College Top 25 Chat: April 2

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody! Wild weekend in college baseball resulted in the first real shakeup near the top of the rankings this year. I'm sure we'll have plenty to talk about today. Let's get to it.

    Chris (California): Hey Aaron what are thoughts on Oregons Jake Reed?

Aaron Fitt: Really like him. I was a little aggressive with him in our Top 200 Prospects meeting before last year's draft, ranking him No. 128, but he has justified that ranking and more so far. He's just a guy with an advanced feel for pitching at a young age, the ability to mix speeds and locations with three quality pitches, and plenty of projection left in that frame. It's a loose arm with a lot of upside, I think. Oregon really, really needed him to be very good right away in order to have a good season after losing Christian Jones and Cole Wiper and Sam Johnson, and his success is one of the biggest reasons for the success of the Ducks.

    Jeff (Washington D.C.): The final two games were very tightly contested, but were you as shocked as I by how much Arkansas was dominated by LSU this weekend? LSU outhit Arkansas .336 to .171. LSU's starting pitching lasted 8 innings longer and struck out twice as many batters. Most surprisingly was LSU's superiority in relief. LSU's relievers pitched 8.2 innings, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 11 SOs. Arkansas' relievers threw 14 innings, 18 hits, 7 runs, 3 walks, only 9 strikeouts. Arkansas struck out 40 times this weekend! Bad weekend or should the alarms be going off in Fayetteville?

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, the 40 strikeouts/5 walks for Arkansas hitters this weekend might have been most jarring for me. That LSU staff is really good, but I agree with you — the way LSU's bullpen out-performed Arkansas' bullpen was the biggest surprise of the weekend. I felt strongly that Arkansas had a decided advantage in the pen coming into the weekend. But no, I don't think there is any reason for Razorbacks fans to panic. I still firmly believe that Arkansas will be an Omaha team — there are just too many quality pieces in place. Losing two games in walk-off fashion against a quality LSU team in a tough environment doesn't change my overall view of the Razorbacks, despite their 10-place plunge in this week's rankings. That's more a function of Arkansas' rather underwhelming overall body of work. That nonconference schedule was soft, and Arkansas failed its biggest test this weekend. The Hogs had to be behind LSU after a sweep, and there was only so much room for LSU to come up. Messy week in the ranking room.

    Joe (New York): Quick the top 25 based on the specific team's potential or how they have fared thus far in the season?

Aaron Fitt: Now that we've reached the midway point of the regular season, you're seeing the emphasis of the rankings shift more and more toward resumes — which is why Arkansas fell so hard today even though I believe in that team. Potential still weighs into it, in the form of residual effects from the preseason rankings. Arkansas, for instance, entered the season at No. 4 and did nothing to drop until this weekend, so its high ranking kept it from falling too far this week.

    Jillian B. (Miami, FL): When is the last time a BA #1 went the whole season with the top ranking?

Aaron Fitt: It's never happened in 31 years.

    Steve L. (Corvallis): What is going on with ASU? They are 3-6 in league play. They have probably only lost 8 games in league play for the past 2 years. Thanks for the chat!

Aaron Fitt: This is an atypical ASU team, and not only because it won't be in regionals. The Sun Devils are almost always an imposing offensive club, but this group really isn't. I like the ability of the top four in the lineup (Aplin, Marrero, DeMichele and Ruiz), but Aplin and Marrero really have not performed at a level as high as I expected from them, and the rest of the lineup really is a work in progress, as Tim Esmay keeps saying. I do like the Rodgers/Williams duo in the rotation and Barrett at the back of the bullpen — those guys should make the Sun Devils competitive in most series. But this never figured to be a juggernaut ASU team like we've grown accustomed to seeing.

    Yolander A. (Whittier, CA): Pepperdine.....regional team or not?

Aaron Fitt: Tough one. I'll have a better answer for you when I crunch some numbers and do my projected Field of 64 this week. Pepperdine's stout nonconference schedule has allowed it to build a strong RPI, which gives it a real chance at an at-large bid if it can get back on track in the WCC — which I think it is good enough to do. But this weekend was a setback, certainly. Considering Gonzaga also has a strong RPI and could wind up competing with Pepperdine for an at-large spot out of that conference, the head-to-head series could loom large. Which leads me to lean toward a tentative "no" for Pepperdine getting a bid, but I reserve the right to change it in my midseason field of 64 projection this week.

    Steve (San Diego): A few years ago you listed a few programs you felt were up and coming. For the most part you were right with your projections. So how about naming three programs that you feel that are outside the Top 25 that you feel will get to that level and stay over the next few years. Then three programs that are in the bottom half of your Top 25 that you feel in the next few years will become an upper half program? Thanks for your chat!

Aaron Fitt: I think San Diego has a chance to return to national prominence — that program has been a top 10 in the not too distant past, and a new ballpark next year should be a huge boost. NC State is another program in the back half of the rankings that will be a major factor on the national level over the next three years, thanks to that stellar freshman class. Southern Miss is in that same category as a team that could make a leap from the very good to the elite level in the next three years. I'm very intrigued by several Mountain West programs — I love the foundation Ray Birmingham has built at New Mexico, I think Tim Chambers has UNLV going in a very good direction, and Air Force will continue to improve under Mike Kazlausky, though I'm not projecting them to be a top 25 kind of team. Those are three coaching staffs with a lot of energy and three programs with positive momentum, I think.

    Wayne (Berkeley): Aaron, do you see this weekend series victory from Cal, a move in the right direction. It looks like they have had some trouble at the SS position, and their pitching staff has not clicked as of yet with Justin Jones having some bad outings. Where do you see Cal going this year, and do you see the effects of losing a year of recruiting since last years fiasco?

Aaron Fitt: It was almost a must-win series for Cal, which hadn't won a series since Week 3 against Lehigh. The Pac-12 is so deep that it won't be easy for Cal to dig out of its early hole, but this weekend provided a much-needed RPI boost. You're right that Derek Campbell has struggled to replace Marcus Semien at short (fielding just .882), and Cal simply won't go very far if Justin Jones can't turn his season around. I think people forget just how valuable Erik Johnson and Kevin Miller and Dixon Anderson were for last year's Golden Bears. Without those guys and with that lost recruiting class, this pitching staff is thin. I think it will be tough for Cal to overcome that deficiency.

    Tom (Columbia, SC): Hey, looking at the top 25 poll it looks like there are a lot of teams located either in the southeast or on the west coast. How many regionals do you think the folks out west will get? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Four feels like the right answer: Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Fullerton. I'd give Oregon or Oregon State a chance at a fifth West site.

    Eric (Grand Junction, CO): Where do you see Peter O'Brien, Preston Tucker and Ross Stripling as senior draftees?

Aaron Fitt: They'll all go safely inside the top 10 rounds, and I could see O'Brien going around that third round again, and Tucker in that 4-6 range. Stripling feels more like a 6th-10th round type. It is a great year for seniors — that will be a theme of this week's Midseason Report.

    Rory (Golden, CO): So I know New Mexico wouldn't be in the field of 64 if the season ended today due to there slow start, but since a 2-9 start they've gone 10-5 with series victories against Fresno St and TCU along with sweeps of San Diego St and Gonzaga. If they continue to play like this, do you see them getting an at-large bid?

Aaron Fitt: I can't see that RPI (currently No. 103) climbing enough to make that a viable possibility. But I could certainly see the Lobos winning the MWC's automatic bid again. I still like TCU, but New Mexico has proven it can hang with the Frogs and even beat them, and UNM's confidence level is growing.

    Frank (Idaho): Sorry but just about any team in the top 25 would be ranked top 5 if they had FSU schedule. What a joke. We go through this every year with saying their pitching is so much improved. FSU is not the #2 team in the nation.

Aaron Fitt: Then who would you suggest is? Florida State has shut down a very good UCF offense twice with midweek pitching. FIU is a capable offensive team that got off to a slow start, and the FSU staff dominated that lineup in a sweep. Virginia isn't what it was last year, but it is no pushover — it swept Clemson (which just took 2 of 3 from Miami) and pushed NC State to the brink this weekend. Florida State's schedule is not Florida's schedule, which is one reason we kept the Gators ahead of the Seminoles (along with the head-to-head results). But Florida State is 24-4 against a decent schedule, and its pitching has certainly exceeded my expectations to this point.

    Matt (Tallinn, Estonia): Which is the true statement after Oregon's sweep of ASU? Oregon is a Pac-10 title contender or ASU is a mediocre baseball team?

Aaron Fitt: I don't think Oregon is a Pac-12 title contender, but I don't think "mediocre" is the right word for ASU. I think it will prove to be a good ASU team — just not a great one. Maybe we're quibbling over semantics here...

    Joe LeCates (Easton, MD): Aaron, thank you for all the awesome work as always. We are close to the mid-point of the season (probably actually a week away I suppose), you have Ramsey, Zunino, Naquin, and Gelalich leading the charge, but who is the POY at this point?

Aaron Fitt: You'll have to wait until later this week to find out! Those are some good names...

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): I know you're fond of the UCLA bats so who in the lineup is the best pro prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Jeff Gelalich has really elevated his draft stock. But don't sleep on Tyler Heineman — a backstop who can really catch and throw and has a nice contact bat. Have a feeling he's going to get drafted well too.

    Mick (Chicago): Does the man you have pictured on your front page Alex Yarbrough have the talent to project to play at the highest level, and will he remain in the middle infield?

Aaron Fitt: I certainly think his bat will play at the highest level — the guy was born to hit. I have my doubts about whether he is athletic enough to stick in the middle infield in the majors, and whether he'll have the power for a corner. Strikes me as a bit of a tweener — maybe a future utility bat off the bench.

    Matt (Oxford): Aaron, what is it exactly that UK is doing so well? What do you predict to happening in this weekends series Ole Miss at Kentucky?

Aaron Fitt: What aren't the Wildcats doing well? They are playing at a high level in all phases, and they're doing it without any unibrowed wunderkinds! The rotation is solid, the bullpen is solid and has a dependable closer in Trevor Gott, the lineup is explosive (powerful and athletic), the defense is sound. That said, this is a quality Ole Miss team that is also playing at a pretty high level right now. When two good teams meet in the SEC, it is often wise to pick the home team to win two of three, and that's what I'll go with in that series, too.

    Trevor (Hillsboro, OR): Interesting role reversal with the Beavers. Starting pitching gave up 1 ER in 23 IP this weekend, and relievers struggled. Bryant is looking human. If Boyd and Bryant get their stuff going, how good is this OSU team?

Aaron Fitt: I don't get the sense there's any real reason to worry about Boyd and Bryant. I think those guys will be fine, which makes Oregon State very dangerous, indeed, if those young guns in the rotation keep on pitching like this. That team has a lot of upside, and so far it has gotten a lot out of its talented youngsters.

    Pirate Nation (Greenville, NC): Not sure how you leave ECU out again: #24 AZ St 16-12, RPI 50 and SOS 151 #25 Texas 15-11, RPI 36 and SOS 24 NR ECU 19-8, RPI 20, SOS 32 What gives?

Aaron Fitt: We do not base our rankings on the RPI, which is inherently flawed and is particularly unreliable this early in the year. The only time I look at the RPI is when trying to project the field of 64, because we know the committee uses the RPI as a crutch. I'm not a fan of those SOS numbers either — who has East Carolina beaten that really impresses you? I mean, I'm higher on Stony Brook than anybody, but that was ECU's best series win before this weekend against a decent UAB team. That said, if ECU had followed up that 1-3 performance last week with a win against NC State and a 4-0 performance this week, we would have ranked the Pirates. I think ECU is pretty good, I'm just not blown away by the resume, no matter what the RPI and SOS numbers say.

    Justin (Toronto): With Arizona sweeping Stanford, and UCLA only having 3 losses since the opening weekend, how much has the gap closed between them and Stanford in terms of their caliber? Also, who tops the list for Pac 12 Pitcher of the Year so far? I know Heyer, Plutko, and Mooneyham are all having very good years, but have any of them separated themselves?

Aaron Fitt: Right now, I think it's fair to say Arizona has leapt past Stanford — a sweep is pretty loud. I'm not sure any of those teams is really special on the mound — they all have shortcomings, but they also all have very dangerous offense. The difference is Stanford's offense has gone cold over the last few weeks, while the other two keep on producing. I think Stanford's lineup is too talented to stay down for long — it will bounce back... but you can no longer argue that Stanford's offense is a clear cut above those other two. As for Pac-12 pitcher of the year, I think that's as wide open as the race to win the conference. I suppose I'd give a slight nod to Mooneyham, but Brady Rodgers and Plutko are also in the mix, among others.

Aaron Fitt: Have to cut this short, have to take a phone call. Have a great week, everybody!