Knudson: Catching On
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderApril 26, 2012
The Mountain West baseball teams aren’t likely to get a lot of love come NCAA tournament time. Unless something freaky happens, this is very likely the year that the MW gets just a single team – the postseason tournament winner – into the field of 64. While both New Mexico and TCU are playing good baseball right now, neither has an impressive non-conference resume or RPI to fall back on if they don’t win the tournament. TCU’s RPI sits at 41 and UNM’s at 100. Not the stuff of at-large bids.
While the Frogs and Lobos fight it out for the league title, there is something the MW can boast about. It’s hard to imagine a conference anywhere with four better catchers playing in it. While New Mexico’s D.J. Peterson looks like a lock for MW Player of the Year, the competition to see who will be the league’s First Team selection behind the plate remains plenty fierce.
Air Force’s Garrett Custons, New Mexico’s Mitchell Garver, San Diego State’s Chris Wilson and TCU’s Josh Elander can all legitimately stake a claim to being the best in the league. All four have had their share of All-America moments this season.
Custons looked like the best of the bunch early in the season but he cooled off some at the plate and then suffered an injury that has sidelined him during a critical stage of the season. It was a big blow to the Falcon’s chances of making the conference tournament. As he ready’s himself for a probable return to the lineup this weekend when the Falcon’s host San Diego State, Custons is carrying a .346 batting average and has four home runs and six steals. His stellar defensive play – both behind the plate and also in right field on occasion – has drawn praise from his coach, Mike Kazlausky, as well as opponents. Custons leads MW catchers having thrown out 13 of 21 runners attempting to steal.
Like Custons, Wilson has spent some time in the outfield. He’s not the defensive player that Custons or Elander is, but when he’s been hot, he’s carried the Aztecs. His average has dipped to .274 but the senior is third in the league with six home runs, and remains one of the guys in the Aztec lineup that opponents have to be fearful of.
Garver, who his coach, Ray Birmingham, has praised as a big reason for the improvement in the Lobos pitching this season, has quietly made his way to the top of the list. He bats leadoff for the Lobos and has upped his average to .363. Garver also leads the league in doubles. The Albuquerque native also has been honored as an academic standout.
Ironically, Elander – who’s on the Johnny Bench Award Watch list – is the only one of the foursome who has not been MW Player of the Week at least once this season (Garver has gotten the nod twice). All Elander has done is be the anchor during a rebuilding year for Jim Schlossnagle’s baby-faced pitching staff, while leading the Frogs with a .313 batting average, four home runs and nine stolen bases. Oh, yes, he’s got a .983 fielding percentage, too.
The five league coaches are going to have a very difficult time naming one of these guys the All-MW catcher. It’s a good bet that Elander gets the nod with Custons being tabbed the utility player. But what about Garver, the two-time Player of the Week? And what if Wilson gets hot again and ends up leading the league in home runs? Is it possible to have some sort of four-way tie for the First Team honors?
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