ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In 2014 freshmen for the University of New Mexico baseball team will be looking to continue a pair of trends set by first-year players the past couple seasons: one which is an honor and one which is more painful in nature.
Having a Lobo earn Freshman All-America honors has become almost the norm for the Lobos. They have had one in each of the last three seasons, four in head coach Ray Birmingham’s six years at UNM, and seven since 2002.
Starting the recent run of three in a row was DJ Peterson in 2011. He hit .317 that season with six home runs, 48 RBI and 32 doubles, which is an NCAA record for freshmen. In 2012 it was Ryan Padilla’s turn as he hit .353 with five home runs and 49 RBI while slugging .525 with a .430 on-base percentage. Last season Sam Haggerty stepped up by hitting .280, including .299 in Mountain West action, with 58 runs scored (third in the nation among freshmen) and a team-leading 47 walks (fourth in the nation among freshmen).
One characteristic they all share, aside from being freshmen, is they are all position players. So which hitter on this year’s squad has the chance to be the next Freshman All-American? Birmingham feels the team is loaded with young talent and there are plenty of solid candidates.
Andre Vigil was the Player of the Year in the state of New Mexico last season for Volcano Vista High School in Albuquerque after setting the career home run record for the state. He hit .394 and slugged .676 on his way to a third straight First Team All-State selection. Other local possibilities include outfielders Danny Collier out of Sandia High School, who Birmingham called “perhaps the biggest surprise of fall camp”, and Cody Bower out of St. Pius High School who helped lead the Spartans to the 4A state title last season.
More options came from out of state as well. First baseman Jack Zoellner led the state of Arizona with 12 home runs last year while playing at Peterson’s old high school in Gilbert. Catcher Lane Milligan hit .554 last season while playing for perennial power Cherry Creek High School in Colorado and has a chance to backup junior Alex Real behind the plate this year. Pushing him will be another catcher, Chris DeVito, who was teammates with sophomore shortstop Jared Holley at Chatsworth High School and has tremendous power from the left side of the plate.
Another California product is Andrew McWilliam out of Westview High School in San Diego. He is a tall (6-foot-5) corner infielder who also played basketball in high school and the coaching staff has high hopes for him. A pair of hard-nosed outfielders, Reece Weber from Grandview HS in Aurora, Colo., and Kirby McGuire from Round Rock HS in Texas, also have a chance to earn playing time in UNM’s somewhat unsettled outfield picture.
With plenty of talent at numerous positions, one thing is certain for UNM’s freshmen: whoever listens and learns from Birmingham’s tutelage at the plate will stand an excellent chance of being the Lobos’ fourth straight Freshman All-American.
Now for the streak none of the freshmen are probably eager to extend: in each of the last three seasons a freshman has led the Lobos in times hit by pitch. Peterson again got things started by being plunked 10 times in 2011. Padilla again followed with 13 HBP in 2012. Last season Holley led the team with a whopping 15 HBP despite being the smallest player on the team at 5-foot-6, 155 pounds and missing nine games as a result of some of those pitches.
This streak, though, is incredibly fluky and nearly impossible to exist. For instance, neither Peterson nor Padilla followed up their team-leading HBP campaigns with high numbers the following season: Peterson had just four in 2012 and Padilla only two last season. Still, if any freshman is lucky enough to earn a starting job, and the at bats that come with it, they may also be unlucky enough to extend this rather painful streak as well.