Return to The Promised Land -- Baseball Opening Day Preview: New Mexico Lobos

The Lobos of New Mexico are a very underrated team.  In 2009, they came out of nowhere to nearly capture the 2009 MWC title, but rather finished 2nd behind TCU.  In 2009, the Lobos had the best contact hitting team in the nation as they tallied a team average of .363 BA with 47 Triples (both tops in the nation).  Unfortunately for the Lobos, they lose alot of their power from the middle of the line-up; however, they still are a team that can sneak up on you and they certainly have a shot at the MWC title this year. Lobo Preview after the jump:

Ray Birmingham returns to New Mexico for his 2nd year at head coach, and he has certainly turned around the program.  Last year, his Lobos posted a respective 37-20 record, while going 15-8 in the fairly tough MWC.  As I noted prior to the jump, The Lobos had a very decent team last year and they return a good core group to reload with. 

On Offense:

-In 2009, the Lobos had 4 players hit above .400 for the season.  Two of those guys have moved on to greener pastures; however, Rafael Neda and Ryan Honeycutt remain.  Neda is projected as the best offensive player in the MWC for 2010 and certainly shouldn't be taken lightly.  In 2009, he batted .415, with 7 HRs, and 49 RBIs with a .629 Slugging %.  The kid can hit and he's great behind the plate calling the shots.  Not to be outdone, Ryan Honeycutt is on many Preseason All-MWC lists as an outfielder.  He boasted a .406 BA, 6 HRs with 53 RBIs in 2009 and expects to supplement the firepower in the middle of the lineup for the Lobos in 2010.

-There are some players that are returning from 2009's squad that are expected to step up and play a major role this year.  Adam Courcha, an Australian native will play mostly RF and brings some pop to the plate as well, batting .313 with 20 RBIs in very limited duty last year.  Max Willett returns to LF after a very productive season in 2008 where he posted a very nice .355 BA with 46 RBIs.  He's also one of the fastest guys on the team as he stole 12 bases last year.  Justin Howard (no relation to Ryan) is expected to take the 1B position this year.  Howard is a JUCO transfer from Navarro College, batting .309 with 6 HRs and 41 RBIs last season.

On the Mound:

-Gone are Friday "Ace" John Hesketh and closer Cole White, the Lobos have to reload their staff if they want to compete in the postseason this year.  Last year, the Lobos had difficulty on the mound as their team ERA was well over 5.50.  Soph. Rudy Jaramillo will look to rectify that as he seems in line to be their Friday starter.  Jaramillo was 4-2 last year with a 5.73 ERA along with 37Ks.  He was mostly a reliever to begin the season but progressed to get a nod as a starter as the season went along.  Saturday Starter looks to be RHP Willy Kesler.  Willy had a very decent 2008 campaign but had it cut short in May as he went down with an elbow injury.  He sat out 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery but looks to be heathly as ever and ready to take the mound next week.  Sunday's Starter is a toss up as of right now.  Either RHP Edwin Carl or RHP Mike Lachappele will get the nod.  Carl has the experience and went 2-1 in relief last year with 30 Ks, but LaChappele has the gun. 

-The bullpen will be bolstered by Gabe Aguilar, who went 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA (team far) as a freshman.  He's got really great stuff and I wouldn't be surprised to see him as the closer.  Also in the pen will be JUCO transfer Zach Cleveland, who boasts a 95 mph fastball, which Brandon Loy will skillfully bunt down the 3rd base line for a hit.

*Here's to hoping Jungmann and the boys can shut em down and start off the year like last year.  2010 Omaha-bound!  Hook em!*

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