COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Defending Mountain West regular-season champion New Mexico and 2013 MW Tournament champion San Diego State have been predicted to battle for the 2014 title, according to a vote of the seven MW head coaches. The Lobos and Aztecs each received three first-place votes and 43 points overall. UNLV received the remaining first-place vote and 40 points to come in close behind the leaders in third place. Fresno State was picked fourth with 25 points, followed by Nevada in fifth (19 points), Air Force in sixth (14 points) and newcomer San José State in seventh (12 points).
New Mexico, under the direction of head coach Ray Birmingham, returns 16 letterwinners from a 2013 squad that went 37-22 overall, 25-5 in MW action and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season. In the 2014 preseason polls, the Lobos are ranked No. 37 by Collegiate Baseball and are receiving votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and USA Today Coaches Polls. The Lobos are led by NCBWA preseason third team All-American Josh Walker, a senior pitcher, along with MW preseason team selections Alex Real (Jr., C), Jared Holley (So., SS) and Chase Harris (Sr., OF). Harris is the top returning hitter for the Lobos at .321, while Real will have to fill the shoes of two-time MW Co-Player of the Year Mitch Garver behind the plate.
San Diego State (31-31, 15-15 MW) returns 23 letterwinners, including 12 pitchers from last season’s tournament champion squad. All-MW performers Tim Zier (Sr., 2B) and Greg Allen (Jr., OF) were named to the 2014 preseason All-MW team. Zier is the top returning hitter for head coach Tony Gwynn’s Aztecs at .341, while Allen was recently named preseason second team All-American by Baseball America. The publication also named the Aztecs’ top pitcher, junior Michael Cederoth, to the third team. The Aztecs are receiving preseason poll votes from Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA.
UNLV (37-20, 18-12 MW) had a strong 2013 campaign under the direction of head coach Tim Chambers. The Rebels were picked a close third by the coaches behind the front-running Lobos and Aztecs and return 18 letterwinners, including preseason All-MW picks Erick Fedde (Jr., P), Patrick Armstrong (Sr., DH/1B) and Joey Armstrong (So., OF). Fedde pitched for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team over the summer. Patrick, the elder of the Armstrong brothers, is the top returning hitter in the league with a .373 average in 2013. The Rebels are also receiving votes in the Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA preseason polls.
Fresno State (23-33, 14-16 MW), under the direction of head coach Mike Batesole, returns several key players in 2014. 2013 MW Co-Freshman of the Year Blake Quinn (So., P) returns to the mound, while All-MW third baseman Chris Mariscal (Jr.) is the Bulldogs’ top returning hitter at .300. Juniors Jordan Brink and Derick Velazquez return to the mound for Fresno State. Brink is the top returning leader in strikeouts for the Bulldogs with 65, followed by Velazquez with 52. Fresno State received votes in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll.
Nevada (25-32, 11-19 MW) has a new coach at the helm in 2014 as Jay Johnson takes over the Wolf Pack program following the retirement of long-time head coach Gary Powers. Johnson’s squad features 17 returning letterwinners, including a healthy Austin Byler (Jr., 3B), starting pitcher Tyler Wells (Jr.,) and closer Michael Fain (So.). Byler was hitting .346 before being sidelined with a season-ending injury. Wells is expected to lead the staff following the departure of first round draft pick Braden Shipley. Fain was one of the top relief pitchers in the league last season with nine saves.
Air Force (15-39, 7-23 MW) returns 15 letterwinners, including All-MW first baseman Seth Kline (Sr.) and senior pitcher Cameron White. Kline is the top returning hitter for head coach Mike Kazlausky’s 2014 Falcon squad, while White pitched the most innings last season (107.0) of any returning hurler in the league. Newcomer San José State (17-41, 11-17 WAC) is under the leadership of head coach Dave Nakama. The Spartans will be led in 2014 by all-league selections Andre Mercurio (Jr., OF) and Matt Carroll (Sr., 1B). Carroll is the top returning Spartan hitter by average at .314, while Mercurio led SJSU in hits with 74.
The 2014 Mountain West baseball season begins Friday, Feb. 14 with all seven MW teams in action. Conference play also begins on the 14th with San Diego State at San José State for a three-game series. UNLV will host the 2014 MW Championship at Earl W. Wilson Stadium, May 21-25.
2014 Mountain West COACHES PRESEASON POLL
Rk. Team (1st-place votes) Points
1. New Mexico (3) 43
San Diego State (3) 43
3. UNLV (1) 40
4. Fresno State 25
5. Nevada 19
6. Air Force 14
7. San José State 12
2014 MOUNTAIN WEST PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
Position - Name, Class Institution
C – Alex Real, Jr. New Mexico
1B – Seth Kline, Sr. Air Force
2B – Tim Zier, Sr. San Diego State
3B – Austin Byler, Jr. Nevada
SS – Jared Holley, So. New Mexico
OF – Chase Harris, Sr. New Mexico
OF – Greg Allen, Jr. San Diego State
OF – Joey Armstrong, So. UNLV
UT/DH – Patrick Armstrong, Sr. UNLV
P – Josh Walker, Sr. New Mexico
P – Erick Fedde, Jr. UNLV