ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – After the conclusion of the 2013 season, the University of New Mexico baseball team had a program-record seven players drafted. Now, four months later, Baseball America has released its initial thoughts on the draft, based on the professional debuts of all the players, and there was plenty of good news for Lobo fans.
The publication took special note of the top three Lobos drafted: DJ Peterson, who went 12th overall to the Seattle Mariners, Sam Wolff, who went in the sixth round to the Texas Rangers, and Mitch Garver, a ninth-round selection of the Minnesota Twins.
Among all players drafted, Peterson was rated the best pure hitter and the second best power hitter, while Wolff was rated as having the fifth best fastball, and the best fastball of any pitcher selected outside the first round.
It was no surprise, then, that Peterson also ranks first in those categories for all the players the Mariners drafted. He was also listed, however, as being the closest to the majors for Seattle’s draft class.
Wolff was also picked as being the closest player to the majors for the Rangers, in addition to having the best fastball, which touched 100 mph out of the bullpen in the minors. Baseball America additionally said he had the best professional debut among Rangers draftees after going 4-0 with five saves and 44 strikeouts in 21 appearances spanning 30 innings over two levels.
Meanwhile, Garver, like Peterson, was rated as being the best pure hitter in the Twins’ draft class after he smacked 49 hits in rookie ball, 19 of which went for extra bases. Baseball America said he “has a line-drive stroke, doubles power and uses the whole field with an advanced approach.”
The overall report speaks volumes of the work UNM’s coaching staff did in helping each player improve and develop.
“Kids get better at the University of New Mexico,” head coach Ray Birmingham said. “And it’s by a lot.”
Peterson arrived in Albuquerque as a heralded recruit, having been selected by the Mariners in the 33rd round of the 2010 draft. After three years with head coach Ray Birmingham and his staff, though, he became perhaps the greatest player in Lobo history as well as the highest drafted player UNM has ever produced.
Wolff also came to New Mexico having previously been drafted, going in the 42nd round of the 2009 draft and the 47th round of the 2011 draft. After a rocky junior year in 2012, Wolff really turned it around in 2013 in pitching coach Dan Spencer’s first season. The righty cut his walk rate in half while increasing his strikeout rate. He went from a 5.52 ERA and a 0.83 K/BB ratio in 45.2 innings in 2012 to a 2.90 ERA and a 1.92 K/BB ratio in 93.0 innings as a senior last season.
Then there is Garver, a local product out of La Cueva High School. Virtually unrecruited out of high school, he came to UNM with no guarantee of a scholarship. But four years later he left as the undisputed greatest catcher in Lobo history. He finished his career among the top 10 in numerous offensive categories: games played, at bats, runs, hits, RBI, doubles, and total bases. He also set a new school record by starting 181 straight games. It should be no surprise that he was a two-time All-American as well as a two-time Johnny Bench Award finalist.
The case can be made that UNM boasts both the top pitching coach and hitting coach in the nation in Spencer and Birmingham, respectively.
Spencer is a two-time national champion from his time as pitching coach at Oregon St. In 2007 he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Pitching Coach of the Year for his work with the Beavers. That same year he coached two first-round draft picks
Birmingham, meanwhile, has proven his hitting knowledge repeatedly over the years. During his 17 years at New Mexico Junior College he had six players lead the nation in hitting and had six teams post batting averages over .400, including a .438 team batting average in 2001.
Nothing has changed since he took over the Lobos. In 2009 UNM led the nation with a .363 batting average, and in 2010 Justin Howard hit a staggering .456 to lead the nation. After placing fifth in the country with a .326 average in 2012, the Lobos were once again tops in the NCAA with a .334 mark in 2013 thanks in large part to having three of the top 21 hitters in the nation: Peterson (.408, fourth), Garver, (.390, 14th) and Luke Campbell (.385, 21st).