Stevens: Birmingham Lands One of Nation's Top Recruiting Classes
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  09/30/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Sept. 30, 2010

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In putting into perspective the strides that Lobo coach Ray Birmingham is making in recruiting talent to New Mexico, maybe the best way is to name some programs behind UNM in the rankings' list.

Those program looking up at Lobos include Arizona, Texas A&M, Baylor, Tennessee, Ohio State, Texas Tech, Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois -- just to name a few teams that didn't even crack "Collegiate Baseball" newspaper's annual evaluation of NCAA Division I baseball classes.

The Lobos were rated No. 38. TCU made the list, but the Horned Frogs have to look up at New Mexico from the Frog's No. 39 spot.

"We are working harder at recruiting than ever and we've always worked hard at it," said Birmingham, who took the Lobos to the NCAA tourney for the first time in 48 years.

"We are shooting to be a Top 20 program every year and naturally your talent is a big part of that. I don't know if UNM's recruiting class has ever been rated in the Top 40. We are being mentioned with people we have never been mentioned with before."

There are a couple of reasons Birmingham's recruiting class has popped up on that prestigious list. First, he is bringing in quality kids. Second, those quality players see a lot of reasons to become Lobos.

So, why come to New Mexico? Maybe to play on a player-friendly program that has proven itself to be one of the top hitting programs in America. Maybe because not only do Lobos get drafted, but they are prepared to compete at the next level. Maybe to be part of a program that also emphasizes education and the total development of a person.

"We have kids wanting to come here who wouldn't have even looked at us a few years ago," said Birmingham. "We are keeping the best New Mexico kids and now the elite players in Texas, Colorado, Arizona and California are giving us a serious look."

Birmingham's program obviously is one that preaches development and education. It also is a program that knows how to win. These combinations help athletes prepare to chase that dream of pro ball.

"The kids that come here don't just have a chance to get drafted. They have a chance to have success at the next level," said Birmingham. "Lobos are just further along in their development than most kids."

In 2010, Birmingham's program pushed Justin Howard, Rafael Neda, Ryan Honeycutt, Kenny Toves, Willy Kesler and Edwin Cart onto the pro-ball path. There were ex-Lobos living their dream in 2009, too: Cole White, Brian Cavazos-Galvez, Mike Brownstein, John Hesketh, Cameron Monger and Dane Hamilton.

A point to make here is that these ex-Lobos had a better chance to stick at the next level by becoming Lobos.

"Pro ball is a business and when you get up there, you have to get it done or they send you going," said Birmingham. "You had better be ready.

"Most kids coming out of high school, even the great ones, still need to develop, improve their skills, get bigger and stronger, gain experience. We can develop those skills and also get them a degree. Let's face it, that degree should be a top priority."

There were a number of Lobos who could have skipped the college route and gone directly into pro ball: Austin House (Texas), Corey Maltz (Tampa Bay), Alexis Garza (Houston), Gera Sanchez (Texas), Sam Wilson (Texas), D.J. Peterson (Tampa Bay), Jacob MacCasland (San Francisco).

They didn't start their dream chasing too early, and the Lobos are better because of it. Those players probably will be better off, too.

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.