The New Mexico Junior College baseball team had its season come to an end last month with back to back losses in the NJCAA Region V Tournament. However, two T-Birds have a chance to continue playing baseball this season after being drafted in the 2018 MLB Draft.
Sophomore first baseman Ryan Rijo and freshman outfielder Avery Tuck were both selected. Tuck went first, being selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 17th round while Rijo was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 37th round.
“It’s so surreal for me,” Rijo said. “It is like being a kid on Christmas Day. You can’t believe this is happening. (Wednesday) night was kind of like Christmas Eve, just the wait as you don’t know what is going on. Then it was all over and I was like Oh My God. This is really happening.”
Skipper Jimmy Durham spoke highly about about players.
“Those two guys were talented,” he said. “Avery is a guy who was close to a five-tool guy and Ryan just handled the bat just so exceptionally well that it was hard to p[ass him up in the draft somewhere.”
The T-Birds first baseman hit .388 for NMJC while mashing 19 home runs. He drove in 58 runs and scored another 55. Rijo’s home run and RBI totals were both team-highs. He was second on the team in walks (41) while finishing third in runs scored and batting average. During his two seasons with NMJC, Rijo had 33 homers, 137 RBI and 114 runs scored. He also had 84 walks, 40 doubles, and hit .358.
Upon graduating, Rijo was set to play his next two seasons at Abilene Christian University. However, the Wildcats’ head coach, Britt Bonneau stepped down from his position after the conclusion of the 2018 season. Rijo said the school has given him the opportunity to opt out of his commitment. With the slugging first baseman being selected by the Phillies, there is a chance that he could instead move on to the profession ranks.
“Recently the ACU coach resigned,” Rijo said. “They gave me an option to opt out if I choose to. There are some decisions to be made. Obviously I want to meet the new coach and go from there. But, also, at this time, it is time for my advisor to come in and do his thing and see what happens. If it is right for me and for my family, I will sign.”
While Rijo is excited about having the opportunity to take the next step in reaching his dream, he expressed how much he loved his time at NMJC and the city of Hobbs.
“I never expected to fall in love with Hobbs,” Rijo said. “When I got there, the people, my teammates, made it an unforgettable experience. I ended up falling in love with Hobbs. … It will always hold a special place. There is just something about that town.”
Tuck, who played right field, was tied for the team-lead in doubles (19), tied for second in RBI (52) and tied for third in homers (11) and stolen bases (12). The freshman was second in batting average (.391) and fifth in walks with 27. While the T-Birds were hoping to have Tuck back for his sophomore season, Durham does not expect him to return.
“My guess is Avery will sign,” Durham said. “I am pretty sure he is going to sign.”
The draft didn’t only hit current and graduating NMJC baseball players. Four high school players the T-Birds signed to join next season were also selected.
“In this draft we lost two right hand pitchers who we had signed. They are going to sign and both were drafted in the 18th round as high school kids. We are probably going to lose another right-handed pitcher I signed from New York.”
The Texas Rangers selected Leury Tejada with the 15th choice (299th pick overall) of the 10th round out of Walton High School in New York. The two drafted in the 18th round were right-handed pitcher Alberto Gonzalez to Cincinnati (529th overall) round out of Laredo, Texas, and Dylan Smith with 7th pick (531 overall) of the round out of Houston to San Diego.
“We also had an outfielder that we signed from El Paso’s America High School, Adrian Torres, who was drafted in the 33rd round by Boston,” Durham said. “I don’t think he is going to sign professionally, but he is getting some Division I looks now that are hopefully not going to take him away.”