2013 Preseason College Top 25 Chat With Aaron Fitt

Follow me on Twitter

aron Fitt: Hi everybody, and welcome to the first college baseball chat of 2013. Hope you have enjoyed our College Preview kickoff today — we'll have more content next week on Tuesday and Thursday, and then daily content from Feb. 4 through the start of the season. Let's chat!

    Ryan (Charlottesville): Virginia...Too many questions due to pitching holes and injuries? The offense looks like it's going to be very good IMO, but the pitching staff will be relying on a ton of young guys.

Aaron Fitt: You nailed it, Ryan. I am excited about the athleticism and upside in the lineup with guys like Fisher, Papi and Cogswell mixing nicely with the solid core of veterans. But I'm really not sold on the pitching. I think Kyle Crockett will be fine as the Friday guy, though I don't see him as an elite ace. The Cavs need freshmen to mature in a hurry behind him.

    TJ (The Ville): Louisville has been ranked 22nd, 15th, and now 4th in the polls. What makes you so high on the Cards?

Aaron Fitt: If you read my scouting report on them, you'll see why we are so high on them. I just think they are a very complete team — tons of experience in the lineup and on the mound, outstanding speed, strong defense, a quality offense, and power arms galore. What's not to like?

    Dave (San Diego): How do you feel Loyola Marymount will do this year in the WCC? I know they have some good youg pitching and a strong nuclues returning. Do you feel they make the WCC end of season tournament and can get to a regional? As we saw last year year once you get to a regional anything can happen. Look forward to your response.

Aaron Fitt: I am quite high on LMU this year. The rotation has a chance to be very good — Megill and Welmon have the talent to form a dominant 1-2 punch, and Aaron Griffin is a solid senior on Sundays. There are some questions in the lineup, but I love the core of seniors up the middle in Colton Plaia, Cullen Mahoney and Matt Lowenstein. Those are really nice college players who do a lot of little things to help their team win.

    MsStateBaseball (Mississippi): How would you rank John Cohen and staff as coaches? I see your capsule on players, what about the coaches?

Aaron Fitt: I think it's a fantastic staff. Butch Thompson was voted by 70-plus head coaches onto our list of top 10 future head coaching prospects a few weeks back — he is one of the nation's most respected pitching coaches. I hear a lot of good things about Nick Mingione, a real up-and-comer. And I love that Cohen's teams always play really hard, with a little chip on their shoulder. I think he has a knack for imbuing his teams with toughness.

    Aaron (Austin): I noticed in the preseason scouting report for Oregon State, there was no mention of Jace Fry's injury. How big of a loss for the Beavers is this? Was his injury taken into consideration when ranking OSU?

Aaron Fitt: Yeah, when Fry went down, my first reaction was that we'd have to rank Oregon State a few spots lower in our preseason Top 25, because he is a premium talent. But when I looked closer and broke the Beavers down, I think they'll be just fine — this team is simply loaded. If Fry were healthy, maybe they would have been 1-3 spots higher, but not definitely. I think all those teams are very complete.

    Greg (Orange, CA): Who is the biggest wildcard for the UCLA offense? They seem to have a bunch of holes in the lineup from last year

Aaron Fitt: I think an awful lot rides on Shane Zeile. He's got the tools to be a real impact player, but the Bruins are not strong behind the plate, so it is imperative that Zeile is able to handle that conversion from the infield to catcher. I'm very intrigued by UCLA's sophomore bats — Zeile, Kevin Kramer, Eric Filia-Snyder and Chris Keck. The Bruins look like they have holes at first glance, but if those four guys are as good as UCLA thinks they might be, this team won't miss a beat.

    Mike Arnold (Dallas, Tx): Who does Rodon compare to in the big leagues?

Aaron Fitt: I think he's got a lot of David Price in him. They both have mid-90s fastballs, devastating sliders and incredible competitiveness. Like Price did, Rodon is working hard on developing his changeup, and he says he is pleased with how it's coming along. They are both big, physical lefthanders with similar stuff and makeups. It is certainly praise for Rodon, but I think he's got that kind of ceiling.

    Rick (Arizona): What's you top 3 rotations in the SEC heading into the year.

Aaron Fitt: I'll go Ole Miss, Florida, Vanderbilt, with Kentucky, LSU and Arkansas not far behind. So much pitching in the SEC this year...

    Jeff (Washington D.C.): Aaron- I assume a #1 ranking by Baseball America means that team is your pick to win the College World Series. What makes 2013 UNC different from the past ACC teams (Miami, Florida State, UVA, UNC, Clemson, GA Tech) which have failed to live up to Baseball America's unrealistic expectation for an ACC program?

Aaron Fitt: What's unrealistic about it? ACC teams are in Omaha every year — is it really so far-fetched to imagine that one of these days, one of them will win the championship. UNC reached the finals twice in the last 7 years, and reached the semifinals another time. There is no inherent flaw in ACC teams that allows them to win 50 games and reach the precipice of a national title, but stops them from winning the last game or two. Should we have given Vanderbilt or Arkansas the nod instead because they play in the SEC, and the SEC has won championships? Guess what: Vanderbilt and Arkansas have never won the title either. Why should they get credit for South Carolina's and LSU's accomplishments?

    Brian (East Lansing, MI): Who do you think are the early front runners for National Freshman of the Year?

Aaron Fitt: Alex Bregman at LSU, Max Schrock at South Carolina, Justin Garza at Fullerton, C.J. Hinojosa at Texas. Those are some of the guys I think will be big stars, and I expect them to have major impacts as freshmen. I think my pick is Bregman.

    Warren (Texas): I knew Texas would not be highly ranked, but not ranked at all? That was a surprise. What is your prognostication for their upcoming season? Strengths/ Weaknesses? Thanks for the chat!

Aaron Fitt: Texas was on the short list of contenders who just missed our rankings, along with Miami and Arizona State. It is strange having a preseason Top 25 without any of those three programs — that's college baseball royalty. I suspect the Longhorns could be fun to watch this year, because I think they are going to be a lot more athletic and they should be able to create a lot of pressure with their speed. But they are relying on a bunch of newcomers who need to prove themselves, and I don't think the pitching staff is as deep as we're used to seeing from UT. Dillon Peters needs to take a big step forward as a sophomore, and Chad Hollingsworth has to shoulder a significant load as a freshman. Those guys are talented, but let's see them do it.

    Navin (Pasadena, CA): Which freshman do you think will have the best chance to start for UCLA on either Sunday or midweek? And what are the odds two freshmen plug in behind Plutko and Vander Tuig? Thank you!

Aaron Fitt: I get the impression Grant Watson is the front-runner for the Sunday job, leaving Zack Weiss to compete for the Tuesday spot with Hunter Virant and Cody Poteet. Virant has the biggest name of any UCLA freshman, but I think Poteet and Kaprielian stood out more this fall. Kaprielian looks slated to close, and he's got a chance to be really good in that role.

    Marcel (Oakland): Who are your early top-5/10 guys for the 2014 draft behind Rodon? How does Trea Turner and Brett Austin fit in that group?

Aaron Fitt: Turner definitely fits in that group — you don't see middle-of-the-diamond players with his speed and athleticism too often. If scouts aren't sold he can stick at shortstop, he can still have serious value as a Gary Brown-type center fielder. Austin's got a chance to be a top 10 pick if he proves he can handle catching duties, and if he takes the step forward with the bat that we are anticipating. He's a switch-hitter with power and a very nice swing — it's a good place to start. Some other names that come to mind: Michael Cederoth at San Diego State, Mason Robbins at Southern Miss, Kevin Cron at TCU, Nick Burdi at Louisville, Alex Blandino at Stanford, Michael Conforto at Oregon State, Derek Fisher at Virginia, Tyler Beede at Vanderbilt. Just an informal, top-of-my-head list — apologies to any obvious guys I'm forgetting.

    Warren (Texas): What players, who you feel are now flying under the radar, could have breakout seasons as far as pro prospects go? Thanks for the chat!

Aaron Fitt: Richard Prigatano at Long Beach State — I think he can really hit, and I'm expecting a big sophomore year. Adam McCreery at Arizona State — big lefty with power stuff, and finally healthy. Auston Bousfield at Ole Miss — stronger, faster, primed for a jump to stardom. Put Chris Elllis in there too — stuff jumped in the summer and fall, and he could give the Rebels a real edge on Sundays. Chris Marsical, Fresno State — played every day as a freshman and took his lumps, but he's got the all-around ability to be a star.

    Brad (Chicago): You have Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Mississippi State and 2, 3 & 5 respectively in your preseason rankings. These programs finished 5, 6 & 7 last year in their conference. MSU was put out of a regional by Samford. Vanderbilt didn't make a Super Regional. Can you explain why you expect these teams to dramatically improve on the field?

Aaron Fitt: I would direct you to read our Top 25 scouting reports, which break down these teams in great detail. I think all three teams are experienced, talented, balanced and deep. The SEC is so competitive that when you lose some key players, like Florida and South Carolina did, you can expect other teams that have more quality veterans back to leapfrog you a year later, even if you reload like the Gators and Gamecocks did. Also, I think it's important to note how well Vandy, Arkansas and MSU played at the end of the year last year. Vandy turned around what looked like a lost season, reaching the SEC tournament final and playing itself all the way up to a No. 2 seed. They lost in a hard-fought regional to a loaded NC State team, but the Dores were very, very dangerous at the end of the year. The same is true of Miss State, which finally got healthy late and won the SEC tournament. Arkansas went all the way to Omaha. Why should we be conservative on those teams because they might have struggled in March of 2012? It's now 2013 — time to recalibrate expectations.

    Steve (Toronto): How much pressure is there in Nashville for Tyler Beede to live up to expectations this year? Is his success the difference between a Super Regional caliber team and a team that could make a deep run in CWS?

Aaron Fitt: Beede and Kevin Ziomek both need to live up to their talent this year for Vanderbilt to be a bona fide national championship contender — that's pretty obvious, I think. We obviously believe both of those players are up to the task, or we wouldn't have ranked Vanderbilt No. 2. The Commodores are blessed with outstanding pitching depth, and they could potentiall survive an injury or underperformance from one of their weekend guys by sliding somebody like Carson Fulmer into a rotation spot. But there's no doubt, Beede is a key for this team to reach its ceiling.

    Baseball Guy (Tx): Really looking forward to Friday nights in C-USA this year (Hoffman, Blair, Moll, Kubitza, Pierce, Napoli, Lively). Who are your top 3 for C-USA Pitcher of the Year? 2- Which 3 are your best pro prospects? Thanks

Aaron Fitt: Good call — that's a nice group. For C-USA POY, I think it's Pierce, Kubitza and Blair. For long-term prospect, I'll go with Hoffman, Kubitza and Blair. But I like all of those guys.

    Greg (Texas): Is UNC at no. 1 a HOMER pick or do you truly believe they're the best team in baseball? And I'm not taking the latter seriously if that's your answer.

Aaron Fitt: And I'm not taking this question seriously. I don't know why you'd bother asking it if you don't have any interest in the answer! I know, it's pretty shocking that a program that has been to Omaha five times in the last seven years might be preseason No. 1. Outrageous! Where do we come up with this stuff?

    JD (SC): Your thoughts on Tanner English going to switch hitting and how it might affect the SC offense?

Aaron Fitt: It's certainly intriguing. I'm usually skeptical of players who start switch-hitting at this stage of their careers, but if he can do it, it obviously makes him that much more valuable as a table-setter. He's a major key for the Gamecocks this season, no question.

    ScottAZ (Phx, AZ): Is this the 1st time in BA history that ASU has not entered the year ranked? How far off were they and in a best case scenario were could you see their season going?

Aaron Fitt: This is, in fact, the first time Arizona State has not been ranked in the preseason. The Sun Devils were right on the cusp, along with Miami and Texas. I could certainly envision Arizona State playing well above our expectations, if guys like Jake Peevyhouse, Drew Stankiewicz, Kasey Coffman, Trevor Allen and Rouric Bridgewater take big steps forward like ASU hopes. But those are a lot of players who need to establish themselves, and the same is true on the pitching staff behind Trevor Williams. Seems like there is plenty of talent in place there, but plenty of question marks too, for me. Of course, I've been impressed with ASU's toughness and resilience under Tim Esmay, and I have a feeling these guys will play with a chip on their shoulders this year because they want to prove to everybody that they are better than we all think. That said, it won't be easy to break into the top tier of the Pac-12, because Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA and Oregon all look very strong.

    jb (SC): Whats the deal at Clemson...Will we ever see them at the level they were at 10 years ago?

Aaron Fitt: Sure, it's not like Clemson's been so far removed from that level. It was just 2010 when they were sitting 2-0 in their bracket in Omaha. The Tigers are very excited about their freshman class; this team could be dangerous in the second half if those young players mature as hoped. Matthew Crownover and Clate Schmidt have a chance to give Clemson a very strong pitching foundation to build around for the next few years.

    Anthony (Fan): How will Stanford replace the three outfielders that got drafted and remain successful .

Aaron Fitt: Well, Austin Wilson is back, and you can make a case that he has more raw ability than any player in college baseball — and he's a junior now, so it's reasonable to expect a big year from him. I think Dominic Jose is a big-time breakout candidate. The Cardinal is high on freshman Johnny Locher in center, but he's more of a question mark. Still, there are a lot of really talented players all over the diamond for Stanford — there's nothing to worry about.

    Glenn (Baton Rouge): Tell me great things about LSU.

Aaron Fitt: You have some of the best food in college baseball! Oh, and Aaron Nola is a stud, JaCoby Jones is going to make the leap this year, Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes are fantastic veterans, Alex Bregman might be the best freshman in the country, Ryan Eades has electric stuff, and the bullpen has plenty of depth. How's that?

    Matthew (Tampa, FL): Do you think the Indiana Hoosiers or Wichita State Shockers can make a run in the NCAA Tournament?

Aaron Fitt: I think Indiana is the team to beat in the Big Ten, and Wichita State should be right near the top of a strong MVC, along with Missouri State (I also like Illinois State and Indiana State). I don't expect either team to make a deep postseason run, but anything can happen in the tournament — it all depends who gets hot at the right time.

    Jeff (Bald Head Island): I attended the CWS last year with some buddies and had a blast. We all decided we would go to a game on-campus this year. Where should we go to get the best college baseball experience?

Aaron Fitt: Pick an SEC venue, really. You can't go wrong with LSU, Arkansas, South Carolina, Ole Miss. Some non-SEC candidates: Florida State, Texas, Texas A&M.

    Andrew (Irvington, NY): I notice in the top 25 you most Northern schools are Oregon, Oregon St. and Kentucky. Was there any discussion for some love for the Big East schools or Big Ten? Also, is the Big 12 going to have that down of a year to only have TCU and Oklahoma?

Aaron Fitt: Well, Louisville is still in the Big East, and it checks in at No. 4. I also really like Notre Dame this year — could see those guys playing their way into the Top 25 this year. No Big Ten schools were too close to breaking into our Top 25 — seems like a lot of parity in that league, but no standout team this year like Purdue a year ago. I don't expect a great year for the Big 12 — strikes me as a four-bid league (TCU, Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor).

    Bill (Hamilton, NJ): Hey Aaron....hope you are warm.... If Matthew Grimes was healthy, would GaT be higher in your poll? Team showed character last year overcoming injuries to 3 Starting pitchers to reach regional. Which pitcher besides Farmer has to step up to replace Grimes? Thanks.

Aaron Fitt: After a solid week-plus of gorgeous mid-to-high-70s and sunshine, we are back down in the 60s today. Life is tough in SoCal... To answer your question, yes, I think Tech would be a couple spots higher if Grimes were healthy. Our major question about that team is the pitching after Farmer. Dusty Isaacs has pretty good stuff, and the Jackets need him to solidify that Saturday spot. I'm not terribly excited about Cole Pitts, but he could be an adequate Sunday guy, or they can go with one of their freshmen. Certainly some questions that need to be answered on that staff, but it's got a chance to be solid.

    Randy (Columbia, SC): I liked what I saw when I was at the South Carolina Fall scrimmages. Hitting looked much improved, and the newcomers didn't seem to be playing like newcomers. I know there is a huge difference between practices and live games, but how do you think this team can compare to last years, and can they win those last 2 with the added experience of the younger guys. And is there one player that has to step up to fill the shoes of one of the departed players?

Aaron Fitt: This team obviously has a much different identity with Price, Roth, Walker and Marzilli gone, but I am very high on the holdovers — I expect Pankake, Greiner and Montgomery to take big leaps to full-fledged stardom as sophomores. The fact that they all got invaluable Omaha experience as freshmen is so important, I think. I'm extremely bullish on Max Schrock, who just sounds like an awesome player. They've got a nice core of seniors in Dantzler, Holmes and Vergason. Basically, I think there is a lot of reason to believe the Gamecocks can get back to Omaha and compete for another title. As for a key guy, I think the spotlight is really on Tanner English. He's got the speed to be a major weapon if he can get on base consistently.

    Alex (Miami): How close was Miami to the top 25? Is the ACC the best conference this year?

Aaron Fitt: The SEC is certainly the best conference — I don't think there's any doubt about that. But the ACC looks solid, and I'm positive Miami will find its way into the rankings in 2013, because it was right on the precipice in our preseason deliberations. Plenty of athleticism in that lineup, and there should be a bit more firepower too, with the addition of David Thompson and the expected improvement of Carey and Mack. I think Alex Hernandez and Brandon Lopez are going to be fun to watch in the middle infield. I think the bullpen still needs to materialize around A.J. Salcines, and the Canes need Bryan Radziewski and Andrew Suarez to come back strong from Tommy John. That is critical.

    Chris (Evanston): An east coast school is #1. The highest ranked west coast school is at #6. Manuel is in NC. Fitt is in CA. I guess we know who is still the boss at Baseball America.

Aaron Fitt: Well, he is the Editor in Chief! But that has nothing to do with why the teams are ranked as they are. I love how many people think where we are based really has any bearing on our rankings. Guys, I talk to dozens of coaches all around the nation to prepare for the season — trust me, I'm as informed about West Coast teams as I am about East Coast teams. I don't have any rooting interests — this is my job, not my hobby, and I take it very seriously. The same goes for the rest of our staff.

    Chandler (Albuquerque): Obvisouly UNM will go as far as their pitching will take them but what do you think their ceiling is? And who do you see as their biggest competitor in the shallow Mountain West??

Aaron Fitt: Honestly, I think their ceiling is Omaha. This offense is going to be so good that the pitching does not need to be special — it just needs to keep them in games. If the Lobos get hot in the postseason, they can mash their way all the way to the CWS. As for the Mountain West, the team to watch is Fresno, no question. Fresno was also in our 26-30 range — they've got star power with Aaron Judge and Tyler Linehan, and they've got a nice group of supporting veterans. That team should be very good also.

    Troy (Baton Rouge): Who are three sleepers we should watch out for this season?

Aaron Fitt: Last year I gave you Stony Brook in this chat, but honestly, that was an easy one — those guys were loaded, as the rest of the country found out in June. This time around, I'll go with Austin Peay State, Sam Houston State and Saint Louis. All three teams are well stocked with veterans who have been in regionals, where those teams have played well. Really like the pitching for SHSU and SLU, and I love Austin Peay's lineup, led by Jordan Hankins and Reed Harper. Their pitching is a bit more of a question mark, but Lee Ridenhour has a big arm and might be ready to put it together this year at APSU.

    Jason (Minnesota): Hi Aaron, Chances Vandy starts 7-15 this year? OK seriously, what team in the Top 25 might be overrated based on potential and struggle early?

Aaron Fitt: Ha, I think the chances of Vandy doing that again are zero. But it's a good question — our rankings are based on how good we think these teams will be this season, not necessarily in Week One. I suppose Mississippi State could struggle a bit early while its young starting pitchers get acclimated, but I don't really expect that. Arizona is relying on a bunch of young players who could take a little time to get settled in, and maybe Oklahoma too, but I think its starting pitching will keep it afloat if its lineup struggles. That bullpen needs to gel, though. I think Sunny Golloway is very good at reassessing his team as the season progresses and making the necessary adjustments to put players in position to succeed.

    tim (815): Who will be this year's Stony Brook? That team you will eventually wish you watched a bunch more of.

Aaron Fitt: I mentioned a few sleepers a minute ago, but a couple other teams I'm expecting to take big steps and make regionals: Virginia Tech, Notre Dame. Both those teams have a couple of guys with impact tools (Chad Pinder and Tyler Horan for the Hokies, Eric Jagielo and Dan Slania for the Irish) surrounded by nice veteran complementary pieces. Stony Brook had a similar recipe last year, with Travis Jankowski, Willie Carmona and Tyler Johnson providing the star power. Of course, Va Tech and Notre Dame are not in the America East Conference, so I'm not trying to compare them to what the Seawolves accomplished last year.

    Jeff (Rocky Top): How far away from the Vols from getting back into the discussion in the SEC? Looks like they have a ton of new players this year. Any of them stand out to you?

Aaron Fitt: I think A.J. Simcox and Vincent Jackson have very bright futures. Simcox will start every day as a freshman and has the look of a real impact player. Jackson has a chance to be a difference maker as a pitcher and a hitter, though he's not as polished. It's a very nice core to build around, but the pitching is still short (besides Zack Godley, who will keep the Vols competitive on Fridays). Give Serrano another two years, and I think Tennessee will be right in the mix.

    Not Jaypers (Wi): Aaron, Does Cal State Fullerton have the pitching to make it to Omaha this year?

Aaron Fitt: Pitching is the question with Fullerton, which will be relying on a pair of freshmen in the rotation. I'm not at all worried about Justin Garza — I think he's going to be a star. The Titans are also excited about Eshelman, and if he lives up to their expectations, I could definitely see Fullerton getting to Omaha, because I'm quite high on the everyday lineup. They're loaded with athleticism and experience, and they've got some emerging talents in that sophomore class, led by Matt Chapman and J.D. Davis. Clay Williamson is an under-the-radar guy to keep an eye on — I like him quite a bit.

    WISM (NYC): Aaron, Vanderbilt has four position battles in the Spring. The preview seems to indicate that BA thinks (i) McKeithan beats Swanson at SS, (ii) Conde beats Turner at 3B; (iii) Lupo beats Cooper, Norwood and Wiseman in LF; and (iv) Norwood beats Harvey, et al at DH. How do you personally feel those four position battles play out? Also, do you see Jared Miller as the midweek guy instead of the shutdown reliever? Thanks and great capsule previews!

Aaron Fitt: I think those talented freshmen could probably benefit from a little more seasoning, and Vandy is fortunate that it can ease them in behind those older players who are ready to assume more prominent roles. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Turner and Swanson wind up playing prominent roles on this team, and it could happen early on, but the impression I got is that the veterans have the slight upperhand right now. If Harvey has a good spring and winds up as the DH, and Norwood or Wiseman winds up in left, I think the lineup has a lot more upside. But the Commodores really value heady veterans who can handle the bat and grind out at-bats, so don't overlook Lupo.

    Chigoy (New Orleans): What are your thought on Tulane? Pitching staff looks like it will be a strength this year. Can the bats be solid as well?? Regionals and farther a possibility??

Aaron Fitt: Tulane is interesting. Assuming they can finally stay healthy, the pitching staff looks a lot deeper this year. I'd love to see Randy LeBlanc re-establish himself, but it sounds like his stuff was down in the fall. The Green Wave is excited about Anthony Rizzotti, who was a big-deal recruit for TCU who didn't pan out and now gets a second chance in D-I, potentially as a weekend starter. You've got some nice veterans with Byo and Napoli and Facundus to anchor the staff, and a quality sophomore in Massey — it's got a chance to be a good group. And I actually kinda like the lineup, now that Cannizaro, Middleton and Boudreaux are established seniors at key up-the-middle spots. In fact, this lineup could have eight upperclassmen, and experience really matters in college baseball. Yes, I certainly think it's a regionals team.

    Ryan (Bettendorf, IA): The Southern Conference looks tough this year. What do you think of College of Charleston making a run at Omaha this year?

Aaron Fitt: I agree, I think it should be another strong year for the SoCon. I like Samford's returning talent quite a bit, and CofC has a nice group of solid seniors on the mound, plus five returning regulars, led by Brandon Murray. They've got power in the lineup, and good athleticism in the infield. I don't know that they have the pitching firepower to get to Omaha, but I do like that team.

    Aidan (Seattle): Can you see Washington breaking into the tournament this year after being so close last year?

Aaron Fitt: The Pac-12 is tough, but I do think Washington is making real progress under Lindsay Meggs. They've got an exciting group of emerging sophomores in Trevor Mitsui and Robert Pehl, who could be stars in the lineup. I liked what I saw of Nick Palewicz this summer in the Cal Collegiate League, and the Huskies think he is ready to anchor the weekend rotation. Austin Voth also has power stuff, so that could be a nice one-two punch. I haven't crunched the numbers for my projected field of 64 yet, but I do think Washington has a chance to make it.

    Craig Dragash (Carmel, Indiana): How far will Purdue drop off in the Big Ten with their losses from last year?

Aaron Fitt: They lost a ton, and the Big Ten is always competitive. I expect a big drop-off this year for the Boilermakers, honestly.

    Paul (Nashville, TN): Mississippi State has a tough conference schedule...opening with LSU, @UK, @Arkansas, Florida, @TXA&M, and round out the end of the season @Vandy, @Ole Miss, and South Carolina. The SEC is will be extremely difficult this season and could be costly to several teams vying for a Regional hosting spot due to "beating up" one another. Do you believe Hunter Renfroe is a leading candidate for SEC player of the year?

Aaron Fitt: You make a fine point, but the SEC also has such a deep group of hosting contenders that I think it's a wash. In a 14-team league, I think five SEC hosts is a safe bet, and I think six is a realistic possibility. As for Renfroe, if you ask John Manuel, he's a leading contender for national player of the year! I'm not as sold on Renfroe's feel for hitting, but his raw tools are awfully impressive. If he puts it all together, watch out.

    Travis (Chapel Hill, NC): How do you feel (if at all) the change in bats has shifted the paradigm from slugging teams in college baseball over to the programs that value pitching and defense a little more strongly? Hope to see you soon at the Bosh!

Aaron Fitt: Hey Travis — that shift has been particularly evident at TD Ameritrade Park, which is a graveyard. Arizona was a very offensive team last year, but it was not a home run-hitting team — it was an athletic bunch that thrived by driving the gaps, and it played outstanding defense. South Carolina has been a classic pitching-and-defense outfit during its run, and look how successful it has been in Omaha. By contrast, Florida led the nation in home runs last year, but it fell flat in TD Ameritrade (though it reached the Finals a year earlier, because that team was amazingly talented and versatile enough to beat teams other ways). Anyway, I think the lesson is you can win with pitching and defense and timely hitting, and power is just not necessary.

    Dave (Fullerton): What are your thoughts on the Big West after Fullerton? How many regional teams do you see - 2, 3 or 4? Irvine has lots of guys back on the mound (health permitting) and Cal Poly returns most of their team except for Haniger, Miller and Anderson.

Aaron Fitt: I'll be working on my Big West preview this weekend, so I haven't yet decided how I think it will shake out, but I think Irvine, Poly, Santa Barbara and Long Beach will all be in the mix to contend for regionals. Hawaii could be a factor too — their addition makes this league stronger. I really think the Big West is in store for a big bounce-back season.

    @Jaypers413 (IL): If Rodon was draft eligible this year, would you take him over Appel or Stanek?

Aaron Fitt: I would, yes. He's lefthanded, and he's the complete package. You can nit-pick with those other two guys, but I don't think you can really nit-pick with Rodon.

    Jeff (Auburn): Auburn Tigers - what's your take? Other than a blip in 2010, it has been a while since they have been relevant. What's your thoughts on them this year? They have a good lineup back with Tella, Glevenyak, Wacker and Cooper all back from a team that led the SEC in hitting but the rotation looks pretty young and inexperienced. Is this a make-or-break year for Pawlowski (year 5 and only 1 NCAA berth)? Also, do you like the SEC Tournament going to 12 teams?

Aaron Fitt: Yes, they have a lot of nice returning pieces in the lineup, and if you recall we ranked their freshman class very high this fall — I expect Sam Gillikin can be a difference maker, though he's got some things to polish. Should have three capable sophomores in the rotation with McCord, Koger and Cochran-Gill, and decent depth behind them, though the bullpen needs to come together. Feels like a pretty good club to me; it's just so hard to make headway in that conference because it is so absurdly deep. We've got 8 SEC teams in our preseason Top 25. I think the SEC sends 10 teams to regionals, with A&M and Auburn being the other two. As for the 12-team tournament, I know they they're doing it, but I don't like it. I think it should mean something to make the conference tournament, other than that you just didn't finish last. This seems like a cop-out to me.

    Steve (Raleigh): I realize that the preseason rankings are, to a large degree, guess-work; but, given the recent success of Kent State and Stony Brook, it would have been nice to see you take a guess on a team or 2 from the Midwest or NE. Anybody get any consideration?

Aaron Fitt: The funny thing is, we've taken shots on unconventional teams in the preseason Top 25 in the past, and it hasn't worked out so well. A few years back we ranked Old Dominion in the Top 25 (Fullerton fans will never let me forget that one); I believe we ranked Evansville in 2007, and that did not work out either. Of course, we also have been very high on teams like Michigan and UConn when they had strong teams, and both of those programs rewarded us by making hosting regionals and/or making super regionals. So we're not opposed to taking chances in the rankings; I would venture to say we do this more than any other rankings do, because we always try to evaluate based on a team's talent in a given year, rather than the name on its jersey. Heck, even this year we're putting ourselves out there on New Mexico, which has never been ranked in the preseason in our 30-plus year history.

    Gary Johnson (Idaho): Thoughts on gonzaga's chances in the WCC lead by all american Marco Gonzales?

Aaron Fitt: Very high on Gonzaga — that's the other team that landed in our 26-30 range (along with Fresno State, Texas, Miami and Arizona State). Love that one-two pitching punch with Gonzales and Tyler Olson, and I like the seniors in the lineup, although I don't think it's going to be an exceptionally potent offensive attack. But they will compete for the WCC title and should be in a regional. Looks like another very strong year for the WCC, because I also like LMU and Pepperdine and USF.

    Dude (KY): What is the timetable on the release of other preseason college materials? thx for the chat!

Aaron Fitt: This is a good place to end. Our Small College preview is coming Tuesday, followed by the All-America teams next Thursday, and Early Draft Preview stuff on Friday. We'll roll out our conference previews the first week in February, and have plenty more goodies in the week leading up to opening day. We hope you enjoy everything! Thanks for chatting today — lots of great questions still in the queue, but I've got to call it after 2 hours, 40 minutes. We truly appreciate all the interest in what we do, and in college baseball as a whole. Have a great afternoon!