East Texas Pump Jacks Nab Quartet From Surging Lobos For 2009

51e77d0aa4728eb7348aeeb98ac05f33300The University of New Mexico is enjoying a breakout season this spring. Consider:

UNM has a 25-5 record, and at 5-1 sits atop the Mountain West Conference;
The Lobos have vaulted to #18 in Baseball America’s national poll, the first time since 1985 they have cracked the Top 25.
The Lobo offense leads the nation in batting average, hits, doubles, and triples.

New Mexico can now add one more achievement: Four of its players will be coming to East Texas to play for the PumpJacks. The Jacks announced today the signing of shortstop Daniel Gonzalez, outfielder Justin Howard, and pitcher Joey Castleman, all juniors, and freshman infielder Ben Woodchick, to play for the Pump Jacks for the 2009 season.

Gonzalez, who has started every game this season at shortstop, is batting .336 with 25 runs and 31 RBI for the potent Lobo offense. Gonzalez ranks in the top 25 in hitting in the Mountain West Conference, and he’s second among conference shortstops. He also knows how to turn it on when it counts: his .632 average and .680 on-base percentage in conference games are tops in the MWC.

Gonzalez is in his first year with New Mexico after transferring from El Paso Community College. As a sophomore last year, he batted .405 with 23 doubles, ten triples, and eight homers for a .740 slugging percentage. He added 68 runs scored, 58 RBI, and ten steals to earn all-conference and all-region honors. Gonzalez started as a freshman as well, batting .357, giving him a two-year combined average of .382.

The Mesquite, N.M., native starred at Las Cruces High School, where he was named an All-American prior to his senior season. Gonzalez was named all-state as a junior and senior, and he was an all-district performer his last three years as a Bulldawg.

Howard has been a regular contributor for New Mexico this season, appearing 25 games, 23 as a starter. He’s batting .308 this spring with six doubles and two homers, upping his slugging percentage to .487.

A native Texan, Howard spent two years with juco power Navarro College, where he was a teammate of former Kilgore standouts Jaron Shepherd and Logan Chitwood. Last spring, Howard batted .395 and reached base more than half the time, sporting a .516 on-base percentage. He was a threat on the basepaths as well, stealing 21 bases in 25 tries and scoring 40 runs. Like Shepherd, Howard was named to the all-region team in 2008.

Howard prepped at Ennis High School, where he was named all-state and the conference offensive player of the year as a senior. Those were hardly his only accolades in high school, though: Howard was named all-district as a junior a season after he earned conference Sophomore of the Year honors, and as a freshman, he was declared Newcomer of the Year.

Castleman has pitched sparingly for the Lobos after transferring from Grayson County College. In 2008, Castleman appeared in 12 games and made seven starts for the Vikings, who captured the NJCAA D-I World Series title. As a freshman, Castleman pitched at Richland College before transferring to Grayson.

At Naaman Forest High School, Castleman was unquestionably the ace of the staff until an elbow injury derailed his senior year. Ranked as one of the top 250 prep players in the country by Perfect Game and Baseball America, Castleman underwent Tommy John surgery as a result of the injury. It’s said that pitcher’s who successfully recover from Tommy John surgery can return stronger than before the injury, and that very well may be the case for Castleman. Two years after the surgery, his fastball registers between 90 and 93 mph, earning attention from LSU and Oklahoma before he opted for New Mexico.

While Gonzalez, Howard, and Castleman are all contributing to New Mexico’s current surge, it’s players like Woodchick that the Lobos expect will keep them in the national spotlight. Woodchick arrived in Albuquerque with a substantial prep resume from Smithson Valley High School in Spring Branch. As a senior, he was named all-state, all-district, and all-county, plus he was a member of the all-San Antonio Super Team. One look at his numbers and it’s easy to see why Woodchick received so much attention: .396 average with 31 runs and 18 RBI, plus a 6-2 record and 1.60 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 48 innings pitched.

Woodchick also picked up all-district honors as a sophomore and junior, and added all-county accolades his junior campaign. And should the Pump Jacks ever add a football team to its holding, Woodchick could be a contributor there as well. As a safety and a punter, he was named all-state and all-district after his senior season.

The four Lobos bring the announced number of players for this summer to ten, joining Rice pitchers Abel Gonzales, Mark Haynes, and Matthew Reckling; Maryland outfielder A.J. Casario and pitcher Ian Schwalenberg; and Texas A&M hurler Chad Sherman. Fans can follow the performance of these Pump Jacks, plus the members of the inaugural season Jacks, this and every Monday with the Pump Jacks weekly update.

With many of this year’s players coming to East Texas from across the country, the Pump Jacks are actively seeking host families for this summer. Host families enjoy the opportunity to have a potential future major leaguer live with them, forging a bond that lasts a lifetime. As an added bonus, host families receive FREE season tickets for everyone in their household. Click here or contact the Pump Jacks for more information.

The 2009 season is scheduled to begin on Friday, June 5, when the Pump Jacks host the league’s newest team, the Victoria Generals. The 48-game regular season will run through August 8, to be followed by the playoffs and TCL Championship Series. Fans can download a copy of the team’s schedule by clicking here.

Season tickets are currently on sale, with ticket packages starting as low as $105 – and $85 for children and seniors – for all 24 regular season home games. Box seat season tickets are also available, including Lower Box seats, which feature in-your-seat wait service all game long, every game. For more information on Pump Jacks season tickets, click here or contact the Jacks office at (903) 218-GO ET.