Top 25 Countdown: No. 20 Texas A&M

High expectations have been commonplace for the Aggies during the five-year tenure of coach Rob Childress, but the program still is trying to return to the College World Series for the first time since 1999.

The Aggies would love nothing more than to end the hiatus this season.

Some things must improve for that to happen.

The Aggies welcome back some talented hitters from a lineup that was respectable last season, but must find a way to replace departed power hitters Brodie Greene and Joe Patterson.

Adam Smith and the Aggies hope to take their biggest step forward this season.
(Texas A&M)

On the mound, John Stilson’s move from closer to weekend starter is the biggest story line entering the spring. Stilson has a great arm and is a top draft prospect, but it’ll be interesting to see how he makes the transition.

The Aggies have more talent on the mound with fellow weekend starter Michael Wacha and converted closer Ross Stripling leading the way.

A&M is more athletic team than it was when it reached an NCAA Regional title game last season.

Perhaps that’ll be the difference.

Projected starting lineup

An asterisk (*) indicates a returning player

C Kevin Gonzalez*
1B Jacob House
2B Andrew Collazo*
SS Kenny Jackson*
3B Adam Smith*
LF Brandon Wood*
CF Scott Arthur*
RF Tyler Naquin*
DH Matt Juengel*

SP John Stilson*
SP Ross Hales*
SP Michael Wacha*
RP Brandon Parrent
CP Ross Stripling*

Offense

The Aggies finished last season with a .300 average and hope to improve that mark as a result of some having more productive campaigns.

Matt Juengel and Kevin Gonzalez spearhead the offense. Juengel batted .359 with 10 doubles, 11 homers and 39 RBIs last season. He also slugged .629 and had a .421 OBP. Gonzalez, meanwhile, batted .318 with 10 doubles, nine homers and 38 RBIs. He slugged .510 and had a .357 OBP.

Adam Smith and Tyler Naquin are expected to have very solid campaigns, while Andrew Collazo, Scott Arthur and Kenny Jackson must rise to the occasion.

Keep an eye on newcomer first baseman Jacob House, whom the Aggies have high hopes for this spring. Also remember newcomers Krey Bratsen and Jace Statum.

It’ll be an interesting offensive year for the Aggies.

Pitching

It promises to be an interesting campaign for the A&M pitching staff, and that’s not to be received in a bad way.

The Aggies have some fresh faces in surprising areas, and the storylines are highlighted by stud closer John Stilson making the move to the weekend rotation.

Stilson made 33 appearances last season and had a 0.80 ERA in 79 innings. He also struck out 114 and walked 23 and limited teams to a .181 average.

The weekend rotation rounds out with Ross Hales and Michael Wacha.

Hales, a left-hander, only made two appearances last season because he was rehabbing an injury. But he was a hot name two seasons ago when he started 10 games and made 19 appearances and had a 4.11 ERA in 76 2/3 innings. He also struck out 76 and walked 22 and teams hit .268 off him. The Aggies believe Hales is back to his normal form.

Wacha, who earned Freshman All-American honors last season, went 9-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 105 2/3 innings. He also struck out 97 and walked 22 and limited teams to a .218 average.

Elsewhere, Dylan Mendoza, who only threw 6 2/3 innings last season, is the primary midweek starter while JUCO transfer Brandon Parrent takes over as a key middle reliever.

Right-hander Ross Stripling will close after starting 17 games last season and tallying a 4.50 ERA in 88 innings. He struck out 89 and walked 29 and limited teams to a .279 average.

Other arms to watch include Nick Fleece, Estevan Uriegas and Joaquin Hinojosa.

Shoes to fill

The good news for the Aggies is they don’t have many holes to fill.

Offensively, replacing Brodie Greene and Joe Patterson won’t be easy.

Greene led the team last season with a .395 average, 14 homers and 55 RBIs. He also had an impressive .462 on-base percentage. Patterson, meanwhile, hit .348 with nine homers and 48 RBIs, and had a .518 slugging percentage.

On the mound, the Aggies have the tough chore of replacing former first-round pick and right-hander Barret Loux.

Loux, now part of the Rangers organization, went 11-2 last season with a 2.83 ERA in 105 innings. He also struck out 136 and walked 34. He also limited teams to a .202 average.

The Aggies could exceed expectations if they adequately replace these guys.

Must step up

The Aggies need some hitters to rise to the occasion after losing key hitters Brodie Greene and Joe Patterson.

The players that must improve the most include Adam Smith, Tyler Naquin, Scott Arthur and Andrew Collazo.

Smith finished last season hitting .268 with 10 homers and 42 RBIs. He must become more consistent from a batting average standpoint. Naquin, meanwhile, finished ’10 on an incredibly high note but still had a .244 average with two homers and 19 RBIs.

Arthur batted .218 with just eight RBIs in 170 bats last season while Collazo hit .245 with three homers and 22 RBIs.

The Aggies are confident the foursome will perform well this season, but the proof is on the field.

Naquin and Smith are the best bets to make major strides.

Impact newcomer

The Aggies have several newcomers to watch as the season nears.

Offensively, first baseman Jacob House is one to watch. House brings a solid bat to the plate and sat out last season after transferring from Arkansas. Two years ago with the Hogs, he batted .282 with five doubles, two homers and 15 RBIs.

Also keep an eye on versatile freshman outfielders Krey Bratsen and Jace Statum. Bratsen could begin the season as the starter in center field, while Statum is expected to earn significant playing time as spring progresses.

On the mound, JUCO transfer left-hander Brandon Parrent is one to watch.

Parrent will begin the season as the Aggies’ key middle reliever after having success at the JUCO level. Parrent in 88-91 with his fastball and has good secondary staff.

Newcomers will play a big part for the Aggies.

Postseason prognosis

Like several teams, the Aggies have plenty of talent to make some major noise this season. However, they must impress on the mound and improve offensively to get past the NCAA Regional round.

The Aggies finished last season with a .300 average, but return just two hitters that finished the campaign with an average better than .300. Tyler Naquin and Adam Smith are more than capable of putting together impressive offensive campaigns.

On the mound, replacing first-rounder Barret Loux won’t be easy. The Aggies, as a result, have moved stud closer John Stilson to the weekend rotation and former weekend starter Ross Stripling to closer. The Aggies will be fine if the two make smooth transitions.

The Aggies also must improve defensively to step forward and get to Omaha. A&M had a .964 fielding percentage last season and had breakdowns in the field on several occasions.

Can the Aggies reach their ultimate goal? You bet. But some things must change.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jan 24, 2011