College Top 25 Chat: April 9

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Aaron Fitt: Sorry for the delay — had to finish Three Strikes, which will be posted very shortly on the college blog. Let's get chatting!

    Jason (New Orleans): Hey, I know Tulane lost 2/3 to Rice this weekend but how do you see them finishing off the season. Games 1 and 2 were very competitive but game 3 we just couldn't get the bat going...

Aaron Fitt: The reality for Tulane is that it is going to have to win the C-USA tournament in order to make a regional. Its RPI is outside the top 100, and this weekend was really critical for the Green Wave to have a shot at an at-large. I think Tulane is a solid all-around club, but it just isn't special.

    Matt (Texas): Where would Appel, Zimmer, Wacha, and Gausman rank compared to the arms from last years draft?

Aaron Fitt: I think Cole and Appel are pretty comparable, but I would probably take Cole. I like Bauer and Hultzen better than any college arms in this class, but I think this group has solid depth, as the Wacha/Gausman/Stroman types stack up well against the Jungmann/Bradley/Barnes/Gray group, I think. Last year's class was much richer in lefthanded pitching, though, with Tyler Anderson and Sean Gilmartin also going in the first round. There really isn't a college lefty this year who looks like a lock to be a first-round pick. Brian Johnson is probably at the top of the heap, and his performance has not been overhwelming, and neither is his stuff.

    LMU Lion (Joplin, MO): What is going on in Fargo? North Dakota State finally lost yesterday, ending a 16-game winning streak. Yeah, their opponents have been pretty weak, but they played Arizona tough early in the year and took two of two at Minnesota. They're 22-6 despite having played just three games at home so far. Do they have a chance to challenge Oral Roberts in the Summit?

Aaron Fitt: Certainly they do — it's a club loaded with upperclassmen, like other upstarts such as New Mexico State. Go back and read the Under The Radar blog I wrote about North Dakota State last week — that's an intriguing club. That said, I'll always pick ORU in the Summit until somebody actually beats those guys. And ORU could be very dangerous in a regional if its top three pitchers can all get and stay healthy. But right now, the Golden Eagles look vulnerable.

    MJ (NYC): What do you make of Miami at this point in the season? After the Clemson series it almost seemed like the wheels were about to come off and then this past week they come back and sweep #3 UNC with great pitching all the way around and good hitting. This is the type of Miami team I had thought would materialize and maybe its finally here. After this weekend, do you see Miami ready to make a run at a national seed? That FSU series looms large in 2 weeks.

Aaron Fitt: Yep, that FSU series is monstrous — if Miami wins that series, it has a very good chance to land a national seed. The rest of the schedule sets up pretty favorably for the 'Canes. This is not a juggernaut Miami team—it's not the 2008 team, with all elite draft picks and future big leaguers. It's not 2012 LSU either—it doesn't have the shut-down arms in the weekend rotation that the Tigers have. This team has one scary bat in the middle with Peter O'Brien, and a bunch of experienced pitchers with quality arms who know how to pitch. Miami will be in a lot of close games, but it should be good enough to win a bunch of them. But like with LSU, there's not a real big margin for error here — if you're playing a bunch of close games, those can go either way. So right now, I'm still not projecting Miami to be a national seed, but the opportunity is there.

    Will (Alexandria, VA): Aaron, I'm not sure how to read my Gamecocks. Are all the stranded baserunners indicative of a team who's about to start scoring runs and reclaim the throne? Do the lack of runs (and middle relief) and CLOSE finishes vs mediocre teams suggest the squad is too young and might not even get to host its regional? I feel like if this squad is going to contend in June, it'll be with a very different sort of baseball than what we saw the past two years. What's your take?

Aaron Fitt: It's not an elite offense by any means, but it wasn't an elite offense in the last two years either, and the Gamecocks still won titles. The difference might be that the defense WAS elite the last two years, and this year I think the defense is good but not elite. I still worry a bit about the two freshmen up the middle, Greiner and Pankake, although it looks like the defense played well this weekend, which is encouraging. I think both those guys are going to be really good players, but I don't think they're there yet. Jordan Montgomery helped stabilize the rotation this weekend, but here's something to keep in mind: when you go Roth-Koumas-Holmes, you're giving hitters a much different look on Saturday with a power righty than you did on Friday, with a pitchability lefty. Montgomery, though, is in the same mold as Roth, and I wonder if facing Roth and Montgomery back-to-back will actually help hitters start to get acclimated by Saturday. Maybe South Carolina will wind up putting Holmes in between the two lefties, which I think would make a lot of sense.

    Brian (Camden,Ar): What do you think about the Stanek, Astin, Baxendale rotation for the hogs last weekend im ashamed at how giddy I am about it but I think its the answer we need. Are we on to something or was georgia just a weak offensive team

Aaron Fitt: Don't be ashamed, Brian! That is an exciting possibility for the rotation if Sanburn can hold down the closer role, which I believe he can — heck, scouting directors voted the guy onto our preseason All-America team. Astin was good back there, but Arkansas needed a third starter who can pitch deeper into a ballgame, because that has been an Achilles' heel for that team. As good as Astin was in the bullpen, I say give him a few weeks to find out if he is the answer in the rotation.

    A Pirate (Pirate Country): What about these ECU Pirates?? out of the top 25? Don't get any respect

Aaron Fitt: No respect, I tell you! Thank you, Mr. Dangerfield. The problem with ECU's resume is that it lacks a series win against an at-large-caliber club. ECU is just 2-5 against the RPI top 50, per The two teams we brought in this week—Sam Houston State (7-3 vs. the top 50) and New Mexico State (5-3) just have more quality wins than the Pirates.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): UCLA loses 2 of 3 and falls wall the way down to 17?! Seems a bit drastic considering their overall body of work. Thoughts?

Aaron Fitt: Oh, it's drastic—you're right. I'm surprised we haven't had more questions and/or outrage about the volatility in the rankings this week, but maybe people want their rankings to be reactionary. Too bad — most of the time, we're going to keep exercising restraint. This week, however, putting together the Top 25 was very difficult. North Carolina, UCLA and Ole Miss all got hit harder than we really wanted to hit them, because there were a bunch of teams in the 8-18 range with similar or better resumes coming off strong weeks, and they needed to be rewarded. In UCLA's case, I like what the Bruins have done, but if you stack up their body of work with Oregon's, I like Oregon's better. UCLA has two series losses at home, while Oregon has lost just one series (on the road) and has played a stout schedule. On top of that, of course, the Ducks just won two of three at Jackie Robinson Stadium. We had several different versions of the rankings this week, and one of them would have kept UCLA at No. 11 and Oregon at No. 18—but we decided we were more impressed with Fullerton's resume (to choose a team in a comparable geographic location) and Oregon's resume, so we did what was necessary to move the Bruins behind those teams. Yes it is harsh, and yes, I believe UCLA is better than its ranking suggests. But this time of year, a team's on-field accomplishments have to start weighing more heavily than my subjective assessment of how good that team is. That's the same reason we knocked Arkansas down 10 spots last week, even though I still believe Arkansas will be at top-five team at the end of the year. In UCLA's case, I don't necessarily see the Bruins as a top-five team because I'm not in love with their pitching, but I think they can be a top 10-12 type team ultimately.

    Mike (El Paso): As a league, the Big 12 is down this year. With the way that Texas A&M and Baylor are playing, how likely is it that both could end up as national seeds?

Aaron Fitt: On the one hand, playing in a bad conference would seem to hurt their national seed hopes—if that league gets three bids, will it really get two national seeds? On the other hand, if those two teams completely dominate that league, maybe that helps them put together gaudy records and makes it easier to earn national seeds. I'm curious to see how it will shake out—but right now, my gut says only one of them gets a national seed.

    Bill (Bozeman, MT): Aaron, thanks for the chat, as always. What, if anything, do the initial entries of Sam Houston State and New Mexico State into a Top 25 that also includes San Diego, Purdue and Central Florida say about the current state of college baseball to you?

Aaron Fitt: Hi, Bill. I think my gut reaction is to say there is more parity in college baseball than there used to be—and I feel like over the last two or three years, we've ranked more first-time teams than I remember in the previous three years, but I'm not certain. Sounds like a good research project for a BA intern! I did expect the rules changes several years back—requiring every scholarship player to get at least 25 percent, and capping the number of scholarship players at 27 and the number of total players on a roster at 35—to cause more of the middle-tier players to go to more mid-majors, where they might develop into impact players. Maybe that is one of the reasons for the apparent increase in parity. But again, just because it feels like there is more parity doesn't mean it's necessarily the case — I'd like to research this more thoroughly to see if the facts back up our impressions.

    Skrip (Chicago): Aaron, thanks for the chat. This is the best Boilermaker team we have seen in many years. What do they have to do the rest of the way to secure a spot in the regional field? We have seen quality Big Ten teams in the past win the regular season, lose the tournament, and get left out of an at large bid. Do you think this is a team that can make some noise in the post season? BOILER UP! Thanks for taking my question.

Aaron Fitt: Hi, Skip. I love the nonconference schedule Purdue put together, and I love how well the Boilermakers played against that tough schedule. Purdue ranks No. 12 in the latest Boyd's World RPI, which means it will be in great shape for an at-large berth unless it really struggles down the stretch. Yes, the Big Ten schedule will drag that RPI down some, but I think it will still be in at-large range. I do think Purdue can make some noise in the postseason thanks to that potent offense. Haase and Breedlove make a nice veteran tandem in the rotation—neither guy is overpowering, but they really compete and know how to win. Freshman Connor Podkul pitched well in the Sunday spot this week, and I think he'll be there to stay—he's got more power stuff than the other two starters and could be a real key for the Boilermakers going forward. His breaking ball is a very nice weapon — a power pitch with hard, tight break and depth.

    Arkham (Danville, PA): So, Aaron, given what you've seen: UCLA got the goods to host a regional or no? Thanks, as always.

Aaron Fitt: Certainly I think so, yes. But the Bruins must weather the next four weeks, which look grueling: at Arizona, at Oregon State, vs. Stanford, vs. Purdue (how about that early-May nonconference series?). Let's say the Bruins lose the next two series on the road, all of a sudden they'll have three straight series losses heading into that Stanford series. Their hosting chances will look a lot more precarious then. Arizona will be favored at home this weekend, and if the Wildcats hold serve at home, that series at Oregon State becomes huge for UCLA.

    Dougner (New Mexico): Hey Aaron, I'm more than a bit frustrated at the lack of respect Cal State Fullerton gets. They played Florida tough in Gainesville, beat A&M and TCU, split with ASU in Tempe and just keep winning. They play in the Big West and while it is not the SEC, they win the games on the schedule. Every year they end up hosting a regional, playing to go to Omaha where they have won four championships! They went 4-0 for the week and they move up one place in the top 25? Help me understand.

Aaron Fitt: Yeah yeah, nobody gets any respect. Got it. First of all, Fullerton moved up two spots, not one — and this was in a week when many of the teams right ahead of it also had winning or (or even undefeated) weeks. We wanted to reward Fullerton a bit for its strong body of work, and we did so, even though there wasn't a whole lot of room to move up in the rankings. I really do like Fullerton's body of work, but there are blemishes: the Titans hadn't done a great job sweeping inferior opponents until this week, losing single games to Oral Roberts, Northridge and Long Beach State over the previous three weeks. They've been just OK in midweek games (going 4-3), and they don't exactly blow you away with their offense or their pitching. They just win games—and there's a lot to be said for that, but they're 21-10 and they're  ranked 12th. That feels about right to me, especially when you factor in the talent and experience advantages of some of the other teams around them in the rankings.

    Bill (Bozeman, MT): San Diego is the front-runner in the WCC at this point, but are any of the other league teams in the Top 25 discussion?

Aaron Fitt: Pepperdine and Gonzaga have been in the discussion at various points this year, and Portland is on the radar, but none of the three was a major factor in our deliberations this week.

    Justin (South Carolina): In SEC play, South Carolina has averaged 4.6 runs/game. Do you seem them raising that number by May?

Aaron Fitt: A bit, sure. But South Carolina only averaged 6.1 runs per game last year (including nonconference games), and I don't think they're as good offensively as they were last year. Maybe it will get up closer to 5.5 per game by season's end. There is still room for improvement as some of those young hitters continue to find their bearings.

    Michael (Georgia): Aaron, what are your thoughts on the SOCON half way thru the season? This week App St picked up big series win vs CofC, Elon lost 2 of 3 at Furman(lost 2 of 3 at Davidson earlier in year), Samford won 2 of 3 vs Citadel and WCU lost 2 of 3 at Wofford after beating Clemson and sweeping their regular season 2 game series for first time. What order would you put the top 6?

Aaron Fitt: Golly, that conference is tough to figure. It's going to be one of those years where it goes down to the last day of the season, I think. Right now, I'll put Appalachian State at the top of the heap, followed by Elon, CofC, Samford, Georgia Southern (which seems to have gotten back on track a bit lately) and Western Carolina. But really, it's a toss-up — nobody is going to run away with that conference. I like the Mountaineers' quality weekend rotation and veteran lineup, though. Winning that series against Charleston was huge.

    Bill (Atlanta, GA): It's hard to feel positive after being swept, but FSU seems the real deal right now. GT was actually one timely hit away from taking Friday in the bottom of the ninth and who will ever know. The Jackets played much better defense and I actually think can make a move against WF next weekend. Do you have any thoughts on the Jackets?

Aaron Fitt: I think your assessment feels right, Bill. Florida State is a buzz-saw right now, and Georgia Tech is just too banged up on the mound, but the defense has been better over the last couple of weeks, which helps the pitching, obviously. That Wake series is starting to loom large, isn't it? Suddenly Tech is sitting in the mid-40s in the RPI with a 6-9 conference record — there's not a lot of room to go deeper into the hole and still emerge for an at-large bid.

    Max (Bellevue, WA): Does Washington make a regional for the first time since 2004?

Aaron Fitt: I'm starting to think so, actually. The weakness of the Big 12 really helps—the Pac will have a chance to get a bunch of bids. After UC Irvine got swept this weekend, the Big West is looking like a two-bid league, at best. Washington has held its own against quality opponents and has won some nice series, and its RPI is inside the top 30. The schedule doesn't get any easier, but if I re-did my field of 64 projection today, I think I'd include the Huskies.

    Andrew (Houston): Sam Houston State is really playing well. Do they have any draft prospects for this year?

Aaron Fitt: Keep an eye on Justin Jackson, a fifth-year senior coming off Tommy John surgery who pitched well again this weekend. At his best, he can be 90-93 with the ability to mix in three decent offspeed pitches. I plan to check in with David Pierce this week, in part to see if Jackson has shown that kind of stuff lately.

    MIKE (BREA): Aaron, I have been to many CSU Fullerton games this year and have been surprised by how BA keeps ranking them so high. I have a son playing in the SEC and many friends with sons playing in the PAC 12 and have seen many games from both confrences. Honestly, at this point the Titans just have way to much work to do to be at #12. Last week I saw they 3 HR's as a team! They lost last week to Wash St and Long Beach St in the same week and moved up. This week they had to come back late on Fri and Sat to beat UC Davis, yet you keep moving them up. What does BA see that the rest of us do not?

Aaron Fitt: Not enough respect, too much respect — make up your mind, folks! (Just having some fun with you guys...). Fullerton's body of work is still very impressive — they won two of three against A&M, now the No. 2 team in the country, and held their own at Florida, winning one of three. They went to Arizona State midweek and split a pair. The TCU series win doesn't look as good right now, but that will wind up looking like a quality series win by season's end, I'll wager. The Titans haven't lost a series since the first week. No, they are not dominant, but they're good, and they've played a very strong schedule. Ultimately, winning matters more than how you win.

    Bill (Bozeman, MT): Aaron, your Midseason Report and the Field of 64 projection is one of my favorite days of the season so I hope you'll indulge me in a question on that topic: did anything change drastically over the weekend in your field of 64? You had Mississippi State as a #2 seed but the Bulldogs are in the 40-50 range in most RPI projections and their most significant weekend series win was the season opener against Washington State (unless you want to count Vandy). Won't MSU have to win a series against a good team eventually to be an NCAA Tourney team?

Aaron Fitt: Certainly, if the season ended today, Mississippi State would be more of a borderline No. 3 than a No. 2. The Bulldogs need to win more quality series in the second half, and my projection was based on an expectation that they will do just that now that they're finally healthy again. I like the talent on that club. This weekend was a good start, although it wasn't easy.

    KC (Durham): Any take home message from the LSU-Florida series as to the directions the teams are heading, or just an aberration?

Aaron Fitt: I am starting to worry about Florida's pitching. Obviously, we have not seen the same Hudson Randall and Karsten Whitson that we saw a year ago, and eight weeks into the season, that is a real concern. Brian Johnson has been ordinary at best, by and large. They lean so heavily on Austin Maddox and Steven Rodriguez — are those guys going to burn out when it matters most? These are legitimate questions, and until they are answered, I can no longer cling to my conviction that Florida is the strong national title favorite. If I had to pick a team to win it all today, I would still go with the Gators — I believe that coaching staff will get it figured out. But I make that call with much more trepidation today than I did a couple of weeks ago.

    Tyker K (Ft. Myers, Florida): Don't you think dropping the Gators to No. 7 was a bit harsh? UF has the #1 RPI, #1 Strength of Schedule and the most wins in the country vs. the Top 25 with 12. This is the same team that swept Miami on the road, took 2/3 from SC in Columbia and is 2-0 vs FSU this season. Does a 1-3 week really justify knocking them down 6 spots?

Aaron Fitt: We gave the Gators a pass after they lost a series last week, because they still had a better body of work than the teams behind them. That is no longer the case. They've lost back-to-back weekend series, and there is reason to wonder if their pitching is really as good as we thought. No, I don't think a six-spot fall is too drastic. Of the five teams in front of Florida, only LSU has lost two weekend series — and of course LSU just won a series in Gainesville following a sweep of Arkansas, so momentum and head-to-head factors are clearly in the Tigers' favor.

    Eric (St Louis): What is the latest on Pierce Johnson? I'd heard he was injured, but can't find anything specific.

Aaron Fitt: Missouri State pitching coach Paul Evans told me last week that Johnson was dealing with some forearm soreness, and he expected Johnson to return this coming weekend.

    Alex (fairfax, VA): How close was UVa to being ranked this week? They're schedule hasn't been tough so I was surprised they're RPI #19 (even though it's early). Kline seems to be sorting himself out. Big home series this weekend v. UNC (even without Moran).

Aaron Fitt: The RPI sure loves the ACC—more than we do, I think. As I've expressed repeatedly over the years, I'm not the biggest fan of the RPI... Virginia is back in our discussion this week, and a series win against UNC would likely get the Cavs into our Top 25 for the first time this year.

    Taylor (Colorado): Give me your top player of each class thus far.

Aaron Fitt: Senior: James Ramsey. Junior: Mike Zunino. Sophomore: Kris Bryant. Freshman: Carlos Rodon.

Aaron Fitt: OK everybody, that's it for today. Thanks for stopping by!