Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt are the coeditors of D1Baseball.com — total experts in all things NCAA baseball. I talked to them both ahead of the 2021 season to find out the biggest storylines, break down their rankings and get some way too early predictions (see our last conversation here). Now, we are nearing the end of the season and I wanted to talk to them again to get their take on the biggest questions to be answered in the last days of the 2021 regular season, and some huge predictions for Omaha.
You can watch the complete interview above. Here are some of what they are expecting ahead of the selection show, which is set for Monday, May 31.
1. How will the committee handle this strange season?
I asked Kendall and Aaron what the biggest storylines are headed into selections, and they both said the biggest question is how the committee is going to evaluate this unusual season due to COVID-19. How will they handle Big Ten teams that didn't play any out-of-conference matchups? The ACC played 36 games in-conference instead of the usual 30. Fitt noted there is just less use for the RPI this year when there is less crossover between conferences.
Louisville and Florida State are both teams that don't have great RPI, but according to Rogers, they would pass the "eye" test. UCLA is another team in question ahead of selections that had really high expectations headed into the season but are just getting into the swing of things now. Then there is Conference USA — teams like Charlotte, Louisiana Tech and Southern Miss that could be in contention for a host site. Rogers thinks it will be difficult for the committee to differentiate between the three.
2. There were a lot of teams that were surprising this season — in a good way
Rogers sure wishes that they predicted Notre Dame and Pitt to be at the top of the ACC this season. The Fighting Irish have been winning series after series despite injuries on the mound. At Pittsburgh, the Panthers have a great weekend rotation and have been successful this season, so the biggest surprise this year for Rogers is who is on top of the ACC.
For FItt, he said the Pac-12 has been very interesting. In his words, "no one saw Oregon having the season they are having." Same thing with Stanford, who had a rough 2020 shortened season but then a great 2021 turnaround. Tennessee is another team that was ranked in their preseason top 25 rankings, but now the Volunteers are sitting at No. 5 in the country.
3. Who is the player of the year?
Rogers' pick: Jack Leiter — Vanderbilt
"He is the best player I have seen this year in college baseball," Rogers said. He has dominated the SEC, aside from Florida, and has been a calming presence for Vanderbilt. Leiter has 106 strikeouts this season, so far.
Fitt's pick: Kumar Rocker — Vanderbilt
None other than Leiter's rotation mate. FItt's argument is that Rocker has been steady all year long, he now has the lower ERA, fewer walks, and ultimately he has been there before. He has been through an entire month of June, and he has already won the CWS MVP award.
4. Who is freshman of the year?
Fitt's pick: Caden Grice — Clemson
As of late, he has put on a show. He just hit four home run over the weekend and has 12 on the season. "For a big, strong, 6-foot-6 guy with long leavers, he has a surprising feel for hitting, he is not that easy to get out." Fitt thinks his bat is special and compared the attention he is getting as a freshman to Seth Beer in 2016.
Rogers' pick: Dylan Crews — LSU
At first thought, Rogers wanted to pick Grice as well. But ultimately went with Crews who has 30 walks to 27 strikeouts, whereas Grice has 49 strikeouts. Crews is hitting .361 with 11 home runs. For LSU, Crews has been their best player in the SEC and that is loud enough for Rogers.
5. Who will be the eight teams in Omaha?
Fitt's eight teams for Omaha:
4. Mississippi State
Rogers' eight teams for Omaha:
4. Mississippi State
6. Texas Tech