Things will be different next season.
That much is a certainty for the University of New Mexico baseball team, which finished off a difficult season last week and did not qualify for this week’s Mountain West Conference tournament in Reno, Nev. Roster changes and Mountain West changes are coming in 2020.
Whether the Lobos will improve on this season’s record (23-28-1 overall, 11-16-1 MWC) remains to be seen. UNM’s roster will feature a slew of new players, and UNM coach Ray Birmingham is cautiously optimistic about his team’s signing class.
“We have to get through the major league draft first,” Birmingham said, “then I’ll tell you exactly how good our recruiting class is.”
UNM expects to lose junior right-handed pitcher Justin Slaten to next week’s draft, and outfielder Jared Mang – one of six seniors on this season’s roster – is likely to hear his name called. Junior infielder Justin Watari and redshirt sophomore infielder Connor Mang could be drafted, too.
As usual, the Lobos have several committed recruits who could also opt to forego college baseball if they are selected early enough in the MLB draft.
But personnel won’t be the only thing changing for Birmingham’s team next season. Boise State will officially join the Mountain West’s baseball lineup, bringing the league to eight teams and ushering in a significant change to the conference schedule.
Instead of the current 30-game, unbalanced league schedule used in recent years, the Mountain West will go to a 21-game format in 2020. Teams will face each of the other seven MWC teams for a single three-game series.
The schedule will alternate on a home-and-home basis, requiring teams to visit each opposing ballpark every other season. UNM will host Fresno State, Nevada, Boise State and San Jose State in 2020 and travel to San Diego State, UNLV and Air Force. The Lobos will then play four MWC road series and host three in 2021.
“It’s a better schedule,” Birmingham said. “It’s balanced, which makes things a lot more fair at the end of the season. It also allows us to schedule more non-conference games and start conference later, which I like.”
Birmingham also hopes the Mountain West will return to an inclusive tournament format. The league adopted a four-team tournament in 2017 in hopes of protecting the RPI rankings of potential NCAA Regional qualifiers.
“I don’t see that it’s done that,” Birmingham said.
Conference coaches will vote on the tournament format later this summer.
ALL-MWC: Jared Mang was the only UNM player named to the All-Mountain West first team announced Thursday. Slaten was a second-team selection.
Only conference statistics are considered for all-conference voting and Mang’s were outstanding. He led the MWC in total bases (72) and doubles (13) over 28 games and ranked second in batting average (.385), hits (45) and slugging percentage (.615).
Slaten posted a 2.16 earned-run average in nine conference starts with a .213 opponent batting average. He struck out 66 in 581/3 innings.