Preseason Top 25 Chat: Jan. 18Columns
Aaron Fitt: Hello gang, it’s time for the first chat of 2021 — finally! What a long, strange offseason it’s been. Let’s get after it — and please welcome the great Mike Rooney to the chat room for the first time!
Mike Rooney: Let’s goooooooo!!!!
John: How big of a factor was COVID in determining the rankings? I know LBSU and USC struggled with limited/no practice.
Mike Rooney: It wasn’t a be-all end-all for me but those teams may get off to choppier starts I think..
Guest: Top Big Ten teams or pick to win conference?
Kendall Rogers: We will have our Big Ten preview out soon, but for me, it’s Michigan and Indiana — and then Ohio State and Iowa, probably in that order, though, you could make a strong case for Iowa over some of those teams. We’ll see how things shake out soon!
SECbaseball: How would you rank the Friday night arms of the SEC west?
Aaron Fitt: Oh yeah, now THIS is the kind of high-powered question we need to kick off this chat! Not an easy one, but here’s my best try:
- Connor Prielipp, Alabama
- Richard Fitts, Auburn
- Doug Nikhazy, Ole Miss
- Christian MacLeod, Mississippi State
- Jaden Hill, LSU
- Bryce Miller, Texas A&M
- Caleb Bolden, Arkansas
And I gotta tell you… I think you could rank those first five guys in any order you want. I’m all-in on Prielipp, but he’s never even pitched an SEC game! Fitts and Hill have top-10-picks stuff, and Hill is the most electric of the bunch, but I have a little more faith in Fitts’ current pitchability and I like his track record as a big-game pitcher in the bullpen, even he hasn’t been an SEC ace. Nikhazy and MacLeod are both very safe, high-floor lefties who compete their tails off. If you wanted either one of those guys No. 1, I wouldn’t argue.
Mike Rooney: I’ll channel my inner KR here: UCF is intriguing and 2020 was super impressive but they lost some really good arms. The raw materials look good but it’s hard to lose those types of pitchers and not miss a beat.
Danny: Is Arkansas’ lineup and pitching depth enough for them to get to Omaha even without an Isaiah Campbell or a Blaine Knight type guy on the staff?
Kendall Rogers: Danny — Arkansas will one of the better offenses in college baseball this spring, IMO, so the offense isn’t remotely a concern for me. Frankly, the only thing holding the Hogs back from a Top Five spot preseason is just the weekend rotation. I really like guys like Noland/Wicklander/Vermillion, etc, but all those guys enter the season with something to prove. WTS — I believe in a guy like Matt Hobbs to have a solid rotation. I’m very confident in the bullpen with a stable of power arms down there.
Frank: I feel like I have a pretty good feel for the Florida infield. But who do you think is the most likely option to join Young and Fabian in the outfield?
Aaron Fitt: I think it comes down to Calilao and Sterlin Thompson. Calilao is the two-year starter who gives valuable, mature at-bats, so I’d bet on him to lead the platoon… but Kevin O’Sullivan was talking in the fall about how it’s going to be near impossible to keep Thompson’s bat out of the lineup, because he is just really special. That’s a good problem to have, but man is it going to be hard to find at-bats for all those talented hitters. Thompson can also really, really throw, but he’s a converted infielder who doesn’t have much experience in the outfield, so maybe he sees more time at DH in the short term? Just speculating there.
HornFan: How much more do you guys think having a quality fourth starter will matter this year with conferences moving to a four game weekend model? Additionally, what teams do you guys feel like have the best situation to take advantage of the four man rotation?
HornFan: There was supposed to be a tourney featuring #3 Texas Tech, #6 Ole Miss, #7 Miss State, #8 Arkansas, #9 Texas and #10 TCU. Have you heard anything on whether or not it will happen? If it does, how many people will D1 send to Arlington?
Kendall Rogers: Yes. The Globe Life Tournament and there has been no change at this point. It’s fully expected to be played, and yours truly will be there. I can’t wait for that tournament with six of our Top 12 teams in it.
John: Y’all are higher on West Virginia than other sites. What do you like the most about the Mountaineers?
Aaron Fitt: This is a Fitt Special right here — I think I convinced Kendall and Roons to run them up, because I’m just in love with WVU’s pitching. I’m not surprised we’re higher on them than other outlets, but that’s because we took the time to go see these guys in the fall, and I can tell you that their pitching is legit — I think it will be one of the best bullpens in the nation, with all kinds of velocity and true knockout secondary pitches. But I also really believe the Jackson Wolf/Ryan Bergert duo might wind up being among the best one-two rotation punches in the nation, and they have a nice group of reliable strike-throwers behind in the rotation, guys like Tyler Strechay and Jake Carr. Position player group has plenty of veterans left over from the 2019 regional hosting team, and a nice blend of impact speed and some pop. It wouldn’t surprise me if WVU even finishes ahead of TCU and Texas when the dust settles. But I recognize that I’m putting myself out there a little bit with this pick.
Benjamin Ficken: was Southern miss in the discussion for top 25 at all?? What do you like from this team coming into the year?
Kendall Rogers: Ben — USM was in the discussion for sure and is a team I’ll vouching for in our Next 10 discussion. I think if you look at the rotation with Stanley, Shepard and Powell — that’s a ton of experience, and some quality arms to boot. Furthermore, USM will hit and they love freshman Slade Wilks. USM is the very, very clear-cut favorite to win Conference USA for me.
Guest: How close was Clemson to cracking the top 25? Additionally, is Keshawn Askew on track to be our Sunday starter?
Aaron Fitt: We had Clemson a bit lower in our ACC pecking order — Duke would have been the first ACC team out of our rankings, and then probably Clemson and BC are neck and neck, both probably fitting in the 30-40 range somewhere. Wouldn’t surprise me if Askew wind up as the Sunday guy; reports on him this fall were very good, though I did not get to see him. Davis Sharpe feels like the only sure thing for the weekend rotation, and Mat Clark seems like a good bet as well. Then it comes down to Askew, Carter Raffield and freshmen Caden Grice and Ty Olenchuk for the Sunday job, in my opinion.
Aaron: How close was Pepperdine to being ranked?
Kendall Rogers: Pepp was just shy of being squarely in the discussion. I did bring them up, however. I actually really like the Waves’ chances in the WCC with Cooper Chandler and Gunner Groen leading the weekend rotation. That lineup is loaded, too, with the return of Modlin, power-hitting Lutes and my man Wyatt Young. Pepperdine is a 40-win type of team for me, and I think they’ll be a regional two seed somewhere.
Mike Rooney: Gonzaga is another team to watch in the WCC.. Alek Jacob is a horse, Andrew Orzel (Wofford) was huge transfer pick up.. Gabe Hughes and Ernie Yake are WCC POY candidates. Really like the Zags!
Hank: your preseason top 25 is mostly southern schools (rightfully so), what teams from up north do you think could make some noise in the post season?
Mike Rooney: Hey Hank.. UConn is one for sure. They are deep and experienced. If Ben Casperius can be a true ace, and I think he can, they are really dangerous.
Heel: Thoughts on North Carolina this year? Off the radar for the first time in years going into the season.
Aaron Fitt: Definitely under the radar, with a chance to sneak up on people — that’s certainly an unfamiliar position for that program, and I bet they’ll relish it. There are still things to like — if Austin Love bounces back strong, he and Joey Lancellotti could wind up being a pretty darn solid one-two punch atop the rotation, but there are a lot of unprovens on the staff overall, so I’m in wait-and-see mode with their pitching. And aside from Danny Serretti, there aren’t a whole lot of established commodities in the lineup either, though Angel Zarate was off to a great start last year before the season was canceled. They need their newcomers to hit the ground running, like Justice Thompson in CF and Mac Horvath at 3B. I am high on both of those players, but there’s a lot riding on them, I think.
EagsBy10: Where is the love for USM? Weekend rotation is going to be stout and bringing back a lot of bats.
Aaron Fitt: Kendall touched on them earlier, but just to follow up — I tweeted after I saw USM this fall that I thought the Eagles felt like a Top 25-caliber team, and I still feel that way. It’s just that college baseball is stronger than it has ever been, and there were like 40 teams that we considered Top 25 caliber. I would definitely have Southern Miss in my personal top 30, though.
Mike Rooney: Agree with Fittsy here.. I’ll add that Slade Wilks is a personal fave of ours. Should be a stand out true freshman hitter.
Guest: You guys aren’t that high on the Big Ten (it seems). How the heck will the Big Ten get at large bids if they don’t have non-con?
Kendall Rogers: That’s a great question, and one of the concerns that coaches in that league have right now. With almost the entire country scheduled to play at least some non-conference games, committee members I’ve spoken with are perplexed at how to judge the Big Ten. This could be one of those years where the ranking of those teams by the regional advisory committee is massive. We’ll see how things shake out.
Dave: What do you see it’s going to take for a Big Ten team to crack you top 25? Thanks
Aaron Fitt: As Kendall mentioned, we did look hard at the Big Ten in our Top 25 discussion, but the problem is it feels like there are seven very solid teams but no real obvious favorite. Michigan and Indiana feel like they’re at the top of the pecking order, but the Wolverines lost a lot, and as much as I like Indiana’s pitching I’m not sold on the lineup. And really, I think you can make a case for Iowa, Ohio State, Maryland, Nebraska or Illinois to win the league as well. It just feels like a big jumble without any clear-cut front-runner, but once a team or two starts to emerge in the top tier, we will be quick to rank the cream of the Big Ten crop.
Ben Royer: who do you think gets in the UCLA rotation this season? Lots of good options, but tough decisions. Maybe one replaces Powell in the pen? Savage has lots of luxury!
Mike Rooney: The Bruins are LOADED on the mound! Rotation will be Pettway, Nastrini, Bergin. The bullpen is arguably the best in the country with Townsend and Mora as the rocks. Sean Mullen is a power arm in the class of Powell.. he is the key. If he throws enough strikes as the closer, UCLA will be really difficult to score on.
Sean: What are your expectations for the Aggies of Texas A&M this year?
Kendall Rogers: Sean — The Aggies could certainly be one of those teams that makes us look silly for not ranking them at the end of the season, but there are just too many question marks early on. For starters, Bryce Miller has a big-time arm, but he’s moving from the closer role to the No. 1 starting job in the toughest league in America. That’s not easy. Doable? Yes. But we want to see it. Dustin Saenz is a classic breakout candidate, and Chris Weber has a chance to be very good, assuming he stays committed to the weight room, etc. I actually think the Aggies will be improved offensively. So, for now, the pitching staff is kind of the question mark.
Guest: What is the % Kumar Rocker takes pitcher of the year ?
Mike Rooney: First he has to win Pitcher of the Year for Vandy! Jack Leiter will have something to say about that.. all kidding aside, Kumar enters the year as the clear favorite and a Golden Spikes candidate. He is special!
Robert: I was surprised to see OM above State. Can you touch on what gave them the edge? I like State’s weekend rotation much more with McLeod, Cerantola, and Bednar.
Aaron Fitt: We debated this at length. Ultimately I think Ole Miss got the edge because our panel felt like Nikhazy-Hoglund was a little more established as a rotation duo, and Cerantola still feels like such a wild card, even though his upside is enormous. Personally, I’m all-in on Bednar, and I also really believe in Kamren James — two guys that maybe don’t have SEC track records yet but should become stars in this league. I think I go back and forth about Ole Miss and State every time I look at them.
Southern Slams: Question 2. What about Alabama? I know the Tide also aren’t ranked, but started 16-1 last year and could still make some noise. Do you think Alabama has anything special in them? Can they start strong again?
Aaron Fitt: Bama is one of the most intriguing wild card teams out there, for me. This group of players don’t have any kind of track record of SEC success, so they’ve got a lot to prove… but there’s a whole lot to like about them. I think it’s a strong lineup with some power and athleticism, and I expect them to defend at a high level. I think Prielipp will be one of the best Friday night aces in America, and there are talented pieces behind him but I want to see them do it. My biggest concern is I don’t think Alabama is as deep on the mound as most of the SEC contenders, so they’d better stay healthy.
Frank: Do Vandy’s top 2 starters (Rocker & Leiter) have the potential to be the best top of the rotation in college baseball history?
Mike Rooney: It is incredible to think that they could go first and second overall in the draft! The 2003-4 Rice teams have to be in conversations like this as Humber-Niemann-Townsend went 3rd, 4th, and 8th in the 2004 draft.
Aaron Fitt: Lest we forget, Cole and Bauer went No. 1 overall and No. 3 overall in 2012… but Cole actually had a losing record that year! As talented as he was, he did not perform up to his talent that year. So if Rocker and Leiter can perform up to their talent, they could certainly eclipse what Cole and Bauer did that year, and potentially match what they did in the draft.
Scott: I know this question gets asked every year but is this the year that East Carolina finally gets to Omaha? And not that it matters but I was expecting a little bit higher ranking for the Pirates (15-20), I figured with as many arms that Pirates have they would be a solid top 15 team.
Aaron Fitt: Lots of solid arms, but they don’t have a true blue-chip Friday night ace, which is why they weren’t higher. Kuchmaner and Tyler Smith are nice steady veteran starters, but they don’t really have sexy stuff. Gavin Williams has sexy stuff if you see him on the right day, but we’re still waiting for him to put it all together. Carson Whisenhunt is my big pick to click; if he performs like I think he might, maybe he can emerge as a true ace and complete the puzzle for ECU. I think that’s the piece this team needs to make an Omaha run, because I really like the position player group — should be an elite defense and a deep, efficient offense, I think.
Jeramey: Good afternoon and thank you for the chat as always. Your breakdown of the top 25 is amazing as always. If you could only see 3 of these teams during the season as a fan, who do you go see? I am limited on time to t ravel to see games this and want to make my 3 games count. Thanks
Kendall Rogers: Dang, Jeramey. Great but TOUGH question. I would say Vandy because of Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, Florida because it’s just so ridiculously loaded and Texas Tech because I feel like watching those guys offensively is like watching controlled chaos.
Mike Rooney: Great question! I’m going ballpark-centric here: UConn, Florida, Oklahoma State.. I’m fired up to see these new joints. They all look spectacular!
Aaron Fitt: Those are all great answers! Florida checks all the boxes — insane talent and gorgeous new ballpark. Vandy has Rocker and Leiter. But I’m going with UCLA for my third spot — I just love that team’s style of play. Watching them dominate the strong Frisco Classic field for three days last spring was truly a treat.
Troy: Interested to hear your thoughts on DBU? They have been a fixture in the top 25 in recent years.
Mike Rooney: They will good again.. incredible coaching staff, some really good returning pieces. Ryan Wrobleski is a personal favorite of mine. I wish we could have seen 2020 play out for them.. I thought Burl Carraway was a gamechanger for DBU and that might have been the difference for an Omaha run. He should rocket to the big leagues. Never bet against the Pats!
- thoughts on UGA without Hancock and Wilcox? I know they’re in ranked now but do you think they can make a run if the pitching funds some replacements? Just curious your thoughts on the Dawgs!
Aaron Fitt: Boy, we thought long and hard about ranking Georgia, even despite those losses. I happen to believe that Ryan Webb/Jonathan Cannon/CJ Smith has a chance to be one of the SEC’s best rotations. If the super-talented freshman position players hit the ground running to provide some added firepower in the lineup, I think Georgia will be a Top 25 team in a hurry. And the Bulldogs need the Tate brothers to have big years — Cole Tate takes over for Cam Shepherd at short, and Connor Tate needs to be a big-time run producer.
Bear down: Curious as to why you guys have the wildcats ranked lower than other sites?
Mike Rooney: I view Arizona as having a wide range of outcomes. First, I love their freshmen class. Berry, Nichols, Davis, and Susac are all top of the league players. But they are true freshmen in a year when college baseball will be very old. The overall talent level is very strong for the Wildcats. For me it boils down to uncertainty: they will start a true frosh at Catcher, a JC transfer on Friday nights (Chase Silseth), and the infield defense is a question mark. Silseth is really talented though so he could be fine. There’s a lot to like here.. wouldn’t be surprising to see them advance from here in the rankings. Arizona is the second best team in the Pac.
Kendall Rogers: We are a little more cautious on Arizona than some might be, but I’m on record as saying Arizona will likely finish a little higher than that. I think the Wildcats are going to hit, and if they can have an ERA around 4.50 or so, I think this is a Top 15 caliber club. We’ll see how things shake out.
Steve: It wouldn’t be a weekly chat if I didn’t ask about my Tulane Green Wave! I know y’all have stated that they’re projected as a potential regional team, but how far are they from the Top 25?
Kendall Rogers: Steve — Not Far. Tulane and UCF were both teams we discussed during our preliminary Top 25 discussions. Tulane looks like a solid club this spring, and it all starts with the big guy on Friday nights in Braden Olthoff. That’s such a tone setter each weekend.
Vandyfan: You seem to be trending down on Vanderbilt ranking them 4th whereas this past fall Aaron was between them and Florida for the 1 spot. (Plus you ranked their incoming class outside of top 10 – way down vs other sites) do you think Vanderbilt is trending down?
Aaron Fitt: Haha, um, no. I do think Vandy has some things to prove in the lineup – and really on the mound too — but I’m still in love with the talent. I mean, fourth in the nation is pretty damn good. On my personal board, I’d probably have them third above Texas Tech, just because I think Rocker/Leiter is such an enormous advantage in any weekend series. But I think UCLA is a more complete club overall.
Guest: Hey fellas- first time long time. What power 6 conference seems to have benefited most in regards to pitching depth due to the pandemic ?
Aaron Fitt: I think it’s the SEC, as boring as that answer is. That league is just so jam-packed with 6-15-round caliber arms every year, and most of the time those guys sign. This year, so many of them are back. Every staff in the league has guys who fit in that mold.
Brandon: Can’t wait to get the year fired up, men. Thanks for your great content each year. You guys want to take a crack at Tech’s weekend rotation?
Kendall Rogers: Brandon — I just wrote about Texas Tech, here. I am going to go with 1) Micah Dallas 2) Mason Montgomery and 3) Hunter Dobbins
Greg: Which Florida freshman will have the biggest impact this year, if you can only pick one?
Aaron Fitt: What a tough question, Greg. Colby Halter probably has the clearest path to regular playing time — I think his defensive chops give him the edge for the majority of the playing time at third base, although I could see McMullen playing third and maybe Sterlin Thompson or Calilao getting run at DH if the Gators want to get both of their bats into the lineup. Thompson has a chance to be a monster, but heck, Halter is going to be really good too, and his defensive value gives him a slight edge for me. Timmy Manning is going to be really, really good too, but on this veteran staff he’s probably just a middle reliever in 2021. Long story short — I guess I’ll take Halter.
DBU fan: I was surprised to see Dallas Baptist not in your top 25. They finished last season #22 and have their full starting rotation back as well as 8 of their 9 starting position layers.
Kendall Rogers: DBU — the Patriots were in the discussion. I do think this is going to be a very solid team and certainly the clear-cut favorite in the MVC. I love the front two arms in the weekend rotation in Dom Hamel and Ray Gaither, and getting spinster Kragen Kechely back on the back-end of the bullpen to go with hard-throwing Luke Trahan is huge. I could definitely see the Pats being ranked at season’s end.
FeMike: I don’t envy hitters this year. With the abrupt end to baseball in 2020 and the abbreviated draft, it seems like this season is shaping up to supply some of the most daunting pitching arsenals ever assembled. The top 25 is littered with teams whose pitching would compete for ‘best in the nation’ any other year. Pinning a ‘best pitching staff’ or even top 5 would be difficult at this point, so I’ll go the other direction. Which 1 or 2 teams look to have the offensive firepower to really pose the biggest threat to these ‘super staffs’?
Aaron Fitt: I like your style here, Iron Mike. I think my votes for best offenses go to Florida, Louisville, Miami and… you guessed it — Wake Forest!
Jay: With no Fall for most of the Pac 12, who do you see in the Pac 12 possible making regionals after UCLA and Arizona?
Kendall Rogers: Arizona State, Oregon State and Washington, in order, would be those teams for me. I would also caution to keep an eye on Oregon. I think the Ducks will start to show gradual improvement under the new coaching staff. Maybe even this year? This is as good of a year as any to make an unexpected move.
Aaron Fitt: All right gang, that’ll do it for this week. What a fun chat to start off the year — thanks to everybody for the fantastic questions. See you back in the chat room on the first Monday of the season. It’ll be here before you know it!
Kendall Rogers: All right,folks … that’s all the time for today. Remember, you can use the promo code promo2021 to get 20% off an Annual Subscription at D1Baseball. Join Today — http://www.d1baseball.com/subscribe