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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Baseball: New roster may balance team

sports@dailylobo.com
@ThomasRomeroS

Head coach Ray Birmingham does not have many worries about this year’s New Mexico baseball team.

One of them, however, is that UNM is lacking experience across the board with the loss of five positional players and six pitchers.

Seven of those players were taken in the 2013 MLB Draft.

“We got to change things up a little bit,” Birmingham said. “It’s time for the other guys to do what they’re capable of doing… That part of it I’m not worried about.”

Last year, the Lobos offense was one of the best in the nation.

They ranked first in batting average (.334), slugging percentage (.504), on base percentage (.422) and third in runs (487).

One of the main reasons why UNM had such a formidable offense was because of first baseman DJ Peterson, who was fifth in the nation with a .408 batting average. Peterson was taken in the first round of the MLB draft — on the 12th overall pick — by the Seattle Mariners.

UNM also lost its starting catcher in Mitch Garver, who was taken in the ninth round of the MLB draft by the Minnesota Twins. Last year, Garver set a team record by starting 181 consecutive games.

Preseason All-American starting pitcher Josh Walker said it is always tough losing players like Garver.

“Mitch was a great guy. Really honorable player. For the four years he was here he did some great things,” Walker said. “Losing a guy like that is always tough. It kind of leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth. To switch it’s always going to be different.”

Garver and Peterson helped lead the Lobos to a 37-22 record, their highest ranking in team history (13th) and the Mountain West Conference regular season crown.

The Lobos have more than enough talent to earn their fifth-straight trip to the NCAA tournament, Alex Real said.

“Same expectations as always. The goal is always Omaha,” Real said. “We lost a couple of big bats from last year, but I think the pitching has improved from last year. I think that’s kind of the balance that was maintained. I think we’re going to be good as always. Coach Birmingham always makes that a priority.”

From the pitching standpoint, UNM lost its most consistent relief pitcher in Gabe Aguilar, a reliable starter in Sam Wolff and another relief pitcher in Hobie McClain.

Despite all the key losses, Baseball America picked the Lobos as the team to beat in the MW. UNM finished with a 25-5 conference record last season.

The 2013 Lobos lost four consecutive games to end their season thanks to a lack of pitching depth.

Birmingham said the Lobos will not have to worry about that this year.

“We have a wall full of hitters, I want a wall full of pitchers,” Birmingham said. “If we have a wall full of pitchers on the wall of honor that means we’re going to Omaha.”