College Top 25 Chat: April 16

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody. Hope you enjoyed Week Nine — let's chat!

    Arkham (Danville, PA): Aaron, I recall at least one favorable in-game/post-game tweet about UCLA's Scott Griggs. I was curious if you've formed a broader opinion on his immediate future and pro potential? Thanks very much.

Aaron Fitt: Sorry for the delay — had to take a quick phone call. Griggs has all kinds of abilityit's a really big arm, with a fastball that regularly sits 93-94 mph, and I think he has made great strides with his pitchability this year. I think he has gained more and more confidence at the back of that bullpen, and I think he has a chance to be a nice power reliever in the big leagues someday if he can continue to refine his command and feel for pitching. His progress is very encouraging.

    Matt (Oklahoma City): Good Morning Aaron, Baylor has started off the Big 12 season 15-0; are they the real deal & how do you see the series vs. my Aggies unfolding this weekend? Does the winner most likely win the conference & get a national seed?

Aaron Fitt: Hi Matt — I think Baylor is the real deal as far as being a team that will host a regional, maybe get a national seed and have a chance to get to Omaha. It's a very balanced club, with a bunch of tough outs in the lineup, some thump in the middle and some quality college arms in the rotation, though they're not going to blow anybody away with big velocity. Certainly, it's a winning recipe. But I do still like the Aggies in that seriesWacha and Stripling give A&M such a huge leg up in any three-game seriesand I still like the Aggies to wind up atop the Big 12 standings. I do think the winner of that series this weekend will win the Big 12 and earn a national seed. And the way Baylor is playing, you have to give the Bears a real chance to win it, of coursebut I am sticking with the Aggies.

    Patrick (Lake Forest, CA): Hey Aaron it was great meeting you at the Fullerton-UCI game yesterday. After yesterday's devestating loss, what kind of finish to the season does Irvine need to have to have a chance to get into the postseason?

Aaron Fitt: Hi Patrick, thanks for saying hello yesterday. I wrote in detail about Irvine's plight in today's Three Strikes column, which should be posted shortly. The short version is this: Irvine is in a lot of trouble, and it needs to get extremely hot and stay that way for the rest of the season to have a chance to keep that regionals streak alive. There is no more margin for error.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): Worried about Zimmer's velo drop? Would you still consider him to be an overall Top 5 pick?

Aaron Fitt: His velocity was down this weekendI was at that LMU game, and Zimmer topped out at 94 in the first, then settled into the 89-91 range by the middle innings, pitching mostly at 90 mph. I don't think it's too much of a cause for concern — it's a long season, and pitchers will have ups and downs — but it's something to monitor going forward. I do still see him as a top five pick, but I feel more wary about that prediction now than I did a week ago. His curveball was still really goodhe used it as the putaway pitch on all five of his strikeoutsand I actually thought he showed decent feel for the slider and changeup at times, but his fastball command wasn't great Friday. The top of this draft is still really wide open, I think.

    Steve L. (Corvallis): Is Michael Conforto (.358, 8 HR's, 50 RBI's) a front runner for Freshman of the year?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's shaping up as a two-man race between Conforto and Carlos Rodon of NC State. It's apples and oranges — a dominant pitcher versus a powerful run producer — but right now I'd lean toward Rodon because of the impact he has made for an NC State team that finds itself in the thick of the regional-hosting race. Two great candidates, for sure.

    Shannon (Gainesville, FL): The state of the Florida starting rotation has been unexpectedly unstable so far this season, especially of late. Hudson Randall has now missed two starts with a "tired arm," and Karsten Whitson is still clearly nowhere near his usual self. Should Gator fans be concerned, or do you think things will come together by the end of the regular season? Jonathan Crawford has been solid filling in for both pitchers, but there has still been, by necessity, a heavier reliance on the bullpen this season, and it's a bit concerning how much Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox have been leaned on so far. Both have over 30 innings pitched, and Greg Larson isn't far behind. Those three are going to be extremely important once the postseason comes around; is there a danger of them being overworked at that point if their load isn't lightened some?

Aaron Fitt: Shannon, I think you have perfectly expressed my concerns about the Gators — which is one reason we dropped them to No. 7 last week after a second straight series loss. With three preseason All-Americans at full strength in the weekend rotation, pitching deep into games and putting less strain on the bullpen, Florida would be a juggernaut. But until Randall and Whitson get back to full throttle, the Gators are vulnerable, and there certainly is a danger of burning out those bullpen arms before the meaningful postseason games begin. But I have faith in Kevin O'Sullivan's ability to handle a pitching staff, and I have a feeling he'll find a way to put the Gators in position to get the most out of their arms at the end.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Is Tyler Heineman a legit pro prospect?

Aaron Fitt: Yes he is — he can really catch and throw, and he's a switch-hitter with the ability to make consistent contact. Catchers are always in demand, and I think he's a good one.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Finish this sentence- the Pac 12 will have two or more teams in Omaha if ____

Aaron Fitt: if ... the conference doesn't implode in June. I think the Pac-12 is very strong, and I think it is loaded with legit Omaha-caliber teams, starting with the three at the top of the standings. I still feel like Stanford will get back on track down the stretch, too, and ultimately find its way to Omaha. I believe in the talent, and the Cardinal always play hard for Mark Marquess. Don't write that team off because of a couple bumps in the road.

    Brian (Camden, Ar): Well its settled my hogs are not a top 10 team they just dont have the offense to compete with the best in the nation ive denied that fact all season but its time to admit it and move on I figure they will host a regional and hopefully win that and have a chance to sneak into omaha what do u think Aaron am I right?

Aaron Fitt: Well right now, Arkansas is not in position to host a regional, I suspect. I still think the Hogs are good enough to get back into position to host, but this weekend was a setback — gotta take care of business at home, especially with a couple of daunting road series coming up against Ole Miss and Florida. But even if they don't host, Arkansas is good enough on the mound to make a very deep postseason run. Its offense still needs to gel, and I think it's fair to wonder if the offense just isn't that good, with only three regulars hitting better than .300 and only two with OBPs above .400. But I still believe you can win the national title without a dominant offense — Arkansas just needs to make incremental improvements, and its pitching is good enough to carry it a long way.

    Tim (New Orleans): Aaron, how far away is Tulane from the Top 25? Would a weekday win vs Southeastern and a series win vs UCF put them in? I would think that going 3-1 this week would solidify a regional berth for the Green Wave, barring a falter down the stretch. Your thoughts?

Aaron Fitt: Tulane is still not close to the Top 25 — that resume lacks anything close to a series win against a legitimate regional team. Its best series win is against Memphis (RPI No. 96). At No. 92 in the RPI, Tulane has a lot of work to do to get back into the at-large discussion, but fortunately the next two weeks present an opportunity to make serious headway, against UCF and East Carolina. I think both are must-win series for the Green Wave; then we can start talking about their chances to make an at-large run.

    Jimmy (AZ): This season the PAC-12 Teams have bounced around all over the place in the top 25 Rankings..... Which PAC-12 Team do you see as the best overall, and which Teams do you see making some major noise during the post-season?

Aaron Fitt: I'm about ready to give up on trying to figure out which Pac-12 team is the best — I like a bunch of them, but they all have warts. Oregon has the best resume — I'm so impressed by what the Ducks have done over the last three weeks — but I'm still not convinced Oregon is the best team in the league. I still feel more comfortable predicting UCLA, Arizona and Stanford to go deeper in the postseason than Oregon, because those teams are more offensive. Oregon has the most consistent pitching of the four, but I continue to harbor reservations about its pitching depth — eventually, will that lack of depth catch up with the Ducks? But this is why this race is so compelling — there is no clear front-runner. It's really a free-for-all at the top, and it's going to be fun to watch it unfold.

    Christian (Lincoln, Nebraska): What are the chances Nebraska could win 2 of 3 this weekend in Lincoln against a red hot Purdue team?

Aaron Fitt: Purdue is red-hot, you're right. But I thought Nebraska showed a lot of character this weekend after getting trounced by Ohio State in the series opener, bouncing back to win the next two. The 'Huskers got good starting pitching in each of those wins, and they'll need plenty more of it to beat the Boilermakers. I like Purdue in that series, but I think it's a compelling series, and it's one I'll spotlight in Weekend Preview this week.

    AJ (Waco,TX): Aaron, Ever seen a team like Baylor be on a roll like they have been?

Aaron Fitt: Sure — Texas swept five straight Big 12 series as part of a 21-game winning streak in 2010, and that was against a much stronger Big 12. LSU went on that incredible winning streak en route to the 2009 national title; South Carolina ended last season by winning 10 straight NCAA tournament games. Baylor is on a great hot streak, but it's hardly unprecedented.

    Andy (Baton Rouge, LA): Where would rank LSU's starting rotation among others in the SEC and the nation? Their bullpen seems to be developing nicely too. I think the hiring of Alan Dunn as the pitching coach can't be understated.

Aaron Fitt: With Florida banged up, I think LSU has the best rotation in the SEC, and one of the very best in the country (I'd probably stack it up next to Texas A&M's at the top of the list, and I'd give LSU a slight edge because I think Nola is a little more capable of being dominant on Sundays than Rafael Pineda is). Agreed on Alan Dunn — he has a tremendous reputation, and Paul Mainieri raves about the job he has done with that pitching staff. Great hire.

    Justin (Toronto): Do you think the state of Texas will produce 3 nationals seeds (A&M, Baylor, and Rice)? What do the Longhorns have to do to have a 4th regional site in the state of Texas?

Aaron Fitt: I think that's a long shot — two feels more likely, and one feels just as likely as three. Rice has some work to do to solidify itself as a national seed candidate, but I do like its chances of making a real run down the stretch. I think whichever team wins the Big 12 gets a national seed, and the other team has a shot at another, especially if Rice doesn't put itself into national seed position. As for Texas, I just think that team needs to sustain a hot streak to boost that RPI from the 40s into the teens. I don't expect Texas to host, but it could.

    Jim (Waco, TX): Who are your 8 National Seeds right now, and how do you see them changing between now and the end of the season?

Aaron Fitt: I'll examine this question, plus the races for hosts and at-large spots, in tomorrow's Stock Report.

    Carlos (San Diego, CA): USD keeps winning in different ways (sometimes with big offense, sometimes with solid pitching) against diverse teams. What do you predict for USD?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's a very dangerous club. Love the power arms on that staff, love Kris Bryant in the middle of the lineup, really like the improved depth of the lineup. This is one of USD's best offensive teams in a long time. Only concern is the defense, which is still a work in progress. I see the Toreros winning the WCC and being a dangerous No. 2 seed in a regional.

    Daniel (Kingston, Jamaica): I let last week go as perhaps an overreaction to consecutive disappointing series, but now I can't help but wonder how many times UF has to beat FSU before they get some more respect in your rankings. Not only is UF 3-0 against the #1 team in your poll, but they have 13 wins against the top-25 (by far the most in the nation) compared to just two for FSU, and although UF has one more loss than FSU, FSU has four losses to unranked teams compared to just 2 for Florida (UK also has 2, the rest have more). I concede that UF has some problems in its rotation right now, but four of the six losses that UF has had in its skid have been by one run, including two one-run losses to #4 LSU, one of which featured an inexplicable base-running error. I realize that rankings aren't all that important right now, I just want to get the benefit of your thinking on UF's #5 ranking given its resume. Even with the recent struggles, their record seems to compare favorably to FSU's, the latter having done very little against ranked opponents (only two one-run wins over the same UCF team UF beat 8-0).

Aaron Fitt: Wow, during the O'Sullivan era, has anyone ever accused Baseball America of not having enough respect for the Florida Gators? I think the rest of the country must be sick of hearing us rave about Florida week after week... Look, Florida has a great resume, and a great team, but the pitching concerns right now are legitimate, and the fact is the Gators have lost two weekend series, however tight those series might have been. Florida State and Kentucky have lost zero weekend series. I think we've made it pretty clear over the years that we place more value on weekend games than midweek games (for evidence, just look back to last year, when the Seminoles owned the Gators midweek, but we kept the Gators ahead in the rankings all season, I believe). I agree that FSU has not played as strong a schedule, obviously. But the Seminoles have utterly dominated the ACC — that's not a pushover conference, even if it's not as strong as the SEC. Florida State has the best ACC record by four games — that's loud. Florida will be a high national seed, and Florida will be in Omaha, and Florida might very well win the national title. But at this point in the season, we cannot justify jumping a team that lost back-to-back weekend series back over a team that is undefeated in weekend series and is dominating the ACC. Strength of schedule and quality midweek wins certainly weigh into the calculus — that's why we left Florida No. 1 even after it lost its first series against Ole Miss. But there is more to the puzzle. Maybe that's not a satisfying answer, but it's the best I can do.

    Greg (Columbia, SC): Aaron, George Horton seems to have the Ducks playing at a very high level, but I haven't seen or heard much about the team. What is their M.O. and do they have the depth to make a run at a national seed? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: If you haven't heard much about the Ducks, you need to read more Baseball America, Greg! I wrote about Oregon twice last week, in Three Strikes and again in a notebook piece on Tuesday. Right now, Oregon is squarely in the middle of the national seed discussion — it has earned that place over the last three weeks. Looking forward, do I think Oregon has the depth to secure a national seed? I don't think so, but Oregon has surprised me all year long, so what do I know?

    Drew (DC): Is East Carolina in your Top 30?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, probably team 26 or 27 in our deliberations this week. We didn't have an opening in the Top 25, though, so we didn't get down to talking much about who to bring in.

    Katie Casey (The City): Can Kris Bryant stick at third at the next level? If you HAD to bet, would the smart money be that he is a top 5 draft pick in 2013, or would he be later than that?

Aaron Fitt: I really think he's got a chance to stick at third, although I know some people like him as a power-hitting corner outfielder — he could cover some ground out there with those long strides, and he has a strong arm. And yes, I will bet on him going top-five next year. Not many players have all-around tools packages to match Bryant's.

    Andrew (Valparaiso, IN): What are the chances that Purdue will be able to host a regional one of the minor league parks (Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Gary) in the state? I know the construction on their stadium won't have it ready in time, but it would be great to have a regional up this way.

Aaron Fitt: I feel pretty confident Purdue will be able to put together a bid to host at one of those sites, and I think the committee will jump at the chance to award the Boilermakers a regional. What a neat story.

    Dan (Houston): Rice's starting pitching finally put together a great weekend as a whole (0 runs, 19.2 IP, 22 SO). Do you think this team is close to where we expected them to be at the beginning of the year?

Aaron Fitt: Yes I do — feels like Rice is about to embark on one of those second-half runs it seems to make every year. Kubitza is back on track, the bullpen once again looks like a major strength, Reckling is a stud — the pieces are in place.

    Joel (KCK): Could you help shed a little light as to why Kevin Gausman isn't being mentioned in the same group with Appel, Zimmer, and Wacha? From what I've seen Mark Appel gets hit a lot more frequently than someone with his kind of stuff should, Wacha doesn't miss enough bats for my liking, and Zimmer routinely faces weaker competition so he's hard to gauge. I personally hope Gausman with his combination of size, stuff, numbers and competition, falls to my Royals at #5. Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: I think Gausman is mentioned right in that same group. In fact, we had Gausman No. 5 in our midseason Top 60 update last week, one spot behind Appel and two behind Zimmer — and if I had to revise that list today, I might move Gausman past those other two (in light of Zimmer's lackluster outing at LMU). Gausman's stuff is dynamite, he performs against top-level competition, he has great makeup — I really wouldn't be surprised if he solidifies himself as the top college pitcher in this draft by season's end.

    Chris (Columbus): Richie Shaffer has a total of 4 home runs. Why do I keep hearing from sources that he is going to be a power hitter in the majors?

Aaron Fitt: He has seven home runs — and he has big-time, easy power potential. Scouts do more than just look at numbers.

    Brian (San Diego): Aaron, totally love these chats because they make my Monday afternoon. Right now who is the best among these three freshman powrful lefty hitting outfielders?....Southern Miss' Mason Ribbons, Oregon State's Michael Comforto, and Virginia's Derek Fisher? Who will be the best by draft day 2014? Even though it is still early how good are the chances that all three are first rounders?

Aaron Fitt: Oh boy, that's a tough one, Brian. Conforto has been the best of the three so far — he has the most present power, but Fisher probably projects for just as much or more down the road. Robbins and Fisher probably have better all-around tools than Conforto, but Conforto's bat is special, I think. Very, very tough to pick one — but if I have to pick one for the 2014 draft, it might be Robbins, for his combination of across-the-board tools and ability to use them. College outfielders aren't usually a strong source of talent in the draft, but we could be looking at a college outfielder bumper crop in 2014.

Aaron Fitt: OK folks, that's all I've got time for today. Thanks for all the great questions, as always — I enjoyed it! Happy Patriots' Day, and a special congratulations to my dad for completing his seventh Boston Marathon on a very hot day in Beantown.