June 21, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When he started his career at the University of New Mexico in 2010, Mitchell Garver was a relatively unknown catcher coming out of La Cueva High School in Albuquerque.
He began his freshman season playing behind All-American Rafael Neda, and he started only 11 games.
Now? He has started 122 consecutive games over the past two seasons, is an All-American himself, and is a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, which is given annually to the best collegiate catcher in the country.
As impressive as that is, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows him. Garver has always loved and thrived off the underdog role.
“I’m a finalist with two high-round draft picks,” he said referring to Mike Zunino of Florida and Kevin Plawecki of Purdue, who were the first two collegiate catchers taken in the MLB draft earlier this month. “I think (being a finalist with those two players) is the epitome of Lobo baseball. It’s the epitome of being a Lobo. You’re kind of an underdog. Nobody sees you coming and then, boom, here I am.”
There was at least one person who saw this coming, however, and that was UNM head coach Ray Birmingham.
“He’s good,” he said about Garver before the season. “He can throw. He can hit. He has what it takes to call a game. He can be that psychologist, that motivator for the pitching staff.”
Birmingham went on to say that he thought Garver had a chance to be as good, or better, than Neda was.
As it turns out, the Lobo skipper knew exactly what he was talking about.
Garver hit .377 this season with 101 hits, 68 runs, 57 RBIs, 27 doubles, three triples, 10 home runs, six stolen bases, 164 total bases, a .438 on base percentage, and a .612 slugging percentage, all while posting a .989 fielding percentage and throwing out 39.6 percent of base stealers. He bettered Neda’s 2010 All-American season in all categories except home runs (11-10) and RBIs (64-57).
There is only one word to use for this type of season: breakout. Garver had more runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, home runs, steals, and total bases than his previous two seasons combined, and he finished the regular season leading all Division I catchers in hits, runs, batting average, and total bases, and he tied for the lead in doubles.
In addition to being named a Johnny Bench Award finalist, he was named a second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball, a third team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and was named Co-Mountain West Player of the Year with teammate DJ Peterson. He helped lead the Lobos to their first regular-season conference championship since 2000, their second straight Mountain West Tournament championship, and their third consecutive trip to the postseason.
But despite his fantastic season, Garver somehow went undrafted in the MLB draft that took place June 4-6.
“The draft bummed me out a little,” he admitted, “but it’s only going to feed my fire. I’m excited about the future.”
Consider his fire fed, stoked, and fanned. The week after the draft he was back in the batting cages, working on his technique and approach as he prepared for summer ball with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the prestigious Cape Cod League.
He is not the only one excited about the future, however. Birmingham sees bigger and better things for his star as well, despite the disappointment of this year’s draft.
"He's going to be a professional catcher someday, I can promise you that," he said.
In the meantime, Garver will travel to Wichita, Kan., next week for the presentation of the Johnny Bench Award on June 28 at the 15th Annual Greater Wichita Sports Banquet.