouge): What is your view on LSU's hitting against SEC pitching from this past weekend? I know it was Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs do have a pretty legit pitching staff.

Aaron Fitt: Yes they do — a very legit pitching staff. LSU is going to win a lot of 3-2 and 4-3 type games this year — that's just how this team is constructed. The offense scored enough runs to win a series against a really good pitching staff this weekend. I take that as a very positive weekend for LSU.

    Joe (Arkansas): Is there enough Arkansas offense to carry the Hogs to the CWS title this year? Pitching has been solid but offensively, is it good enough?

Aaron Fitt: I feel like I'm saying this a lot, but yes, I think Arkansas' offense will improve, and it has been good enough already for that team to go 19-2. The pitching staff deserves a lot of credit, but college baseball has changed. You can win a national championship by scoring 5 or 6 runs per game. Just ask the Gamecocks (they scored 6.1 per game last year). Arkansas is averaging 6.6 right now—and I think there is room for improvement, and that it will improve. I believe in the athleticism and talent in that lineup.

    Thomas (Salisbury, NC): What are your thoughts on the job that Chris Pollard has done/is doing at Appalachian? After winning 32 or more games in each of the last five seasons—including the second-most in school history (38) in 2010, this year's team looks like it may be his best as it is off to a 17-3, 6-0 start which of course features the series win at LSU (#11 in this week's poll). What do you think about their chances of winning the SoCon? What do you think they'll need to do to secure an at-large berth? While the team is hitting .306 and has Daniel Kassouf at .393 with eight homers and 26 RBI, the difference in this year's club from previous ones seems to be the performance of the pitching staff (3.19 ERA and .230 opp BA) to go with the solid performance at the plate.

Aaron Fitt: I think Appalachian State is a very legitimate contender for the SoCon title — that weekend rotation is pretty legit. I think that series this weekend at Elon will tell us a lot about the state of the SoCon; hopefully there will be a Baseball America contingent in Elon for that one.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that's all for today — thanks for stopping by, as always! Have a great week.