College Top 25 Chat: March 25

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Aaron Fitt: Hi everybody, greetings from snowy Bloomington, Indiana, where I'm still holding out hope the Hoosiers will host Louisville in a nice top-20 midweek showdown tomorrow. Let's chat.

    Jeff (D.C.): As if UNLV, FGCU and Central Arkansas weren't enough for 2012, this week you went all in and put the Fitt jinx on Gonzaga, GA Southern, Houston, Cal Poly AND South Alabama. I think I am on to your ranking strategy with numbers 20 through 25. If you rotate everyone with a winning record through those slots over the course of the season, you'll be able to claim whatever Cinderella gets hot in June (UConn in 2011, Stony Brook in 2012, etc.).

Aaron Fitt: Now hold on, we ranked UConn No. 9 in the preseason in 2011! And I wrote a piece about how dangerous Stony Brook would be in 2012 during the summer of 2011 when I saw a bunch of their guys tear up the Cape League, then I said in my preseason chat that I wouldn't be surprised if that team won a regional! So feel free to take shots at us if you want, but you sure picked some poor examples to back up your case. There has been a lot of turnover at the back of the rankings this year, but we're six weeks into the season, and teams that play well on the field deserve to be rewarded for it. Especially teams that have fared well against solid schedules like Gonzaga, Georgia Southern and Cal Poly. Would you rather us rank Texas and Miami just because those are name-brand schools? Those teams haven't earned a spot in the Top 25 through their play on the field, and teams like Stanford and N.C. State have plenty of talent but have played their way out of the rankings. Not sure exactly what you expect us to do...

    Matt (Lafayette): JaCoby Jones and Ty Ross are off to really slow starts with the bat. Right now, would you say they are likely to return to LSU next season? How dangerous is LSU if they get any offense out of those two?

Aaron Fitt: I really don't see either of those guys returning for their senior years — major league scouting directors voted both guys onto our preseason All-America teams because they are talented, and up-the-middle skill players like those guys are at a premium. I also expect both guys to get their bats going in the second half, and LSU will be even more dangerous when that happens. I'm very encouraged by the fact that Jones has more walks than strikeouts right now, because the knock on him was always that he swung and missed too much. The hits will come.

    Kyle (Milwaukee): Getting concerned with Rodon's command this year?

Aaron Fitt: It certainly hasn't been the kind of command he had last year, that's for sure. I wouldn't say I'm concerned, but the Wolfpack needs him to return to his dominant form if they want to make a deep run this year. Of course, it would also help if anybody else on the staff could give them five or six innings consistently on a weekend...

    Glenn (Baton Rouge): Aaron- Long time reader, first time question asker. How many times have you watched LSU play baseball this year? How do you go about ranking teams you have never seen play?

Aaron Fitt: I have yet to see LSU in person, though I will see them for three games at Arkansas in a few weeks. But I spend an awful lot of time on the phone talking with coaches about their teams, getting the opinions of coaches about teams they have faced, and talking with scouts about the teams they have seen. We work very hard to educate ourselves about a great number of teams, as I hope you notice whenever you read a Weekend Preview or an Under The Radar blog post or a Three Strikes column.

    Ben (Leland Grove): Assuming he signs this year, about how far from the Majors is Mark Appel?

Aaron Fitt: I think he'll be there in a hurry — he's very polished, and obviously he has big league-caliber stuff right now. I wouldn't be surprised if you see him in the majors in 2014.

    Morrie (NJ): Has Jon Gray been your most pleasant surprise so far this season? If not him, who?

Aaron Fitt: We already knew Gray had big-time stuff, of course, but I have been surprised how well he has learned to command it. Take a look at John Savage's comments about him in the Gray-Overton feature we ran last week—he talks a lot about how impressed he was by the way Gray mixed speeds and locations. I'd put Jacksonville's Chris Anderson in a similar category—a guy who had a big arm but has really learned how to pitch. I suppose I'm a little more surprised by what Anderson has done than by what Gray has done, because Gray had a little more pedigree.

    Tony (Frederick, MD): That was an impressive sweep by UVA this weekend. How much of it is NC State being banged up/a bit over-hyped pre-season, and how much is it UVA being far better than people thought. Should I be expecting Charlottesville to host a regional again? I am thoroughly impressed with the coaching. The Waddell/Silverstein/Howard trio is settling in (I really wonder if Howard's future is as an IF or as a pitcher, which is a testament to how well he's pitched this year). Crockett coming back gives them a deep and versatile pen. Derek Fisher is a stud, but I think that almost overshadows guys like Downes/Cogswell. Downes, in particular, is very exciting - a CF with good speed and power. It really feels like O'Connor has another solid young core with a 2 year window, akin to the Hultzen years.

Aaron Fitt: I think you nailed your assessment of UVa.'s team — very exciting club. I just love the position players you mentioned, and I'm amazed at how well that pitching staff has performed. To answer your question, I think this weekend was a little bit of both. Virginia is clearly a legitimate, very good team — much better than I thought. We undersold that team in the preseason, I will gladly admit it. And maybe we were too high on the Wolfpack, because that team has a lot of issues right now. But I can't shake the feeling that N.C. State will still be a factor down the stretch, after Turner gets back to full strength and Rodon finds his groove. The supporting guys must be better, but there is enough depth on that pitching staff that I have to believe answers will materialize. Of course, I've been wrong before.

    Kurt (Little Rock): Arkansas swept at South Carolina - who I believe won 2 straight CWS and was the runner up last year. How are the Hogs not back at No. 1 this week? #WPS

Aaron Fitt: I can't tell if this is a sarcastic question or a legitimate one, but I'm amused by it either way.

    David (Austin): How do you justify placing Gonzaga at 14-7-1 and Notre Dame at 14-6 over Texas A & M? The Aggies have had a tougher schedule than those 2 and just won a big road series at Ole Miss.

Aaron Fitt: The Aggies also had three straight losing weekends, and neither of those other teams has had one losing weekend — and you are underselling the quality of their schedules. Especially since those are both cold-weather programs that have had to open the season on the road for extended stretches, and I don't think a lot of people in warm-weather locales appreciate how difficult it is to get off to a good start when you're doing that. The series that really hurts the Aggies in terms of getting back to the rankings is the home series loss to Pepperdine, a team that is just a few games over .500 and was swept at home by Seton Hall. The Aggies had some work to do to get back into Top 25 consideration after a sluggish start, and they're one weekend away from countering those three losing weekends. Win a series at South Carolina this weekend, and A&M will be ranked.

    Alex (Fairfax, VA): Thanks for the chats, guys. Based on what you've seen to date, who are the top 5 or so sophomore classes in the country? Who's the best (standing out as a potential juggernaut for 2014)?

Aaron Fitt: In no particular order, Kentucky, Virginia, N.C. State, Vanderbilt, Oregon State, South Carolina — those are some that stand out to me, off the top of my head.

    Dougner (New Mexico): Hello Aaron, So far, there are a whole bunch of really good teams from the west coast and southwest. Do you see more schools out here hosting regionals than in recent years? Go Titans!

Aaron Fitt: Right now, it sure feels like Oregon State, UCLA, Oregon and Fullerton are strong bets to host regionals, but I don't know that I see a fifth host out there. The West also got four hosts each of the last two years, so this year seems pretty comparable.

    Zach (Bama): South Alabama FINALLY cracked the top 25. Do they have the chops to win a regional? Where do you see Jordan Patterson getting drafted?

Aaron Fitt: Well, I'm still not completely sold on this team until it plays stronger competition, but those were decent series wins against North Florida and Troy. Of course, the Jaguars also have a series loss against a College of Charleston team that isn't off to a great start by its standards. South Alabama has been good this year, but I'm not ready to say it's a super regional team. There is talent on the roster, though, led by Patterson, who feels like a top-10-rounds pick and could go higher (I don't feel comfortable giving you a more specific round range until I chat with some scouts about him). He can obviously really hit, he has pop to all fields, and he has a strong arm.

    Stephan (Bend): What do you think of Oregon State's freshman left handed pitcher Max Engelbretk? He went 3 and a 3rd scoreless in some tough situations.

Aaron Fitt: Engelbrecht is a really nice weapon in that bullpen, a lefthanded sidearmer with good life on a mid-80s fastball and an effective Frisbee slider. He's clearly proven that he's more than just a left-on-left specialist like you might expect him to be as a low-slot lefty. He's been invaluable.

    Mike (Boston): Accurate assessment on UK's squad? Strong SPs, lights out CP, and developing middle relief. Need a little more offense and better focus on defense. Am I ready to join BA and scout ;)

Aaron Fitt: I think that's a good assessment, yes. Walt Wijas is really the only established veteran guy in the middle relief, so they will be leaning on their talented freshmen in those roles down the stretch. I actually like the lineup — it's a solid college lineup with two real difference-makers in Cousino and Reed, and a number of really nice supporting pieces. I also like the depth of the bench — they've got lefties and righties they can bring in when other teams try to play matchups on the mound.

    Jason (Minnesota): Aaron, Big picture question for you. Do the schools/conferences need to look at fixing the issue with travel shortened games? Tim Corbin seemed to indirectly say in his post game presser that it probably should be addressed.

Aaron Fitt: I sometimes wonder why teams don't leave themselves more wiggle room on those Sundays, even if they have to start an hour or two earlier. I think it's a valid point to bring up.

    Zach (Tallahassee, FL): FSU beating a Georgia Tech team that leads the country in offense two out of three is pretty impressive especially after losing 10-0 friday then holding Tech to 9 runs combined the next two games. With that being said do you see the Noles as a contender or pretender to make a run not just to Omaha but maybe even the schools first title?

Aaron Fitt: I frankly did not expect the Seminoles to win that series this weekend, because I think Georgia Tech is clearly the more talented and experienced team, but I continue to marvel at how Florida State just finds ways to win, this year and every single year. Obviously, those guys are loaded with toughness, and they have a solid enough one-two pitching punch and a very good bullpen. But the lineup still doesn't strike me as a championship-caliber lineup, offensively or defensively. I would never call those guys a "pretender," and it's clear they have a strong chance to host a regional and maybe get a national seed, which could help them get back to Omaha. But... I look at that roster, and I just don't think it's as good as last year's roster, or as good as UNC's or Vandy's or LSU's or Oregon State's, to name a few.

    Greg (Orange, CA): Do the UCLA Bruins have enough offense to make a serious run at Omaha? Yesterday's outburst was encouraging

Aaron Fitt: I think they do have enough, because they don't need a ton of offense behind that pitching staff. I have been waiting for those sophomores — Filia, Zeile, Keck, Kramer — to start performing up to their talent level, and once that happens, this could still be a dangerous offense. But right now it's still pretty inconsistent. Getting Kevin Williams back in the lineup now could provide a boost. And let's see if Filia can build on his nice Sunday game — he's got a really good swing, and he hit a ton in the Northwoods League; it's mysterious to me that he has struggled so much out of the gate.

    Bill (Atlanta, GA): You might think a team that outhits its opponent over a weekend and chases 2 starters in the 2nd innings would win the series. But, I have to hand it to Mike Martin, much as I hate to. Did the series expose any serious dangers for the Yellow Jackets, or was it just a close thing that broke the "Noles way?

Aaron Fitt: Well, I'm not in love with Georgia Tech's pitching after Buck Farmer, and that includes the bullpen. If those bats get cold at the wrong time, I'm not sure Georgia Tech is capable of winning a bunch of low-scoring games in regionals and super regionals to get to Omaha. Of course, as I've said in the past, I think this is the best offense in college baseball, and it is certainly capable of slugging its way to the CWS — and most of the time, Isaacs and Pitts and the bullpen will be good enough. Those guys have certainly had their share of solid outings this year.

    Jacob (Portland): I'm not sure where the line is that separates cold weather teams from worm weather teams, but who would you say are the best cold weather teams outside the state of Oregon

Aaron Fitt: Notre Dame, Indiana, Gonzaga. I guess I'll use the Ohio River as the line, although it was pretty doggone cold in Kentucky this weekend...

    Gerald (Mobile, AL): Now that we are almost two months into the college baseball season, are there any new projections on the 64 field tournament and host sites? Thanks!

Aaron Fitt: I believe our Midseason Report, with our midseason field of 64 projection, comes out next week.

    Brent (Houston): It looks like Baseball America has rewarded the Houston Cougars for a hot start this year. What are the Houston Cougars' chances at making a regional this year and possibly hosting a regional?

Aaron Fitt: I'm starting to really believe in this team as a regionals club, but I don't see it hosting.

    Robert (California): I was a bit surprised that Indiana was not ranked higher than 19 considering their record (18-3) and other outstanding stats like team era (2.05) and batting average (315).

Aaron Fitt: I am punishing them for ruining my plans with their lousy snow. (Not really... although I am bitter!) I really do believe in that Indiana team — I think they are loaded, very dangerous. I would have gladly moved them up higher if there was room to do so, because I'll tell you what, I think that team is going to host a regional this year, and they could win that regional. But... we really didn't want to hit South Carolina more than the 12 spots we hit them, and Rice had a good week and couldn't move down — there just wasn't much more wiggle room.

    LMU Lion (Joplin, MO): Oral Roberts loses 11 straight, the last 5 to Oklahoma and Fullerton, before sending Central Arkansas tumbling out of the rankings with a series sweep. What does it say about: 1) ORU's chances in the Southland this season; and 2) the benefits of a mid-major scheduling top programs?

Aaron Fitt: That's a wild ride, huh? I think Oral Roberts will be very dangerous in the Southland — that rotation of Alex Gonzalez, Drew Bowen and Kurt Giller should be really good, the best in the conference. That league is pretty compelling, with UCA having announced its presence on the national scene, Southeastern Louisiana being solid as usual, and Sam Houston State lurking — still like that team's talent. I have a feeling ORU will benefit in the long run from scheduling so aggressively. That team is now very battle tested, and prepared to do some damage in conference play.

Aaron Fitt: OK, now that tomorrow's game has been canceled, I need to figure out if I need to alter my travel plans, so that's all for today. Thanks for stopping by — I had fun chatting with you guys today.