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July 20, 2007

Kendall's Mailbag: Ducks in a row

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He'll be working all summer to get you ready for the fall and answer your questions every week in his College Baseball Mailbag.
July 13: Are you ready for '08?
As the summer continues, your questions continue to roll in at a record pace.

After wowing the college baseball world the past two seasons, Oregon State will soon receive a challenge from in-state rival Oregon.

Though the Ducks still must hire a coach and assemble a team, they are committed to building a winner in Eugene, Ore.

Cal State Bakersfield is another school hoping to experience success on the diamond.

The Roadrunners selected Bill Kernen as their new coach and hope to make a splash when they begin competing in the Big West starting in 2009.

We also take inside look at some of the top middle infields in the country, while also breaking down the most talented summer leagues.

Oregon prepares for baseball

What are your thoughts on Oregon bringing back baseball? Also, who would you tab as head coach candidates?

Chris in Roseburg, Ore.

I have to admit, when it was announced that Oregon was bringing back baseball, I was exponentially surprised.

Just last summer, I spoke with several officials at Oregon about the possibility of reinstating baseball. Few were actually interested in talking about it and others seemed perturbed that in-state rival Oregon State was being used as a measuring stick.

Then Oregon hired Pat Kilkenny as its new athletic director.

While Kilkenny may or may not have been instrumental in Oregon bringing back baseball, he certainly had to play an important role. More importantly, Kilkenny signed the dotted line when it came to bringing back baseball.

As a long-time follower and writer of college baseball, I'm excited about Oregon and the future of its baseball program.

Though most Ducks would rather not hear this, rival Oregon State has shown them exactly what needs to be done to compete at an elite level.

Not only must Oregon hire an impressive coaching staff, they must make additional commitments to baseball. The list includes an extensive recruiting budget, outstanding facilities (which seems to be the case) and a strong marketing effort.

If the Ducks can master each of those objectives, I see success in their future.

The next question: Who will the Ducks hire?

With the newness of the program, it's going to be interesting to see which coaches throw their names in the hat. More importantly, what Oregon is willing to pay its head coach will likely determine the star power of its wish list.

As someone who believes in hiring area guys, I would think the Ducks stay on the West Coast to find their new coach.

A few coaches I'd consider if I was Oregon: Cal State Fullerton's Rick Vanderhook, San Diego's Rich Hill (though I doubt he'd leave USD), UC Irvine assistants Greg Bergeron and Sergio Brown, Cal Poly's Larry Lee, UCLA's Brian Green. In terms of wild cards, I might take a look at TCU's Jim Schlossnagle (a long shot) along with College of Charleston's John Pawlowski, who deserves a head coaching job.

Ranking the summer leagues

How would you rank the summer leagues in terms of talent?

Chris in College Station, Texas

Ranking the summer leagues is a risky proposition, but I have a pretty good idea of what each league brings to the table in terms of talent.

This should come as no surprise, but the Cape Cod League is the cream of the crop when it comes to the summer leagues.

Not only do scouts flock to the Cape Cod League, it is historically considered to be the nation's top summer league. Additionally, most of the nation's elite college players either play with Team USA or head to the Cape.

While the Cape is King to the summer leagues, the Northwoods League continues to gain ground in every department.

Not only do many Northwoods League teams attract impressive crowds, they also enjoy (much like the Cape) flawless weather and comfortable surroundings. While the talent difference between the Cape and Northwoods used to be enormous, the Northwoods League is gaining ground at a higher rate than some might think.

Another league that continues to earn recognition is the Alaska League.

Though the Alaska League isn't earning the signatures of many elite players, they continue to attract quality talent. The Alaska League is historically one of the most talented, but we'd be dishonest to say they aren't losing ground.

One league to keep an eye on is the Texas Collegiate League.

The TCL may not enjoy comfortable temperatures, but the league is very well managed and continues to increase its talent level.

With its proximity to the southern United States, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the Texas Collegiate League is one of the fastest growing summer leagues in the country.

Overall, I'd rank the leagues like this:

Cape Cod League
Northwoods League
Texas Collegiate League
Alaska League
New England League
Valley League
Coastal Plain League
California Coastal League
Central Illinois League
Great Lakes League

Looking at the middle infield

As we look ahead to 2008, what are some of the best middle infields?

Jim in Chico, Calif.

Instead of singling out one or two middle infields, let's take a stroll through some of the major conferences and choose some of the notables.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is highlighted by Miami's Jemile Weeks and Ryan Jackson, along with Virginia's Greg Miclat (assuming he's healthy) and David Adams.

The SEC is led by Vanderbilt's Ryan Flaherty and Alex Feinberg. Flaherty was one of the nation's top fielding shortstops last season, while Feinberg has a consistent glove. The young Mississippi State duo of Jet Butler and Brandon Turner could also earn defensive accolades next season.

The Big 12 is led by Baylor's Beamer Weems and Shaver Hansen, while UCLA's Brandon Crawford and Alden Carrithers highlight the Pac-10. I'd also keep an eye on Oregon State, where freshman Joey Wong blossomed as one of the nation's top defensive second basemen in 2007.

In the Big West, UC Irvine returns Ben Orloff but loses Cody Cipriano, while Cal State Fullerton should be in good shape with Joe Scott leading the way at shortstop.

Those are just a few middle infields to keep an eye on.

Building a program

What do you think about Cal State Bakersfield hiring Bill Kernen and what does that program have to do to compete in the Big West?

Charles in Quartz Hill, Calif.

Some might disagree, but I thought Cal State Bakersfield made the perfect move by bringing in Bill Kernen to kick-start the baseball program.

Not only does Kernen bring an extensive baseball background to the table, he's also familiar with making the transition to Division I.

As the head coach at Cal State Northridge from 1989-1995, Kernen helped the Matadors make the transition to Division I. Additionally, he finished that coaching stint with an impressive 240-154-3 record.

From an experience standpoint, the Roadrunners made a great hire with Kernen.

Though Kernen's addition is a step in the right direction, Bakersfield has much more work to do to become competitive in the Big West Conference. Just look at UC Davis, who finished the 2007 season with a 24-32 record.

Much like Oregon in the Pac 10, the Roadrunners must show players, recruits and fans alike that they're committed to baseball.

By that we mean adequate recruiting budgets, adequate money to hire assistant coaches, state-of-the-art offices and facilities and other amenities. Additionally, the Roadrunners must find a way to pry players out of Los Angeles - something easier said than done.

With Cal State Fullerton already earning elite status and programs such as UC Irvine and UC Riverside recently making a stronger commitment to baseball, the Big West is only getting better each season.

For Cal State Bakersfield, it's all about adapting to the times.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.