ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — UNM’s Birmingham Goes After Homegrown Talent
Ray Birmingham’s dream — one of them, anyway — is to one day ferry a roster full of local baseball players to a College World Series.
His 2013 roster will be getting a huge influx of homegrown talent.
The UNM coach’s ever-continuing New Mexicanization of the Lobos’ roster has snared a handful of the state’s top prospects this year.
No fewer than seven players are UNM-bound from the Class of 2012, with others — like Volcano Vista’s Andre Vigil — on the horizon in the future years.
“It definitely played a part for me,” said Albuquerque Academy first baseman Kevin Shul, part of the Lobos’ current recruiting class. “That’s definitely a plus, and it was a factor.”
Whether or not the Lobos could ever pull off such an ambitious feat like getting to Omaha remains to be seen, but one thing seems readily apparent:
The seniors who have committed to UNM feel like they’re hopping aboard this train at just the right time.
Whitmire and Carlsbad pitcher/shortstop Jered Meek are part of the next bumper crop of Lobos, although it is possible Meek could get drafted before he ever gets here.
Volcano Vista shortstop Dalton Bowers, Shul, Academy pitcher/outfielder Thanasi Lycou, Belen shortstop/catcher Hunter Blaylock and Sandia’s hard-throwing right-hander Taylor Duree are also part of this group.
“They’ve been to the (NCAA) Regionals two years in a row, and the program is coming up,” said the 6-foot-2 Duree, whose fastball has been clocked in the low 90s. “I just want to help.”
Duree was also considering New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs. Enter Birmingham, whose salesmanship skills among local recruits is becoming something of an urban legend.
“He was asking me, if I went the JC route compared to UNM, as a competitor, how would I like to pitch against some of the best hitters in the nation?” Duree said. “That’s what sold it for me.”
Others have similar tales of how they were swayed.
Belen’s Blaylock, a four-year starter for the Eagles, is easily one of the most unheralded talents in the state. Few know much about him outside Valencia County.
But while he grew up in rodeo country (Bosque Farms), the 5-11, 190-pound Blaylock has been a tremendous offensive talent for Belen. He’s batting near .500 this season; he probably will translate into a second baseman at the next level.
Of course, the chance to play close to home was a lure, as it was for almost everyone within shouting distance of the UNM campus, but Birmingham ultimately was the bait that snagged Blaylock.
“The intensity,” Blaylock said, talking about the Lobo coach. “The fire he brings out of every player. He motivates everyone so well, and he just gets the best out of every player.”
Blaylock and Whitmire are both playing positions now they may not play in college. Whitmire has been doing his best work on the mound for Artesia, but at 5-9, and with his speed, he seems likely to be moved to the outfield. Lycou is a 6-foot left-handed outfielder/pitcher, but said he would probably just pitch at UNM.
“They are on the rise, and they are a great team already, and being part of that is insanely appealing for me,” Lycou said.
The 6-3 Shul, whose role with the Chargers has been amped up somewhat with the loss earlier this season of Alex Bregman, said New Mexico’s talent pipeline is plenty rich. Moreover, he said, the Lobos were not a program that he and others were just settling for.
“I think New Mexico baseball definitely has that capability of making it to Omaha,” Shul said. “Without a doubt. I think a lot of people underestimate how much talent we have in New Mexico.”
Said Blaylock: “It’s obvious that we hold our own.”
Carlsbad coach Cody May said Meek — who was unavailable for comment — was still planning on being a Lobo. Meek is considered by many to be one of the top two or three players in the state.
Volcano Vista’s Vigil, Clovis pitcher/outfielder Tyler Greene and St. Pius outfielder Cody Bower are 2013 graduates who have verbally committed to the Lobos.
Vigil is probably the most sought-after of next year’s class; there were a slew of Division I programs chasing the Hawks’ second baseman, who this year has also developed into a solid pitcher.
Several other New Mexico senior standouts signed national letters with out-of-state programs.
Eldorado switch-hitting outfielder Cullen O’Dwyer signed with Arizona State, Academy’s Bregman signed with LSU, Piedra Vista outfielder Shilo McCall signed with Arkansas, and St. Pius pitcher/outfielder Kevin Piersol is headed to New Mexico State, among others.
Kyle Piersol, a St. Pius sophomore, has given his verbal commitment to UNM.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal