Westminster Christian (Miami) catcher M.J. Melendez is the son of a coach, but he came to the position because he thought it would be fun, not because of necessity.
“When I was about two or three years old, going to my dad’s baseball games when he was coaching at Bethune-Cookman, the only thing I remember from those games is the popping of the mitt,” Melendez said. “I would go home and squat directly in front of the TV and put my hat backward, and with my little plastic Fisher-Price baseball set, I would smack the floor, making popping noises. When I was five, I asked for my catcher’s gear for Christmas. I just always wanted to be a catcher.”
Westminster Christian is the alma mater of Alex Rodriguez, and has won 11 state baseball titles. The Warriors have nine college commits, so they were already going to have a good team, but when Mervyl Melendez left Alabama State to be the head baseball coach at Florida International, Westminster Christian got a lot better with the addition of M.J., a senior, and his brother, Jayden, who is an eighth-grader.
“It was the best Christmas present we’ve had in quite some time,” Westminster Christian coach Emil Castellanos said. “We’re trying to become the first team in the state to win 12 state championships.”
Melendez, who has signed to play at Florida International for his father, was listed on the American Family Insurance Preseason ALL-USA team. Last season, he hit .413 with 43 RBI and seven home runs at St. James (Montgomery, Ala.), and he’s replicating those numbers in one of the country’s top areas for high school baseball. Through 81 at-bats this season, he’s hitting .407 with 25 RBI and seven homers.
“It’s a lot better competition in Miami,” Melendez said. “We’re going to see good arms and good bats every game. The transition was smooth here with the coaches and the players. They accepted me as part of the family. My hitting this year is a combination of my getting stronger and figuring how my swing is different from everyone else’s. Part of my getting stronger is I gained 15 pounds (he’s now 6-1 and 175 pounds) in the offseason to help me make it through the season.”
His hitting numbers are gravy because he’s gotten everyone’s attention with his play behind the plate.
“It’s so fun to watch a game with him behind the dish, because he’s special,” Castellanos said. “Being in this game for the amount of time I’ve been, I’ve seen some big league catchers come through here, but I haven’t seen something as special as this kid. He’s extremely athletic, he’s a plus runner. … The other day, he made a play in front of 20 or 30 scouts that every one of them wrote down.”
Melendez crouches very low behind the plate, frequently throwing to second base from his knees to stop a steal, a style similar to that of former Major League All-Star Benito Santiago.
“When I was eight or nine years old, my dad taught me to how to throw from my knees to second base,” Melendez said. “Later, I came to find out it was because of Benito Santiago because my dad loved the way he caught. … There haven’t been too many guys who have tried to steal. At least for the first eight or nine games, no one even attempted to steal. It humbled me because it showed how people respected me. I really wanted somebody to try to steal because we have (scouts) back there because I wanted to show what I could do.”
His father was M.J.’s travel ball coach from when he was seven to 12 and continues to have an impact.
“Being around the game and seeing what he goes through on a day-to-day basis has really helped me with what I have to do,” Melendez said.
Though he has signed with FIU, most mock drafts have Melendez going low in the first round or high in the second round, so he may have a tough choice ahead.
“My dad is completely the opposite of selfish,” Melendez said. “He just wants what is best for me. If that opportunity is there to play pro baseball and it’s a very good opportunity, he’s going to want me to play professional baseball. He really wants the best for me, whatever the situation turns out to be.”