Top 25 Chat: Preseason EditionChats
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It seems like yesterday Oregon State was crowned the national champion. Now, with the release of the Preseason Top 25 rankings, the 2019 campaign is on the horizon.
With our preseason rankings out, it’s time for you — the fans — to get your burning questions answered by our Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt. So, don’t hesitate. Just ask below and questions will begin getting answered at 2 p.m., eastern.
Pack: Thoughts on NC State going into 2019?
Aaron Fitt: Love NC State’s star power — you’re not going to do a lot better than Patrick Bailey, Will Wilson and Evan Edwards as a trio to build your lineup around. Bailey and Wilson are two of the nation’s very best players at the two most important positions, shortstop and catcher. I expect the Wolfpack to hit as usual, and I expect the Pack to defend very well, because there’s a lot of athleticism here. I’m just not sold on the pitching staff, but it could be solid if juco transfer Alec Barger can follow up his strong fall with a big spring, and if Evan Justice can harness his command, and if Dalton Feeney can come back strong from TJ. Those are significant “ifs”, but certainly the potential is there. I love Kent Klyman at the back end, he deserves a lot more national attention than he probably gets, because he’s really good. And Reid Johnston will keep them competitive on Fridays too, he’s just a bulldog strike-thrower.
Bruin202: With UCLA only really having Garcia and Pettway as the Fri/Sat pitchers, who will likely fill the Sun/Week pitching duties?
Kendall Rogers: Bruin — I would look for freshman righthander Jesse Bergin to get the starting nod to begin the season, at least in the No. 3 spot. Bergin really impressed Coach Savage in the fall with a big-time fastball up to 94, along with pitchability with a curve, slider and changeup. They think he has a bright future. Justin Hooper, if he’s healthy, is certainly another starting option as the spring progresses.
Shoe: Hearing OKST has several draft guys this year. What pitchers you see making a huge difference and a push for B12 title? Same with hitters, who’s gonna lead the Offense?
Aaron Fitt: I’m very high on that Oklahoma State pitching staff, which I think gives them a chance to get to Omaha. Mitchell Stone is a real prospect, a towering lefthander with a low-90s fastball and a promising slider and changeup — he could really jump up draft boards now that he’s healthy again after that fluke injury he suffered early last spring. Juco transfer Logan Gragg is a power-armed righty who was up to 94 against Vanderbilt when I saw the Cowboys this fall, and the coaches rave about how good his changeup is when it’s on. He’s definitely a rising prospect. I’m also eager to see what Brett Standlee can do at the back of the bullpen after redshirting last year; he’s got good stuff, up to 93 mph with a filthy slider when he’s on. In the lineup, keep an eye on Cade Cabbiness (who has big-time tools but really, really struggled at the plate last year) and Trevor Boone. Those are both big-bodied outfielders with intriguing pro potential, and if they have good years, this team should be very dangerous.
Matt: Despite having Adley Rutschman, the strength of Beavers this year will be their pitching depth. Where would you rank their staff nationally? Top 10, Top5, #1?
Kendall Rogers: I would certainly have OSU’s pitching staff in the top five, I think. I just think when you look at the overall setup, it bodes well. Abel will be a stud, Fehmel is a pitchability guy, but again, a guy with a ton of experience and results. Gambrell is a wild card. He has electric stuff, but needs to show he can be a weekend guy for the Beavs. Where things get fun for pitching coach Nate Yeskie is in the bullpen. Brandon Eisert, Christian Chamberlain and Jake Mulholland. What an outstanding trio.
Andy: Does the nation’s best starting pitching duo belong to… Elon!? And do they have anything else that makes them dangerous?
Aaron Fitt: Boy, it’s entirely possible, Andy. Kyle Brnovich’s slider might very well be the single most dominant pitch in all of college baseball — he’s a strikeout machine and a dogged competitor. And George Kirby has huge upside, and he showed in the Cape League that he’s ready to take his game to the next level, I think. Those two guys are going to win a lot of games for the Phoenix, and I think the defense behind them will be very sound. The question is will they be able to manufacture enough offense to make a run? There’s not a lot of firepower there, so they’ll need to execute the inside game well and string together hits.
Alex: Georgia Tech has some nice pieces and seem like they have a chance to make some noise this season. What do you make of the Jackets?
Kendall Rogers: Alex — I’m glad you asked about Georgia Tech. The Jackets are a team Aaron and I both really like on paper. But we’re both in wait and see mode, I think. I like the rotation with Curry, Thomas and English, and the offense certainly has some versatility to it. English, Wilhite and Murray have power, and of course, there’s McCann back in the lineup. GT and Duke are two ACC teams we wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see in our Top 25 a few weeks into the season.
Mike: What are your thoughts on the Hoosiers this season? Can they contend for a Big Ten title, what needs to go right for that to happen?
Aaron Fitt: I like Indiana quite a bit — for me they’re right in the mix with Minnesota for the No. 2 slot in the Big Ten. All three of those feel like regionals teams to me. I think that’s a deep, athletic and balanced Indiana lineup that should really defend — that Justin Walker/Jeremy Houston duo up the middle is very good, and Ryan Fineman is a rock-solid veteran catcher, and Logan Kaletha is excellent in center field. I like teams that are strong up the middle, and the Hoosiers are. Also expect huge things out of Matt Gorski, who has obvious All-America potential. I’m a little less sold on the pitching, but certainly Pauly Milto and Tanner Gordon are pretty promising options from the right side, and Tommy Sommer and Cameron Beauchamp are quality lefties. It’s nice to have Matt Lloyd back to anchor the bullpen too. Overall, this is a team that could easily wind up as a Top 25 club.
Josh : How do you think LSU’s weekend rotation will look? Is Ma’Khail Hilliard no longer going to start?
Kendall Rogers: Josh — I break this all down in the LSU team breakdown, but look for the rotation to be Hess, Marceaux and Walker. The staff loves Marceaux. They think he’s ready to be a star as a freshman. Unfortunately, Ma’Khail had tenderness in his arm throughout the fall, was put on the shelf, and now he’s fallen behind some guys. Can he work his way back into the mix? I would imagine so. We’ll see how it shakes out buddy.
ACCFan: What will be the identity of the ACC this season? Power Hitting, Power Pitching, Great defense? Is there a position group that stands out (i.e. shortstops, outfielders, catchers)?
Aaron Fitt: Interesting question here. One thing that sticks out to me is the quality of Friday and Saturday starters across the league, which I think is up considerably from last year. I love the Parrish-Van Eyk duo at FSU, the Curry-Thomas duo at Georgia Tech, the Stinson-Laskey duo at Duke, the Peluse-McSweeney duo at Wake Forest, the McKendry-McMahon duo at Miami, and all the starters at UNC and Louisville. I actually think the middle of the ACC is very interesting this year — I’m very intrigued by the glut of teams that landed just outside our Top 25, from Ga Tech to NC State to Duke to Miami to Virginia. All those teams feel like dangerous postseason-caliber clubs to me.
4th Street: How do you see things shaking out in CUSA? Who’s the favorite and which teams can compete for an at-large?
Kendall Rogers: 4th — We will dive more into Conference USA soon, so I don’t want to steal the thunder of our writer doing that preview. I will say USM is the frontrunner there. I’m interested to see how Matt Wallner does in the rotation, but I like what they have on the front-end in Stevie Powers and Walker Powell. That’s some good experience. The lineup, as usual, will be potent with Hunter Slater taking a big step forward during fall workouts. He’s going to have a big year. Keep an eye on Danny Lynch, the younger brother of former standout Tim Lynch. Scott Berry says Danny is an instant impact guy who reminds him a lot of Tim.
Chris: East Carolina is #11. Is this potentially the best ECU team ever and what is the likelihood of finally making Omaha??
Aaron Fitt: Certainly, this has a chance to be the best ECU team ever — I think the Pirates have a really good chance to get to Omaha this year, and that would be a first for the program. They’re very experienced, balanced and talented. I love the power in the lineup, led by Brickhouse and Packard and Washer. I think it’s a deep lineup and an athletic defense, and I think there’s enough on the mound too. Two huge keys are Trey Benton and Gavin Williams — if those guys can pitch up to their potential, I think Pirate fans will be enjoying steaks at the Drover in June.
Jpa2825: Who will close for UofL?
Kendall Rogers: JPA – Right now, it looks like it’ll be Michael McAvene. I’m about to post our Louisville grades/breakdown, which details further. But McAvene, despite pitching just 10.1 innings last season, has premium stuff and Roger Williams loves his potential. Shay Smiddy is certainly a quality arm, too, while I would say keep an eye on freshman righty Kerry Wright. He was up to 93-94 this past fall and is ready to be an instant, big, impact guy.
Brendon from Pebble Beach: Any idea on how David Esquer plans to use the rotation (order wise)? Will Beck or Miller get the Friday night call early? Is Mathiessen a lock for the early audition into the Sunday spot? I think if the Stanford starting rotation becomes a strength, the sky is the limit for this team. The lineup should be a force and Grech, Palisch and Little form an above average bullpen.
Aaron Fitt: I expect Beck to be the Friday guy — his stuff is starting to tick up, though it’s still not overpowering velocity. But he’s just got such great command and feel for pitching and competitiveness, all things that you want from a tone-setter on Friday nights. Miller has the highest ceiling — some of the most electric raw stuff in the country, and if he can harness his command and mechanics I could see him being a first-round pick, maybe top half of the first. But he’s more of a wild card. I suspect he and Mathiessen will compete for the Saturday spot, but I expect both of them to wind up as weekend starters in some order. Curious to see what Mathiessen can do with a dramatically larger mound workload as a sophomore, in addition to still DHing. He’s a huge, huge key to Stanford’s season — and I love his makeup, so I think he can handle it.
Wayne Graham : Where do you see my owls finishing this year in CUSA with the likes of Canterino, Moss, DiCaprio (Best Catcher in Rice History), Comeaux……as well as some talented freshmen arms. They’ll surprise a lot of people. I’ve taught them well Kendall;-)
Kendall Rogers: First of all, I can almost guarantee you Coach Graham isn’t sitting on a preseason baseball chat. With that said, I’m intrigued to see how Rice does this season. I love the one-two punch on the weekend in Matt Canterino and Addison Moss. Moss looked very sharp for me against A&M this past fall, sitting in the low 90s with a good slider. We all know what kind of stuff Matt has, too. I think their success on the bump ultimately boils down to Roel Garcia and Garrett Gayle. Both have premier arms … but Garcia needs to stay healthy and Gayle needs to throw strikes. The pitching will need to be good, because the offense could struggle at times. Keep an eye on Dom Cox and Justin Collins. I absolutely LOVED Collins this past fall and the staff thinks Cox will surprise some people.
Brandon: Best case scenario how many top 25 teams could the Big West finish with?
Aaron Fitt: I can’t say I’m real high on the Big West heading into the season, but it seems like there’s always a team or two in that league that surprises us. Best case, maybe three teams wind up as Top 25-caliber? I’m kind of intrigued by UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara (which I think is a sneaky bounceback candidate), those would be my next two teams after Fullerton. But Long Beach could be lying in the weeds as well. Not quite sure what to make of those guys, they have holes to fill, but there are a few solid veteran pieces back too.
Greg: Who else in the Pac-12 is knocking on the door of the top 25 and can turn themselves into a contender?
Kendall Rogers: Greg — I think Aaron will agree with me here, but I actually think the Pac 12 has a chance to have a few candidates to be in the Top 25 at some point in the season. Washington must replace Joe DeMers, Levi Jordan and others, but getting back Joe Wainhouse was huge offensively, and the word I’m getting is Jason Kelly feels very good about his pitching staff. Arizona will be solid and we got good reports on Arizona State in the fall. ASU will hit, and the pitching should be vastly improved. USC and Oregon are both teams with some talent at key positions … but who also qualify as “wait and see” teams for us.
Aaron Fitt: Agree with Kendall — but Oregon is my sleeper out there. That rotation has a chance to be electric, and I think they’re going to hit more than usual with that nice core of Spencer Steer, Gabe Matthews, Jonny DeLuca and Jakob Goldfarb.
wonder boy: Why is Ole miss so high when they lost all 3 weekend starters? I don’t think they will be able to replace them.
Aaron Fitt: Wonder boy, I have to disagree with you on that. Yes, it’s a new weekend rotation, but they’ll still have a lot of talent on the mound. Will Ethridge made a big jump in the fall and looks poised to thrive in the Friday starter role. He and Houston Roth have both pitched a lot of innings at Ole Miss and have the stuff and pitchability to succeed as starters. And I’m really high on freshmen Gunnar Hoglund (a high draft pick out of HS who turned down a lot of money to come to school) and lefty Doug Nikhazy — those guys are both uncommonly polished for freshmen, and ready to step right into rotation jobs. Between those four guys, I think the Ole Miss rotation has pretty intriguing upside, and less risk than you might expect.
Brendon from Pebble Beach: How is Duke Kinamon looking for Stanford? This could be an underrated/unexpected return for the Cardinal. Should we expect to see him slot back in at 2B come the start of the season?
Kendall Rogers: Brendon — Kinamon will start at second, and this has a chance to be a very, very good Stanford lineup. Kinamon and Maverick Handley are back and healthy, and powerful Brandon Wulff is back and healthy as well. The Cardinal also return Tim Tawa and Kyle Stowers is coming off an outstanding summer. These guys are going to hit. I have zero doubt. But I’m intrigued to see how Erik Miller does in that weekend rotation. They really need the stuff to match the results for Miller this season.
Wheeler Eastman: Alabama will obviously be a much much better team this year with some good pieces in place but do you think their conference record will make them look worse than they really are because of how difficult the conference schedule is? Also do you think a 15-15 record would land them in a regional?
Aaron Fitt: Following up on my last answer — yes, Alabama will be a lot better, and if it can manage to go 15-15 in the SEC, it will have a pretty good chance at a regional bid. That said, we’ve seen some teams go .500 in the league and still miss out in recent years if the RPI is too low, so it’s no guarantee. Right now, I’m probably not betting on Alabama to break through and get back to regionals this year, just because the league is so difficult, but they’re definitely making progress under Brad Bohanon. I’m looking for big things this year from Sam Praytor behind the plate and Keith Holcombe in the outfield, and they brought in a bunch of solid juco guys who will help right away.
Mitch: Besides Michigan – any other teams to keep an eye on in the Big Ten?
Kendall Rogers: Mitch — I actually think the Big Ten will have some very solid clubs atop the standings this year. We obviously gave Minnesota a strong look given it’s fresh off a super regional trip and has the reigning Big Ten POY in Frederickson and Max Meyer back in the mix. The Gophers do have some serious holes to fill, however. I also really like Indiana, especially form a positional standpoint. There’s some impressive experience/production there with Matt Lloyd, Ryan Fineman, Logan Kaletha, Matt Gorski and Scotty Bradley. IU could be a team that ends up ranked Top 25 that wasn’t in the preseason. The talent is most certainly there in Jeff Mercer’s first season.
Reece: Who do you think could be the darkhorse in the SEC to make the run to the CWS?
Aaron Fitt: It really is crazy how deep the SEC is — all 14 of those teams have things to like, and I could see almost any of them getting hot and making a run this year. I saw Tennessee and Alabama in the fall, and I’m telling you, both of those teams are dramatically better from a talent standpoint — which doesn’t mean they’ll be able to make hay in the rugged SEC, but they’ll have a chance at least. I know we hated to leave Texas A&M out of the Top 25, that team certainly has Omaha upside with all its quality arms, just needs to answer some questions in the lineup. I also could see South Carolina being a pretty good second-half club like it was last year; it’ll probably be more of a mix-and-match pitching staff, but there is some depth there, and I do like the talented returning core in the lineup with Hopkins, Campbell, Olson and Cullen. Plenty of unknowns on this roster, but again, they’ll be a factor. But short answer: Texas A&M.
Kyle: Does LSU have the best OF in the country? And what is the biggest question mark on this team?
Kendall Rogers: Kyle — I would say at this point, yes, LSU has the best outfield in the country, mainly because Watson and Duplantis are such premier defenders. But I’d caution you to keep an eye on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have some incredible speed out there with Max Marusak, Cody Masters and Gabe Holt leading the way. UCLA is another team with some real athleticism out there, too.
Josh: Can you give us 2 or 3 Mid-Major programs to keep an eye on this Spring?
Aaron Fitt: I’m pretty high on several AAC teams that didn’t crack our rankings: UConn, UCF and South Florida all strike me as likely postseason teams that could make runs at the Top 25 as the season unfolds. Out West, I really like New Mexico State, which returns a ton of proven veterans from a WAC championship team. Brian Green’s got that program rolling right now, they’re going to be dangerous.
Carrigan: How do you think ULL will look this year? Returning their Friday starter from tommy john but worried about the offense.
Kendall Rogers: Carrigan — I feel pretty good about the Cajuns pitching staff with one of my favorites, Leger, back in the mix. I also really liked Jack Burk last season, and Austin Perrin is a talented and seasoned arm. I never really worry about UL’s pitching much, but the offense has something to prove with some new blood in the program. There’s some real potential with Monica, Lahare, Kasuls and Cantrelle, among others, all back. But I want to see it before I believe it.
Anthony: Surprised to see Wake pushed so high after a down year and losing Roberts. Is that just projected development among the returnees?
Aaron Fitt: Anthony, we are certainly making a bit of a bold prediction by ranking Wake Forest after they had a losing season in 2018 — but I really believe in the talent and depth. Remember that last year they were very young, playing a bunch of freshmen every day, but those freshmen were very talented and they will benefit greatly from getting so much early playing time. I expect big things from DJ Poteet, Michael Ludowig, Chris Lanzilli, Bobby Seymour and Shane Muntz as sophomores — and Peluse-McSweeney has a chance to be a truly dominant one-two punch on the mound. That pitching staff is a lot deeper, they’ve done a great job recruiting quality arms the last few years. And the veterans who were suspended last year really hurt them, but getting Bruce Steel back to go with Jake Mueller in the middle infield gives Wake a really nice veteran core in the heart of the defense. I think it’s a balanced, complete club.
Steve: How do you think Oregon State’s infield going to look after loosing so much from last season?
Kendall Rogers: Steve — Replacing the guys they lost in the infield will certainly be a tough task for the Beavers, but it can be done. I actually think the Beavs will miss a guy like Michael Gretler more than you think. With that said, the Beavs really like Beau Philip’s athleticism up the middle and Jake Harvey is a talented young player at second. Andy Armstrong also should do a solid job over at third as a utility type. The good news is the Beavs have a decent little player named Adley Rutschman to command the infield. I think the Beavs will be solid in the field. Great like last year? Tough to ask for THAT much.
Bryce H: How much impact with the freshman class have at Louisville?
Aaron Fitt: Bryce, I absolutely love that Louisville freshman class, which I ranked as the third-best in the country back in the fall. Kerry Wright is going to be a beast, though it’s unclear right now what kind of role he’ll have as a freshman — I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him make a push for a rotation job, but man that rotation is loaded, so it won’t be easy. Jared Poland is an exciting two-way talent who will push for playing time in the lineup but also get some big bullpen innings. And Jack Perkins has a huge arm, I could see him carving out a nice setup role as well. I also really like Alex Binelas and Timmy Borden in the infield mix, but this is an experience team without a lot of opportunity for those young guys; they’re gonna have to earn it.
Jeff: How do you see the weekend rotation for TTU shaking out? Any thoughts on who middle relief/closer might be?
Kendall Rogers: Jeff — I think you’re going to see Caleb Kilian, John McMillon and Kurt Wilson. McMillon has made improvements, and I know Tadlock believes he’ll have a strong spring. He’s got the talent to have a special year. Though the staff likes Cade Farr and talented Mason Montgomery, my money is on Kurt Wilson to round out the rotation. Wilson was up into the mid 90s this past fall and showed crisp stuff. As for the middle relief role, I think I like Erikson Lanning in a long relief type of role. Much like the way Texas A&M used a guy like Kaylor Chafin last season.
Greg: I’m a Florida fan but not as high on our team as you guys. What am I missing? The offense should be fine, and I see a lot of arms that are intriguing, but not a lot of proven guys at all. We’ve just lost so much talent in recent years, hard to sustain at an elite level. Sully’s the best.
Aaron Fitt: Greg, you are correct that the Gators have experienced a lot of turnover, but no program in the country has done a better job reloading year after year than the Gators under Kevin O’Sullivan. I was so impressed by all the power arms Florida rolled out in a fall scrimmage I attended against USF — at least 10 guys touched 92 or better, and almost all of them have legitimate pitchability too. I really don’t think this pitching staff will miss a beat with Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace moving into more prominent roles as sophomores, and Tyler Dyson returning to form as the Friday guy. He looked like his old self to me in the fall, which was very encouraging.
Cowtown Bill: Hope you are right about the Frogs bouncing back this year. What do you see in TCU other than a hopefully healthy #1 starter that should give us optimism for this season?
Kendall Rogers: Cowtown — There’s no doubt there’s some uncertainty with the Frogs, which is why they’re ranked where they are and not higher. It boils down to two things — health of the rotation and the offense. TCU has to be better offensively, that’s a fact. And it’s relying on several newcomers to do the job. We’ll see how that shakes out. After Lodolo, I’m more interested to see how Janczak bounces back from an injury and how lefty Brandon Williamson comes back. Williamson is coming back from an injury and still hasn’t thrown in a live game in a TCU uniform. Electric stuff or not, that’s a question mark. But there’s no doubt this team has big-time potential.
Heel: I feel good about UNC on the mound, but the offense will need to replace some key guys. Who do you see stepping into those roles?
Aaron Fitt: Yeah, UNC’s pitching will be elite, but you’re right that the Tar Heels have some big shoes to fill in the lineup. It’s nice that they still have a proven star to build around in Michael Busch, and I think Ike Freeman is an under-appreciated very good player at shortstop. Obviously they need Ashton McGee and Brandon Martorano to have big years, and I think both are capable. But I also really like the newcomers — Aaron Sabato at first base is physical and has a good approach, I think he’s going to be a big-time run producer. And juco transfer Dylan Harris in center could be an impact player as well, he’s a winner who plays at full speed and has quality tools across the board.
William : Curious how you think Mississippi State uses JT Ginn. Is a he weekend starter who’s a DH or does he provide more value as an everyday infielder and reliever/midweek guy? Thanks and looking forward to the year fellas!
Kendall Rogers: William — I think you’ll see MSU use Ginn as a starter and not really worry about the position aspect until they get his feet wet in the rotation. The fact is, the Bulldogs know they have a limited amount of time with Ginn, and he’s such an electric pitcher, it would be foolish to potentially waste that at all. FWIW — the coaches told me Ginn was as ready as any freshman they’ve ever seen. Low to mid 90s FB with a wipeout slider. I’m excited to see him!