AZTEC — University of New Mexico head baseball coach Ray Birmingham has an eye for in-state talent, and he recently found a hard-throwing lefty out of Aztec to add to his pitching staff.
Aztec senior Tyson Curley, a left-handed pitcher with a fastball in the low 90 miles-per-hour range, signed a National Letter of Intent on Friday to play baseball for the Lobos under the coaching of Birmingham.
"He is a New Mexico boy, and I am all about that," Birmingham said. "We are ranked No. 17 in the country right now. We are trying to get to Omaha with New Mexico kids, and it is working a little bit for us."
Curley had verbally committed to Texas Tech as a junior, but chose UNM after receiving a full-ride scholarship offer, he said.
"It is closer to home, and they offered me a full ride. I was going between them and Texas Tech, and UNM I feel is a better program."
After back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships, the first two in Lobo history, and with a team ranked No. 17 in the country by BaseballAmerica.com, Birmingham agrees UNM was the best program offering Curley a scholarship.
"There are only 16 teams ranked higher than us and none of them were offering him a deal, so I think he made the right choice," Birmingham said. "Winning helps with everything."
Curley has struggled with controlling pitches in the strike zone throughout his high school career, and Birmingham believes he has the right pitching coach in Dan Spencer to help Curley overcome those problems.
"Command is something he has to work on. We have a great pitching coach with Omaha National Championship experience. He looked at Tyson and said 'I can make that young man a major league pitcher."
Curley is excited to get in the mix with the Lobo coaches and work on that command.
"My expectation is to get better. My main concern right now is my command. Right now, I am not concerned about velocity, but I want to get better at each aspect of the game," Curley said. "It feels wonderful to sign with UNM. (Brimingham) is high on character, and he said the first time he saw me he knew I was high in character. That is a big compliment coming from him."
Curley said he will keep his options open if his name is called in the upcoming MLB Draft in June.
“I have been in contact with pro scouts. I just gotta keep working hard,” Curley said. “I have been told if I can hit 94 miles-per-hour my June, I could go top-five rounds. I have talked to the D-Backs, Rockies and White Sox.”
If he does fulfill his commitment to UNM, Birmingham said he isn't sure what kind of role Curley will have his first few years with the Lobos.
“I don't know where he will fit in early. Probably the bullpen and then later on in his career as a starter,” Birmingham said.
Curley credited his Connie Mack summer team Naa'taanii for helping him earn an opportunity.
“I owe it all to them. They took me in when I was young and showed me the ropes,” Curley said of Naa'taanii. “Traveling on the road with them opened doors for me. I pitched well and got seen. We played 64 games in one and a half months last summer, and I am going to go do it with them again this summer.”
Curley said it will feel good to represent Aztec on the Division I level, and his coaches at Aztec are excited about Curley's opportunity.
“It is an amazing feat. In the last 10 years, this program has had a lot of ups and downs – downs mostly,” said Aztec pitching coach Brett Alexander. “We have had some good kids, but the last few years, we haven't really placed anybody. A lot of the credit goes to Tyson for his offseason workouts. He is always working on baseball and has done a lot of traveling to get good exposure.”
Alexander knows Curley has what it takes mentally to improve and become a better pitcher.
“He will get with a good pitching coach and continue on the right path. The kid is strong, tough and determined,” Alexander said. “The biggest thing is he is determined to compete.”
Curley said he has always had that mentally that has been inspired by his mother, Kathleen Trujillo.
“My mentality is that I am always going to work hard, take criticism and do whatever it takes to get better,” he said. “It feels so great having the support of my mom and my family. My mom has been with me in everything I do. It has been a really big help.”
John Livingston can be reached at email@example.com;
505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.