College baseball’s regular season was wrapped up this past weekend. Now, the Mountain West squads prepare to descend on Beiden Field on the campus of Fresno State for the conference tournament starting on Tuesday, the winner of which will earn a berth in the NCAA tournament and entertain dreams of a trip to Omaha.
Local writers in each of the six communities were gracious enough to provide insights on their teams ahead of the tournament. Chris Jackson covers the New Mexico Lobos for Examiner.com, who won the regular season Mountain West title and earned the top seed in the conference tournament that begins Wednesday, May 22.
1. Third baseman D.J. Peterson has put up a gaudy .401/.515/.813 line and, according to SB Nation’s John Sickels, is a potential top-20 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft. What tools does Peterson possess that drives such impressive numbers?
Peterson has played mostly first base this year, take note of that. Peterson just has a good approach at the plate, stays patient, waits for his pitch, and drives it to all fields. He has power, good hands, quick, smooth stroke through the zone. Defensively, he's adequate at third base, but they moved him due to how the infield played out this season, with Alex Allbritton shifting from shortstop to third and freshman Jared Holley moving in at shortstop.
Peterson's a smart player, has good composure, exceedingly polite (calls me "sir" every time). In a deeper draft he might go lower, mainly due to questions about his eventual position (he's a tad undersized for a first baseman) and the fact he hits right-handed instead of left-handed. Overall, though, he'll be a solid pickup for a team this summer.
2. A 30-win team is not often a one-man show, especially not one that hits .353 in conference play. Who else in this Lobos lineup should earn fans’ notice?
The other Lobos to watch are almost all of them. Senior catcher Mitch Garver is a very good hitter, extremely athletic for a catcher. He's the team leader, and though he hasn't shown as much power this season, Lobo Field plays more to doubles than homers than Isotopes Park. He's very good at going the other way. Second baseman Sam Haggerty and his double play partner, Holley, are solid defensively. Neither really drives the ball, but they're good contact hitters and get on base a lot. Allbritton at third is a tremendous defender.
He tends to be a bit streaky as a hitter, not much power. Left field has alternated between Luke Campbell and Ryan Padilla; whichever is hotter is starting (Campbell is the starter right now). Center fielder Josh Melendez is fast, good defensively, and a scrappy hitter who can drive the ball on occasion. Right fielder Chase Harris is fast, good defensively, and goes gap-to-gap as a hitter. Designated hitter Alex Real has some power, tends to be a bit streaky, but overall is a bulldog.
3. Does the pitching match the lineup’s offensive prowess? Who will take the mound following UNM’s first-round bye and what kind of arsenal does he have at his disposal?
The Lobo pitching staff has been up and down this year. Guys have ridden hot streaks and slumps on the mound. As to who starts in which game, that remains to be seen. RHP Josh Walker is a junior who paints the outside corners with an average fastball that has movement. His breaking and offspeed stuff complement the fastball. He spent most of the year as the team's closer but moved back into the rotation (where he spent 2012) and has started on Friday the last two weeks.
The other candidate is senior RHP Sam Wolff. He's been the Lobos' most reliable starter. His fastball runs into the mid-90s and this season he has learned how to command it. Big credit to Lobo pitching coach Dan Spencer. He's been throwing his breaking pitches for strikes much better of late. Freshman RHP Drew Bridges has thrown a lot, but he had a minor strained triceps and sat out last weekend against SDSU. My money would have him going if they get to a third game.
4. The Lobos ran away with the MWC regular season title, so it is safe to say they are the odds-on favorite to win the conference tournament, as well. What is the ceiling for this New Mexico team?
The ceiling for this UNM team is Omaha. That being said, it will take a little luck (weak regional field, for one) to avoid getting too deep into the pitching staff. Pitching depth is the Lobos' Achilles heel, or should I say effective depth. Until they can finish fixing up Lobo Field they're not going to host a regional or super regional, and as Arizona showed last year, you almost have to host to advance. If they have to play a 4th game in the postseason I think they're toast. If they can pull off 3 quick wins, they can get to the supers. After that, it's all matchup-based.
New Mexico gets a first round bye due to winning the Mountain West, and they will take the lowest seed on Thursday, May 23 at 10 p.m. ET. They will play either San Diego State, Fresno State or Nevada, plus all games can be seen on the Mountain West Digital Network.