NEW MEXICO LOBOS BASEBALL – 2014 SEASON PREVIEW
Friday: New Mexico at San Diego, 7 p.m. (MT)
Saturday: New Mexico at San Diego, 5 p.m. (MT)
Sunday: New Mexico at San Diego, 2 p.m. (MT)
GoLobos.com: Game Recap, Live Stats, Game Box score
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The Ray Birmingham’s Murderers Row of DJ Peterson, Mitch Garver and Luke Campbell is gone and that hole of lost hitting might have some other coach fretting over things like RBIs and runs scored. However, with Birmingham’s Lobos there is never much concern over the sticks.
You give Birmingham a couple of hard-wood broom handles and his Lobos probably could outhit most of the teams on their schedule.
“We can hit. That part of it, I’m not worried about,” said Birmingham. “And I’m not really worried about pitching.”
Really, that’s what you would expect from Birmingham. He takes to the field with a gunslingers’ bring-it-on attitude. His blue-collar Lobos pick up on it.
They take to the field with an underdog’s snarly mentality, a chip on their shoulder, a pirate’s swagger, and the fight of a junkyard dog standing over his last stew bone. These Lobos have attitude. These Lobos go down tough because they don’t expect to go down at all. And most of the time they are the last man standing.
“Expectations for the team are always high,” said senior pitcher Josh Walker. “It’s the blue-collar mentality that Coach Birmingham brings to the table. We are going to work and we’re going to work hard. We don’t need anything given to us.”
Still, the Lobos of 2014 lost a lot from the 2013 team that raced to an impressive 25-5 Mountain West record, the program’s third consecutive league crown and Birmingham’s fourth straight NCAA bid.
The Lobos lost more than a few good sticks: DJ Peterson (.408/72 RBIs), Mitch Garver (.390/68 RBIs), Luke Campbell (.385/49 RBIs), Josh Melendez (.329/41RBIs), Alex Allbritton (.312/39 RBIs). Those five starters combined for 269 RBIs and 246 runs. That’s a lot of production.
“We have to change things up a little bit,” said Birmingham. “But you know what? It’s time for these other guys to do what they are capable of doing. We lost our four top hitters, but guys like Josh Walker are the kind of guys you have to have to go to Omaha.”
Omaha, the site of the College World Series, is always on the tip of Birmingham’s tongue, but before you get to Omaha, you have to win a first-round regional and UNM has yet to do that. The 2013 team had the talent, the hitting and the pitching to finally crack out of a regional, but missed by a couple of hits and a couple of pitches. The Lobos lost 4-3 to Arizona State and 6-5 in extra innings to Columbia.
The Lobos of 2014 will not go into the season with as much preseason hype or as much proven experience. The Lobos of 2013 returned the Mountain West Co-Players of the Year (Peterson/Garver), were No. 21 in the Baseball America preseason poll, and were the unanimous pick to win the MW title.
The Lobos of 2014 have some proving to do – and some big shoes to fill. New Mexico and San Diego State were co-picks to grab the 2014 MW title as each team received three first-place votes and 43 overall points. UNLV was a strong No. 3. The Lobos did lead the preseason All-MW Team with four selections: Alex Real, Jared Holley, Chase Harris and Josh Walker.
“I would say we are going to play a little different style of baseball this year,” said second baseman Sam Haggerty. “You lose guys like DJ, Mitch, Luke Campbell, you have to adjust the way you play the game a little bit.”
It probably wouldn’t be fair to expect the Lobos of 2014 to replace the numbers thrown out by Peterson and Garver. They were special Lobos: All-Americans, MW Players of the Year. But that doesn’t mean that Birmingham doesn’t expect them to be replaced. He knows how to teach college kids to mash baseballs.
“The one thing we do have is we have a lineup from the first hitter to the ninth hitter, who can beat you on any given day,” said Birmingham. “You don’t know who is going to get you. They all can hit. We have some guys.”
Some of those guys returning are John Pustay (.372), Chase Harris (.321), Alex Real (.317), Jared Holley (.293), Sam Haggerty (.280) and Ryan Padilla (.266). These guys are solid Lobos, but there is an obvious call to duty for this group: step up even more and replace some of the Lobo headliners lost. Do it individually and do it by committee.
And throw in some pitching.
The pitching scenario over at Lobo Field is similar to what Birmingham faces every year. He has a few proven arms. He has a few new arms. He has a few arms that need to improve. He needs transfers like Colton Thomson of Scottsdale Community College to quickly produce at the D-I level. Birmingham needs assistant Dan Spencer to weave a little magic out of the bullpen by pulling the right strings at the right time.
On the mound, the hit was a big one, too, but with not as many players lost to graduation. UNM lost Gabe Aguilar, Sam Wolff and Hobie McClain. That trio combined for 21 wins and Aguilar and Wolff were the only Lobo arms in 2013 with ERAs under 3.00.
Here is an encouraging quote from starting catcher Alex Real: “We lost a couple of big bats, but I think pitching has improved. I think we’re going to be good.”
Walker is a proven. The Rio Rancho High product posted an 8-3 mark in 2012. He took an 11-0 mark into 2013 postseason play before losing in the Cal State Fullerton NCAA Regional. Walker had a 3.66 ERA with 55 strikeouts and seven saves and had that special knack in figuring out how to win games – and get batters out. He is the only Lobo returner with who posted an ERA under 4.00 in 2013
The bullpen has some proving to do, but Taylor Duree (4.15 ERA), Drew Bridges (4.46) and A.J. Carmen (6.05) return – but with only four wins between them in 2013. Carmen was second on the team with 14 starts in 2012 and he did throw 58 innings which was third on the team last year behind Wolff (93) and Walker (78.2). There is a lot of talent in those unproven arms. Bridges probably will start Friday night at San Diego
In the race for starting positions, there are a few obvious leaders: Padilla at first, Haggerty at second, Holey at short, Harris in right, transfer Aaron Siple in center, Pustay in left and Real behind the plate. There is a battle at third between freshman Andre Vigil of Albuquerque Volcano Vista and sophomore Jered Meek from Carlsbad (N.M.) High.
Birmingham has a core of returners, but he obviously needs help from some first-year Lobos like Lane Milligan, Andrew McWilliam, Vigil, Jack Zoellner, Siple, Colton Thomson, Matt Reyes, Cody Bower, Danny Collier, Kirby McGuire, Carson Schneider and Jake Cole.
“The only thing we truly need is experience. It’s get them in there and get them baptized,” said Birmingham. “This team has 24 underclassmen. That’s the difference. You can’t practice experience. It comes from being out there under the lights.”
The Friday night lights will descend on the Lobos in San Diego this Friday when they battle a solid Toreros’ club that for the seventh consecutive season was picked to win the West Coast Conference title. The Toreros also were ranked No. 33 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason top-40 that threw UNM into the No. 37 slot.
So, the visiting Lobos will take to the field in San Diego’s Fowler Park as the underdog. That role as underdog and the preseason MW poll actually might be the best way for the Lobos to start the season.
The defending Mountain West kings have a chip on their shoulder.
New Mexico Lobos Baseball 2014 Season Roster
|Hometown (Prev School)|
|2||Kirby McGuire||OF||R/R||5-11||170||Fr.||HS||Round Rock, Texas (Round Rock HS)|
|3||Alex Real||C/1B||R/R||6-0||205||Jr.||2L||Anthem, Ariz. (Boulder Creek HS)|
|4||Chris DeVito||C||L/R||6-0||205||Fr.||HS||Northridge, Calif. (Chatsworth HS)|
|5||Sam Haggerty||INF||S/R||5-11||175||So.||1L||Denver, Colo. (Mullen HS)|
|6||Colton Thomson||LHP||L/L||6-0||185||Jr.||TR||Gilbert, Ariz. (Scottsdale CC)|
|7||Lane Milligan||C||L/R||6-2||180||Fr.||HS||Englewood, Colo. (Cherry Creek HS)|
|8||Jered Meek||INF||L/R||5-10||175||So.||1L||Carlsbad, N.M. (Carlsbad HS)|
|10||Matt Reyes||INF||R/R||5-11||160||Jr.||TR||Midland, Texas (Midland JC) (Midland HS)|
|12||Chase Harris||OF||R/R||6-0||205||Sr.||1L||Boise, Idaho (Centennial HS)|
|14||Jacob Atchley||RHP||R/R||5-10||170||Fr.||HS||Frisco, Texas (Centennial HS)|
|16||Matt Villalobos||RHP||R/R||6-0||185||So.||1L||Rio Rancho, N.M. (Cleveland HS)|
|17||Victor Sanchez||RHP||R/R||6-1||190||RSo.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (Volcano Vista HS)|
|18||Tyler Gibson||RHP||R/R||6-4||215||Jr.||TR||Albuquerque, N.M. (NMMI)|
|19||Kevin Baumgartner||LHP||L/L||6-1||165||Sr.||1L||Phoenix, Ariz. (North Canoyon HS)|
|20||Drew Bridges||RHP||R/R||6-4||190||So.||1L||Fruita, Colo. (Monument HS)|
|21||Aaron Siple||OF||L/L||6-0||160||Jr.||TR||Gilbert, Ariz. (Gateway CC)|
|23||Jared Holley||INF||R/R||5-6||155||So.||1L||Chatsworth, Calif. (Chatsworth HS)|
|24||Cody Bower||OF||R/R||6-0||175||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (St. Pius HS)|
|25||Andre Vigil||INF||R/R||5-11||190||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Volcano Vista HS)|
|27||A.J. Carman||RHP||R/R||6-3||220||Sr.||1L||Bountiful, Utah (Judge Memorial HS)|
|28||Jack Zoellner||1B||L/R||6-1||200||Fr.||HS||Gilbert, Ariz. (Gilbert HS)|
|30||John Pustay||OF||L/R||5-10||180||Sr.||2L||Colorado Springs, Colo. (Pine Creek HS)|
|31||Carson Schneider||LHP||L/L||6-2||175||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Sandia HS)|
|32||Preston Ryan||RHP||R/R||6-0||190||Fr.||HS||Tempe, Ariz. (McClintock HS)|
|33||Conner Rusch||RHP||R/R||6-1||195||Fr.||HS||Kirkland, Wash. (Juanita HS)|
|34||Ryan Padilla||1B||L/L||6-4||220||Jr.||2L||Albuquerque, N.M. (La Cueva HS)|
|37||Josh Walker||RHP||R/R||6-2||180||Sr.||2L||Rio Rancho, N.M. (Rio Rancho HS)|
|41||Andrew McWilliam||INF||R/R||6-5||190||Fr.||HS||San Diego, Calif. (Westview HS)|
|42||Taylor Duree||RHP||R/R||6-2||165||So.||1L||Albuquerque, N.M. (Sandia HS)|
|43||Danny Collier||OF||L/R||6-0||175||Fr.||HS||Albuquerque, N.M. (Sandia HS)|
|44||Jonathan Cuellar||RHP||R/R||6-1||185||Sr.||1L||Phoenix, Ariz. (North HS)|
|45||Mike Gould||RHP||R/R||6-7||225||So.||TR||Bonney Lake, Wash. (Tacoma CC)|
|50||Jake Cole||RHP||R/R||6-4||240||Jr.||TR||Tucson, Ariz. (Pima CC)|