Baseball America Ranks Lobos No. 21 in Preseason
Jan. 24, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Baseball America released its preseason Top 25 Thursday, and the University of New Mexico came in ranked at No. 21. Last season the Lobos had perhaps the best season in school history, going 37-24, as they won both the Mountain West regular-season and tournament championships, and advanced to the UCLA NCAA regional.
Being ranked No. 21 in the preseason may not mean much to a powerhouse school from the SEC or Pac-12, but to a rising program like UNM, it's huge. The Lobos are ranked ahead of such national powers as Cal St. Fullerton (winners of four national titles) and Arizona, the 2012 National Champions.
"This is a big deal," head coach Ray Birmingham said. "It's a culmination of five years of hard work by so many people, so many kids, and a state believing in a program."
Before Birmingham's arrival in 2008, the Lobos had been to the NCAA's only once in school history, and that was all the way back in 1962. Since then the Lobos have averaged over 33 wins per season and have advanced to three straight NCAA regionals. Last year Birmingham set a school record by winning the most games (166) in his first five seasons at UNM.
This season expectations are even higher. The Lobos return their top four hitters from last season's squad that finished fifth in the nation in batting: junior third baseman DJ Peterson (.419, 17 home runs, 78 RBI), senior catcher Mitch Garver (.377, 10, 57), sophomore outfielder Ryan Padilla (.353, 5, 49), and senior outfielder Josh Melendez (.347, 3, 44). Peterson, Garver, and Padilla have also all been named Preseason All-Americans by various publications.
Also back are senior shortstop Alex Allbritton, a first team All-MW performer last season, sophomore first baseman Alex Real, who set a record with seven RBI in the MW Tournament championship game last season, senior outfielder Luke Campbell, who was slated to be the team's cleanup hitter in 2012 before an injury ended his season before it even began, and junior outfielder/designated hitter John Pustay, who tied a UNM record with six hits in a game at Air Force last April 5.
On the mound the Lobos return starters Sam Wolff and Josh Walker and reliever Hobie McClain. Wolff has been drafted twice previously, Walker was a second team All-MW performer last season, and McClain led the Lobos in ERA last season at 1.80.
The Lobos added more pieces on the recruiting trail: Chase Harris was the NJCAA Region 18 Player of the Year last season playing for the College of Southern Idaho; Sam Haggerty out of Mullen High School in Denver, Colo., is slated to be the new starting second baseman; Jered Meek was the New Mexico 5A Player of the Year at Carlsbad High School; and starter Anthony Consiglio and reliever Tyler Spencer both pitched at Western Nevada College last season and helped it advance to the NJCAA World Series.
So it's no wonder that coaches and scouts across the country are taking notice of the Lobos. But the players and coaches aren't satisfied. They know the true goal is winning a national title at the College World Series in Omaha. If you walk into the baseball offices you'll see signs pointing northeast that read "Omaha: 869 miles." It's a very real goal for a team with some truly elite talent, and everyone in the program knows the best is yet to come.
"We've only scratched the surface," Birmingham said.
The Lobos open their season at home on Feb. 15 against Oklahoma State.
You can read a full scouting report on the Lobos, and the rest of the teams in Baseball America's Top 25, here.