College Top 25 Chat: April 23

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody. Exciting morning out here in SoCal — experienced my first earthquake, though it was just a little one. But that's not gonna break my stride — let's chat!

    joey (oxford): Do you see Ole Miss hosting a regional? We only have 1 series against a top 25 team left and we have them (LSU) at home.

Aaron Fitt: Yes, I believe I do, but I'll dig deeper into that question in tomorrow's Stock Report. Right now you have to move Ole Miss ahead of Arkansas in the pecking order, for sure. And the remaining schedule is manageable.

    Matt (Phoenix, AZ): If Oklahoma State keeps winning, do they have a shot at getting into the tournament?

Aaron Fitt: I really don't see an at-large bid coming. They're No. 123 in the RPI, and the resume really lacks any quality wins (the Cowboys are just 3-9 against the top 50).

    Russell (Austin, TX): How do you think the Longhorns are playing right now? I mean one week they do good, the next week they do mediocre, I just don't know what to make of them this year. Can you give me your expertise on the job they are doing this year?

Aaron Fitt: I think they're playing pretty well — they've won five straight Big 12 series. I just don't think they're a great team. A good team, yes. But this strikes me as one of the weaker Texas teams in years. I think they've done a nice job cobbling together quality innings from that young pitching staff, but the lack of workhorse starters who can consistently go deep into games is jarring. The offense is fine for a Texas team, but it's not exceptional, and neither is the pitching. The 'Horns are good enough to win a bunch of games in that aggressively mediocre conference, but I don't think they're good enough to make an Omaha run. Not this year. I think they'll be very dangerous next year when some of those youngsters are more mature.

    Garrett (Orlando Fl): I think you have to give UCF more respect, they should be at least approaching top 10 soon

Aaron Fitt: I think we as a species need to work together to solve our global "Respect" shortage — it seems like nobody is ever getting any of that! It's a real crisis. As for UCF — they did move up two more spots to No. 14 — I think that's "approaching the top 10." I really like the Knights and think they have put together a truly outstanding season, but you know, the resume just doesn't have the kind of quality wins that merit a jump over teams like Stanford (11-7 vs. the top 50), UCLA (13-9) and Arizona (9-8). UCF is just 3-5 against the top 50.

    Kate (Houston): Matthew Reckling has been lights out all year for Rice, and his performance Friday night had to have been his best all year. How high do you see him climbing in June's draft?

Aaron Fitt: I've written about Reckling in today's Golden Spikes Spotlight in my Three Strikes column, which should be posted shortly. He's really turned the corner with his command this year, cutting his career walk rate nearly in half as a senior, which has made all the difference. The stuff is very good, and he has learned how to use it. That's not my draft area, but I'll bet somebody could take him in the top five rounds as a cost-saving senior with some upside.

    Bill (Atlanta, GA): GT's series win at Chapel Hill was certainly necessary but not sufficient to get back being safely in the post-season, in my opinion. Would you put the Jackets in the tournament if selection was today?

Aaron Fitt: You're right, Bill — there is more work to be done. Georgia Tech can't afford to stumble much in its last three ACC series (all decent challenges against Clemson, UVa and Miami) just because it has a series win in Chapel Hill. But as of today, I would put Tech in, partly because it's hard to get to 64 without 8 teams from the ACC (if you assume no upsets in mid-major conference tournaments, which we do for this exercise), and Maryland drops after getting swept this weekend.

    Justin (Toronto): Teams like Baylor, Kentucky, Purdue, USD, NMSU, and Sam Houston State have been pleasant surprises, while teams like Vandy, Georgia Tech, Georgia, Oklahoma, TCU, and UC Irvine have not really lived up to expectations. Who are your top surprises and disappointments of the season so far?

Aaron Fitt: You've got a pretty good handle on it. Baylor and Kentucky are teams we liked in the preseason that have far exceeded expectations by becoming elite clubs — I don't think anybody saw that coming. We were really high on Purdue coming into the year (look back at the feature we wrote on the Boilermakers in our College Preview issue), but that's another team that has been even better than we thought. But Sam Houston State and New Mexico State are teams that weren't really even on our radar in the preseason — those are the true "out of nowhere" teams. Vanderbilt is probably the biggest disappointment, a preseason top 10 or so team that has struggled against a very tough schedule, then lost a really bad series to Alabama this weekend just when you thought maybe the 'Dores had a chance at salvaging a regional bid. I'm disappointed with Irvine too — that was my preseason Omaha sleeper, and that team just isn't special, and won't even be in a regional. Watch out for Georgia, Oklahoma and TCU down the stretch — I think those teams are all still dangerous, even though they haven't had great first halves for various reasons.

    Greg (Fullerton, CA): Should the Bruins be worried about their pitching staff besides Plutko and Griggs? The other 3 starters they've used have been pretty shaky

Aaron Fitt: I don't think they should really be worried. We talked about this on the podcast today: you don't need to have dominant pitching to win a ton in college baseball nowadays. If you have a good offense (which UCLA does) and can play catch defensively (which UCLA can), you just need guys who will throw strikes and compete and keep you in games on the mound. UCLA's pitching staff largely fits that mold�it's not that much different from the way Baylor is constructed, or Florida State, or UCF, or Purdue. All those teams have veteran, mature lineups and solid but not overpowering pitching. That's a winning formula.

    Will (Missoula, MT): Aaron, I am a big fan of the 'the top 25 chat'. Give me your thoughts on Oregon State. It looked like they were fading into the background but a nice 2 weeks and a huge series win over UCLA this past weekend. I noticed you left them out of top 25 (granted the back half of the top 25 did their job this past week). Where do you think they will end the season and what do they need to worry about?

Aaron Fitt: The Beavers and Louisville were the two teams just outside our rankings this week, and we had a hard time ranking Oregon State over Arizona State because the Sun Devils did just sweep OSU two weeks ago. But I like the Beavers, and that UCLA series win was big for them. That OSU pitching staff has really come together nicely — the talented weekend guys are pitching well, the bullpen is very reliable. And I think the offense is more dangerous than it was last year, when those guys went to a super regional. The Beavers are a very intriguing second-half sleeper.

    Andy (Oxford, MS): Alex Yarbrough has been on a tear this season. He has consistently produced at the plate against some of the best teams in college baseball. I've seen him make some great plays on defense, as well. Does he fall into the category of elite second basemen this year?

Aaron Fitt: I think he definitely does — he was the second baseman on our midseason All-America team, and right now he looks on pace to capture first-team All-America honors at second base at season's end. He's one of the best pure hitters in the country, and he is a very steady defender. Great player. Looking forward to watching him next week on my SEC trip.

    Landon (Oceanside, CA): True or False, Shaffer will be a big league full time third baseman.

Aaron Fitt: False. I see him more as a first baseman, or maybe even a corner outfielder. I'm not saying he has no chance at third, but the general scouting consensus I've gathered is that a move will eventually be inevitable.

    Mike (Cleveland): Would you be shocked if Chris Stratton was a top 10 pick?

Aaron Fitt: I would be surprised — I see him more as a sandwich type pick, with a chance to get into the second half of the first round. Certainly he has an electric arm, but he hasn't shown much of a changeup, which he will need to stick as a starter. But a guy who can touch 95 with his fastball, has a quality slider and has improved his overall feel for pitching — he's definitely got a chance to be a first-rounder.

    Joe (Tacoma, WA): The Barrett Barnes hype seems to have stalled. Is that with good reason?

Aaron Fitt: I think you're not hearing as much about him because Texas Tech isn't having a great year, but what more do you want from Barnes? He's hitting .342 with power — lots of doubles and triples, he's got a respectable 6 homers, he's 18-for-18 stealing bases, he has more walks than strikeouts. That's a damn good year, and his tools are impressive. I know some scouts aren't sold on him as a center fielder and see him as a bit of a tweener, but I believe in that power/speed package. I'm in on Barnes.

    Jerry (Seattle): Zimmer or Wacha and what separates them the most?

Aaron Fitt: Zimmer has the much better breaking ball, but Wacha's changeup is just fine as an out-pitch against righties as well as lefties. I think Zimmer has the more athletic delivery, looser arm and higher upside, but there is an awful lot to like about Wacha too. Not a huge gap between those guys.

    Matt (Texas): Is Kevin Gausman the best pitcher in college baseball?

Aaron Fitt: I'll take Marcus Stroman on that one, but Gausman is certainly in the discussion.

    Jeff (West Palm Beach): How about the raphing Raph Rhymes is putting on the SEC this year? Hitting an even .500 in 140 ABs with these bats is impressive. The kid took a fastball off the forehead at Florida then had one sail over his head Sunday at Kentucky. What happened on the next pitch? He took it out to left for a homer and finished the game 4 for 4 with 3 RBI hits. Does he have the Golden Spikes on lock?

Aaron Fitt: Raph Rhymes is a bad man. Hitting .500 after 10 weeks? That is hard to fathom. Definitely a strong Player of the Year candidate.

    James (Rome,WI): Aaron, thanks for the great college baseball coverage! Okay, I don't want to sound the panic button but is Miami's season slowly going down the tubes?! In the back of my mind I think they might be able to put it together to make a run at it. It seems they can't get anything going. I know injuries have hurt them lately but it's been a tend over the past few defense, and inconsistant pitching/hitting. Are we seeing a once proud program taking some steps backward? As a huge Canes fan here in WI, it's been troubling over the years. I miss seeing them in Omaha.

Aaron Fitt: Miami has been in a bit of a down cycle over the last few years — the program has been surpassed by Florida and Florida State, and Jim Morris said as much earlier this year. That said, they're still a No. 2 seed in regionals even in down years, which says a lot about the caliber of this program. A good recruiting cycle or two and Miami can be right back among the nation's elite. But I never thought this year's team would be elite, and indeed that is proving to be the case. Miami can still make a run at hosting a regional, but right now I think the 'Canes are on the wrong side of that bubble. Looking like a No. 2 seed again�maybe this time they won't get sent to Gainesville...

    Andrew (Irvington, NY): So did the 2-1 series win by Purdue this weekend on the road at Nebraska and the mixed results from all the other games pretty much tie up the B1G as a 1 bid league barring a tourney upset? Can Purdue transcend the mediocrity of the B1G and nab a national seed?

Aaron Fitt: One bid certainly seems most likely, though MIchigan State is still hanging around in the at-large discussion — but the Spartans really need to get hot. I do think Purdue can get a national seed regardless of the mediocrity of its conference because its resume is sterling. A series win at UCLA in two weeks would be a huge feather in Purdue's cap. Win that series, win the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, and I think Purdue gets a national seed, as remarkable as that sounds.

    Brooks (Charleston, SC): Aaron, it seems the Gamecocks have finally figured out how to hit and are putting it all together like the last 2 years (pitching, defense, timely hitting). Plus, Ray Tanner's gambles are paying off like our title teams and he made the dynamite move to put Price back in the closer's role! Do you like our chances to win SEC, get national seed, and defend our title?

Aaron Fitt: It certainly seems like South Carolina is gelling once again, doesn't it? Tanner is one of those guys who always seems to push the right buttons and put his players in position to succeed, and I think he's done that again this year. Moving Jordan Montgomery into the rotation was a masterstroke — really like the way that pitching staff sets up now, with Price back anchoring the bullpen where he belongs. South Carolina won't catch Kentucky in the regular-season, but the Gamecocks will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason, as usual. They are right back in the thick of the national seed discussion.

    Marco (Maryland): How do MLB scouts view Branden Kline? Is he viewed as a starter, or do they prefer him in the pen? The ceiling seems awfully high if a lot of things go right, as the change seems to show well, but the fastball also seems to flatten out and the breaking ball comes and goes. Sandwich round, earlier, later? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: My colleague Conor Glassey saw Kline last week at Duke and came away with the feeling that Kline would fit better as a reliever in pro ball — just stick him in the pen and let him attack with his fastball and slider. Conor made the same observations you did about the fastball flattening out at times and the slider coming and going, but he does like Kline's body, athleticism and arm speed. Call him a second rounder, with a chance for sandwich.

    Roger (Nebraska): How bout you give us your 8 for Omaha which you've promised but have not delivered to date.

Aaron Fitt: Oh fine, Roger, you have shamed me into it. I'll wrap up with this one. It's a tough year to forecast, I'll be honest — I've been avoiding this question while trying to get a better feel for the landscape at the top of college baseball. I can't shake the feeling that Texas A&M will be very dangerous in June, but I can't keep picking those guys in good conscious after they got swept by Baylor. Kentucky and Baylor have proven they are for real — I'll go ahead and pencil them in, along with Florida State, Florida, Rice (love that bullpen) and South Carolina (I've learned better than to pick against the Gamecocks). The Pac-12 is a toss-up — I like all of the top four teams that are next to each other in the rankings, but I think I still believe Stanford and Arizona will prove to be most dangerous at the end of the day, so I'll go with those two from the West. LSU and North Carolina are tough omissions, but how many teams from the Southeast can we take? UCLA is a tough omission too — still think that club is the most dangerous in SoCal, with apologies to the scrappy Titans.

Aaron Fitt: OK, that's all for this week. Thanks for all the great questions, as always. I'll be in Baton Rouge and Starkville this weekend, and will chat from the Magnolia State next Monday. Until then, have a great week.