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There could be big NM flavor in the majors this year

San Francisco Giants’ Sam Wolff throws against the Oakland Athletics during an exhibition baseball game in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Play ball!

Only a few select players will hear the long-awaited call this week as Major League Baseball opens its abbreviated 2020 campaign. Coronavirus pandemic restrictions have wiped out seasons from the Little League to professional levels, vastly limiting the number of players participating.

Even so, it’s not necessarily a down year for New Mexicans at baseball’s highest levels. Four players with NM ties – Mitch Garver, Alex Bregman, Ken Giles and Nick Pivetta – are on active rosters for their MLB teams’ Friday openers. Six more players with New Mexico ties are assigned to taxi squads or satellite training camps.

It remains to be seen how many will appear in games over the next two-plus months, but with the specter of COVID-19 infections impacting player availability, 2020 could end up planting a bumper crop of players with local ties in the majors.

“If you count the guys on big-league rosters and players just a step away, there are more than I can ever remember,” University of New Mexico baseball coach Ray Birmingham said. “It’s pretty cool to see.”

Garver, an Albuquerque native and La Cueva High grad, is the only former Lobo on an active MLB roster. Coming off a 31-homer season with the Minnesota Twins in 2019, he is the team’s primary catcher for 2020.

Albuquerque-area high school alums Bregman (Albuquerque Academy) and Giles (Rio Grande) also are established major leaguers. Bregman, runner-up for last season’s American League MVP award, is the starting third baseman for the Houston Astros. Giles opens as the closer in Toronto.

Pivetta, who played at New Mexico Junior College and signed with UNM before being selected in round four of the 2013 MLB draft, is in his fourth season as a starting pitcher for Philadelphia.

Former Lobo Sam Haggerty easily could find himself on Seattle’s active roster soon. Haggerty, who made his big-league debut with the New York Mets in 2019 and signed a free-agent contract with the Mariners in the offseason, is part of a three-player taxi squad that will travel with the team. Each MLB team will carry a taxi squad of players who can be quickly activated in 2020. A speedy infielder/outfielder, Haggerty could fill numerous roles for the Mariners.

Veteran MLB catcher Blake Swihart (Cleveland High) and ex-Lobos Sam Wolff (RHP) and Luis Gonzalez (OF) have been assigned to respective satellite training camps for the Texas Rangers, San Francisco Giants and Chicago White Sox. They do not travel with the big-league teams but could be “called up.”

The same is true for a pair of highly regarded prospects with New Mexico ties. Carlsbad High alum and 2017 first-round pick Trevor Rogers (LHP) is assigned to the Miami Marlins’ satellite camp, while former New Mexico State standouts Nick Gonzalez (IF) and Daniel Johnson (OF) are working out at the Pittsburgh and Cleveland alternate training sites, respectively. Gonzalez was the seventh overall pick in this summer’s MLB draft.

The 2020 season already started for Moriarty High alumnus Matt Moore (LHP), who has taken his game to Japan in 2020. A big-league veteran who is coming off knee surgery, Moore signed a free-agent deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks during the offseason. He pitched in two games before a calf strain landed him on the injured list July 8.

As usual, there are numerous former Albquerque Isotopes scattered over various MLB rosters. The Isotopes’ parent club, the Colorado Rockies, has 18 players on its 30-man opening-day roster who played regularly for the ‘Topes in recent seasons.

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