State Report: New Mexico

College programs dominate in Land of Enchantment






See also: Baseball America's Complete 2010 Draft Map


THIS YEAR'S CROP
***** One for the books
**** Banner year
*** Solid, not spectacular
** Not up to par
* Nothing to see here
New Mexico's Division I baseball programs had strong years, beginning with New Mexico's series win on the road at Texas to start the season. The Lobos won 37 games and were on the NCAA postseason bubble after finishing second in the Mountain West Conference regular season and tournament behind Texas Christian, which was in the national Top 10 most of the season. A regional bid would be just the second in school history, and the first since 1962. New Mexico State also had a strong season, going 14-9 in the Western Athletic Conference and finishing 36-22 overall, but a weak RPI meant a loss to Nevada in the WAC tournament ended their season.

In spite of the success of those two schools, the team with the most draft picks this year out of the state is likely to be New Mexico JC. The Thunderbirds finished 28-27 and went two-and-out in NJCAA regional play but could have six players drafted, including outfielder Jordan Buckley, a former two-sport standout who turned his focus to baseball this spring.

NATIONAL TOP 200 PROSPECTS

None

OTHER PROSPECTS OF NOTE

1. Rafael Neda, c, New Mexico
2. Sam Wilson, of, El Dorado HS, Albuquerque
3. Jordan Buckley, of, New Mexico JC
4. Justin Howard, 1b, New Mexico
5. Ethan Stewart, lhp, New Mexico JC
6. Jake McCasland, rhp, Piedra Vista HS, Farmington
7. Willy Kessler, rhp, New Mexico
8. Tyler McKnight, of, New Mexico JC
9. Matt Skipper, 1b, New Mexico JC
10. Nate Ross, 1b, La Cueva HS, Albuquerque
11. Leandro Nunez-Perez, ss, New Mexico JC
12. Mike Sodders, 2b, New Mexico State
13. Kenny Giles, rhp, New Mexico JC

SCOUTING REPORTS

Neda Leads Off New Mexico Class

The school year got off to a rough start for Rafael Neda, as he came down with swine flu in the fall and lost 15 pounds. Neda has always been a gym rat, however, and as soon as he was healthy he got back to work and rebuilt his 6-foot-1, 220-pound frame. He has a rock-solid build without an ounce of fat. While offense can be difficult to judge in New Mexico's high altitude, scouts have no question Neda can hit, though his power is a question mark. In previous years he had a closed stance and a middle-away approach. This year, he narrowed and opened his stance a bit in an attempt to hit more home runs. He did that, though his contact rate suffered a bit and he still had just 10 homers on the season. He shows amazing raw power in batting practice, but scouts see him as a .280 hitter with average power. Defensively, Neda needs work. Early in the year he was setting up too deep behind the plate and had to stab at a lot of balls, but he is a solid receiver and adequate blocker, with soft hands. He has fringe-average arm strength, and his throwing is hindered by bad footwork. Some scouts expect him to lose a few pounds in the grind of catching a full pro season, which will help loosen him up and help his throwing. He's not the most vocal leader, but he is a smart player who leads by example. Neda profiles as a sixth- to 10th-round talent, but could go higher to a team that likes his bat and is willing to work with him behind the plate.

Neda's teammate, senior Justin Howard, could get drafted for the first time at 23 years old. He's a strong 6-foot-1, 205-pounder who bats and throws lefthanded. He became more aggressive at the plate this season, learned how to keep his hands inside the ball and watched his numbers soar, going from .309/.384/.545 last year to .463/.511/.713 this year, and from 47 hits to 111 in 2010 while also nearly doubling his walks. Howard has a good line-drive stroke and gets good backspin on the ball. His bat is his only tool, and he'll have to hit a lot to be a legit prospect. He should get picked between rounds 15-20.

New Mexico's best prospect on the mound is Willy Kesler. Some teams have written him off because he's a short, pudgy righthander who has already had Tommy John surgery. But others like him as a late-round pick because he can reach back for a 92 mph fastball and is a good competitor on the mound. His secondary stuff is fringy and he profiles as a middle reliever, but he'll get a shot.

New Mexico JC's top prospect is outfielder Jordan Buckley. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound Buckley is a former wide receiver at Blinn (Texas) JC, and this was his first season focusing solely on baseball. He entered the year expecting to be a fourth outfielder, but ended up starting in right field after the team's regular right fielder went down. He's raw but is a great athlete that scouts can dream on. He has the speed to play center field, and he has an above-average arm. At the plate, Buckley swings and misses a lot, but he has a quick bat and shows power potential. He has a lot of tools but will need time to develop. If he doesn't sign, Baylor has shown interest in him, though he had not made a commitment.

Canadian lefthander Ethan Stewart has a projectable body at 6-foot-6 with a clean arm action. Early in the year he worked at 81-83 mph, but he was up to 87-89 later in the year and has been clocked as high as 91 mph. He also has experience pitching against international competition as a member of Canada's junior national team. As a freshman, Stewart could be a tough sign.

The reason Jordan Buckley played right field despite his speed is because New Mexico JC had Tyler McKnight to play center. McKnight is an Aaron Rowand type who plays all out all the time. He's fast and an excellent defender in center field, but a shoulder impingement hurt his throwing this year. His bat comes will be the big question mark, and some scouts think his offense will be light and profile him as more of a fourth outfielder.

Leandro Nunez-Perez is a Dominican native who can really pick it at shortstop. He has above-average range, smooth actions and a plus arm, though he's a below-average runner. He's a switch-hitter who has made some progress with the bat, but he's definitely a glove-first guy. A team might take a late-round chance on him, though at 22 he doesn't offer much projection.

Matt Skipper is a giant at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, so he's limited to first base, but he offers power, which always seems to be in short supply. With that size, his swing can get long, but he could get a shot later in the draft too.

The Marlins drafted Kenny Giles in the 44th round out of Rio Grande High in Albuquerque last year, but he headed to New Mexico JC. He got his fastball up to 96 mph this year, but hasn't developed anything to go with it yet, so he'll likely come back to school. His fastball is also straight and he has trouble controlling it. A team could always take a run at his arm strength, however.

As a New Mexico prep corner outfielder, Sam Wilson draws a natural comparison to Max Walla, who was the Brewers' second-rounder last year. But they're different players because Wilson's body isn't nearly as strong as Walla's. Wilson is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds with skinny arms. He was an average runner last summer, and a tick below this spring. He's a good defensive player, though he will be limited to a corner spot. His arm is good enough for right field. Wilson has a simple, compact swing and is a better pure hitter than Walla, though he doesn't have the same power. Some scouts don't like him as a hitter, however, and like him better as a lefthanded pitcher. His fastball is mostly in the 85-87 mph range, though he has been up to 90. His secondary pitches need a lot of work. Wilson is committed to New Mexico, and teams will probably let him develop further there.

Jake McCasland is 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds and has shown above-average arm strength. He throws three pitches for strikes, though his secondary stuff needs to be tightened up. He's a big kid and labors with his mechanics at times. McCasland is also committed to New Mexico. Nate Ross has a good bat and a strong arm. While he has played mostly at first base in high school, some teams have considered moving him behind the plate.