SEC "Q&A": Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers > SEC > NEWS
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    SEC "Q&A": Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers

    In the SEC "Q and A" series, we talk to players, coaches and media to find out what makes the Southeastern Conference the premier college league in the country. Today we speak with Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers. Kendall Rogers is the college baseball managing editor for Perfect Game and has covered college baseball for more than 10 seasons. You can view his work at http://www.perfectgame.org/College/Default.aspx

    SECDigitalNetwork: Every team in the SEC is over .500 so far in non-conference action, including several teams ranked in the top 10. Are you surprised by the SEC’s early season success or was this expected going into the year?

    Rogers: It's not necessarily surprising that every team in the SEC is doing relatively well at this juncture, but there are some big surprises. Everyone, including myself, thought the top of the SEC East would be fantastic this season with Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina leading the charge, but the SEC West was expected to be a bit down this spring. The SEC West actually has surprised me a little. LSU is off to a phenomenal start, entering the Top 10 this week, and Arkansas also is a team I liked when I saw it against San Diego State last week. You also have teams such as Mississippi and Auburn with a wealth of potential, while Georgia is playing great baseball ever since the horrible injury to Johnathan Taylor. Overall, the SEC is better than it was expected to be going into the year. That's great news for the SEC.
     
    SECDigitalNetwork: Who has gotten off to the best start in the league considering the competition they’ve played against?

    Rogers: I would have to go with Florida. South Carolina has that fantastic series win over Clemson, but otherwise haven't played "great" competition, and the same goes with Vanderbilt, who has a fantastic home series win over Stanford. But in my opinion, Florida is the team that has been the most impressive on the weekend. The Gators swept Miami and a pair of average clubs in South Florida and Boston College. The big thing with the Gators this season has been their starting pitching. It has been absolutely phenomenal, and I'm interested to see how they fair down in Baton Rouge this weekend.
     
    SECDigitalNetwork: With the Eastern Division appearing loaded in terms of national talent, how many wins do you think it will take to finish at the top of the standings this year?

    Rogers: That's a great question, and you caused me to do a little research for this answer. Looking back at the past few seasons, Florida won the regular season title in 2010 with 22 wins, while second place South Carolina recorded 21 wins. In '09, LSU and Mississippi tied for first with 20 wins, while in '08 Georgia won the league title with 20 victories. In '07, Vanderbilt, who was the top national seed entering the NCAA postseason, recorded 22 wins. History suggests you need to win between 20-22 games to win the SEC regular season title, but there's a great chance all the top teams in the league beat up on each other this spring. I'm going to go with 20 wins win the SEC title.
     
    SECDigitalNetwork: Despite power numbers being somewhat down, seven teams in the league are still batting over .300 as a squad. What has been the early effect of the new bats so far?
     
    Rogers: The fact that seven teams are hitting over .300 is pretty impressive. As someone who has seen the bats up close and personal several times this season, there's no question they're having an effect, in a positive way, I might add. The bats are showing the nation who the premier hitters are, and those hitters that benefited the most from what I'd call the "cheap hits", I.e., those hits with the old bats that would hit the handle and somehow find their way to the outfield. There's no doubt there's not as much power on the bats, and some coaches have even told me that some specific bats aren't performing the same as others. Some also have said wood bats perform better from a power standpoint. But overall, most coaches I've spoken to like the fact that you can't get by with cheap hits anymore, and I think that's a good thing for college baseball.

    SECDigitalNetwork: If you had to pick today, who will be the player, freshman, coach and pitcher of the year in your mind?
     
    Rogers: That's a great and extremely tough question. But let's break it down like this. If I had to pick today, I'd go with: Overall player: Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina, though keep an eye on Arkansas OF Kyle Robinson. He's having a great year, too. Overall pitcher: Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt, Freshman player: JaCoby Jones, LSU, Freshman pitcher: Karsten Whitson, Florida, Coach of the Year: Kevin O'Sullivan, Florida, though LSU's Paul Mainieri is doing his best coaching job at LSU. Period.

    SECDigitalNetwork: What are your thoughts on the pitch clock being mandated by the NCAA in all games in 2011. The SEC gave the issue national spotlight last season by using it in Hoover at the SEC Baseball Tournament, where it was generally well received.
     
    Rogers: As usual in college baseball, it looks like the SEC once again was proactive on something good for the sport. When the conference initially said it was adding a pitch clock, the first reaction was to be negative about it. However, after experiencing quick pace of play at the SEC tournament in Hoover last season, I instantly became a fan. Now, you don't see pitchers playing around behind the mound or hitters taking constant timeouts at the plate. It's also nice that there's a consistent amount of time between innings. Kudos to the SEC for helping college baseball take a step forward, and essentially in helping our sport become a more marketable television product.

    SECDigitalNetwork: Thoughts on changes to the bats? Do you think there are certain teams in the SEC that the new bat rules help or hurt more than others?

    Rogers: Big fan of the new bats. They limit the cheap hits and force coaches and players to be creative. When the bats were first put in action, several coaches around the country thought it would have an adverse effect on attendance. So far, that hasn't been the case in the SEC. Fans will show up for a good product no matter what type of bat you use. I'm personally a fan of wood bats (not against metal though) because they'd add a new segment of fan base to our sport. As for which teams they affect the most, it's those clubs that have historically lived on the long ball. Ole Miss is kind of one of those teams that fits the billing, however, the SEC honestly has come a long way since strictly being considered a league that lived off the long ball. Vanderbilt, for instance, is utilizing a lot of small ball this season.
     
    SECDigitalNetwork: Three different SEC teams  have played for the national title the last three years…will a fourth come in 2011?

    Rogers: If I had to pick right now, I'd proclaim Florida as my national champion. The Gators have a tendency to go into a lapse offensively at times, but they have a lineup filled with veterans that, in my opinion, will hit in the postseason and during the SEC regular season. But most impressive about this UF team is its pitching staff. Three fantastic starters, an excellent midweek starter and a bullpen that is just loaded with elite arms. Kevin O'Sullivan and his staff have done a great recruiting and scouting job, and it's obvious by this club they've put together. As for other teams, the SEC seriously could have four teams in Omaha with the right draw. In order of probability to get to Omaha: Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and LSU.