New Mexico: Home of aliens, hot air balloons, and college dudes who rake.
As the night of many young baseball players’ dreams approaches next Monday, June 3rd, there will be 78 young men who will have their names called and their dreams fulfilled. However, there are 1,139 players still to be selected on June 4th and June 5th, many of which are oft-forgotten about in the realms of mock drafts. Just as Adley Rutschman could potentially become the next Buster Posey, every year there is an Albert Pujols in the 13th round, Tommy Pham in the 16th, or Jarrod Dyson in the 50th. So many names slip beyond the cracks, and it is maddening to try to arbitrarily select one of the thousands of names to select your next MLB mainstay.
Of course, looking through the conventional scouting method of using the eye test to determine the 5 tools of a player, it is physically impossible to pore over them. Instead, a second theory, as described by Moneyball, simply asks whether a player can get on base, and if he can hit. That is exactly what New Mexico State has shown so far this season, as they have distanced themselves from the rest of the NCAA in almost every major statistical hitting category, yet the players have not received the sort of acclaim that may be sensed.
Of the top 20 hitters (sorted by OPS) in NCAA Division 1 baseball, you will find extremely high-profile prospect names such as Adley Rutschman (1st in OPS, 1st on RFR draft rankings), Andrew Vaughn (5th in OPS, 3rd in RFR), Hunter Bishop (10th, 6th), and JJ Bleday (14th, 7th). These four listed just happened to be the top four OPS earners of all Power 5 conference hitters, which coincided with them in that exact order being the best college bats in the draft.
What is lost in this analysis, is the statistical anomaly that the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team has presented, as they hold the 2nd, 4th, 13th, and 19th best OPS in division 1, which helps carry them to a team-wide OPS of almost 100 points more than any of the other 296 teams they compete alongside. In that, they maintain that with next to no park advantage, with 345 to the corners, 385 to the alleys and 400 to center. Further, although New Mexico is largely elevated, the team plays in Las Cruces at 3,900’, situated somewhat below Coors Field (5200 feet), but they play in almost identical field dimensions as Coors. While this altitude can help power numbers, this still ignores the fact that New Mexico leads the nation in Batting Average by 25 points and OBP by 35 points. My point is: these guys know how to hit.
Much of the reason prospects like those from New Mexico State get overlooked is due to the lack of apt competition and thus the lack of weight behind their inflated numbers, and this does have some merit. After all, a pitcher from Auburn will most likely be better than one from Valparaiso. What I have trouble getting over is the fact that there are four players in the top 20 for OPS, not just one. Statistics like a repeated pattern in order to identify correlation and/or causation, so having these four hitters as compared to just one leads me to want to believe that New Mexico State is doing something radically different, whether it be in talent identification or in development.
There are three draft eligible players (Nick Gonzalez owns a .432/.532/.773/.1.305 slash but is just a sophomore) from New Mexico State.
Tristan Peterson: 1B, .400/.510/.769/1.279, Not ranked in 2019 BA 500, 6’2” 230lbs.
After a prolific high school campaign in which he was a Second Team All-America selection in which he posted a .444/.606/.864/1.470 , Peterson committed to Kansas State, where he played and somewhat struggled as a freshman. After transferring to Howard CC in Texas, he regained his stride and then transferred to New Mexico State, where he has posted his absurd slash line, one that just trails Rutschman. His 20 HR in just 52 starts really suggests his ability to channel raw power, as well as the fact that he gets on base over half of the time suggests his ability to look for a pitch to hit.
Joey Ortiz: SS, .422/.474/.697/1.171, Ranked 258th in 2019 BA Draft Rankings, 5’11” 175 lbs.
A junior, Ortiz is the only hitter on the team included in the BA top 500 and also is third in the NCAA in batting average. Ortiz is listed as only 160 lbs. on New Mexico State’s website, which looks like it was last updated after his sophomore season, which suggests that Ortiz has gained 15 pounds. Described as an average runner, his main tool is his defense, as Baseball America describes him as a plus defender with a just barely below average arm, as well as a great work ethic. His bat skills are largely described as contact, but he has turned a corner this season in that his average has skyrocketed over 130 points, as well as his power hitting, as his doubles have jumped from 3 to 25 year-over-year, as well as an increase from 4 to 10 year-over-year in the triples category. This has resulted in his 377 point OPS increase, a sizeable and respectable clip for someone who is projected to get drafted largely because of his defense.
Tristen Carranza: OF, .371/.500/.719/.1.219, Not ranked in 2019 BA 500, 5’10” 200 lbs.
A senior, Carranza has also shown significant improvement this year. After posting significant OPS totals for the last two seasons, Carranza also took a jump, posting significant increases in hits, home runs, and walks. Although he has never been drafter or been ranked in the BA 500, he was ranked as the fourth best prospect in the state of New Mexico by BA in March of 2018, which was before his superb senior season. Given that it appears that he has taken steps to improve himself since that ranking, he appears to be a solid late round acquisition, as he has displayed he certainly knows how to hit on a Division 1 level.
The reason I took time to write this piece is because it was practically impossible to find these guys in any sort of scouting report. Outside of Joey Ortiz’s report, I was not able to find reports for the other two draft eligible players. Based solely on the 500 prospects that Baseball America lines out, that entails roughly 16 rounds of draft picks, of which exclude Carranza and Peterson, as well as Ortiz projected to go somewhere between the 6th and 7th round. Given that they are the cornerstones of the highest performing offense in baseball (one that averages 11.1 runs per game, whereas 3rd place averages just 8.5 runs), it seems to be a no-brained to use a third day pick to take a chance on someone who has been proven to rake on a college level. While they are not playing in the SEC, it is still important to note that there is a pattern of New Mexico State’s players doing something different to absolutely destroy opposing pitching, almost all of which are still Division 1 athletes on scholarship. Just because they’re mid-major should not detract from their ability to hit a baseball, as they have shown that they are able to identify and develop themselves throughout their college careers to adapt to higher level pitching. In a failure rate as high as the 15th-40th rounds, I would be absolutely ecstatic if the Royals took a chance on Carranza or Peterson, as well as Ortiz in the 6th, 7th, or 8th round. They can get on base and they can hit, so why not give them a chance.