The college baseball season is six months away, but new coach Mervyl Melendez, who replaced Turtle Thomas after the 2016 season, is already making an impact.
Melendez’s 2017 recruiting class is ranked seventh in the nation by PerfectGame.com. The only teams ranked higher are Florida, Vanderbilt, LSU, Miami, Texas Christian and Southern Cal.
Florida State is 10th.
FIU, meanwhile, has commitments from 12 players, including five that PerfectGame ranks as top 100. Melendez, a 42-year-old native of Puerto Rico, has four recruits from his native land.
Never miss a local story.
Here is the caveat, however: Because of the MLB draft, no one knows for sure which players will sign pro and which ones will play college ball.
FIU, or any team, could have a number of players sign pro and be left with a poor recruiting year.
Having said that, Baseball America writer Teddy Cahill said FIU has “an impressive class” so far.
“Melendez has always been a great recruiter,” Cahill said of the coach who spent five years at Alabama State and 12 at Bethune-Cookman. “He just hadn’t had the opportunity to recruit for a program at the level of FIU before.”
Given Miami’s proximity to Puerto Rico and the attractiveness of the city to players from the island, as well as Melendez’s connections there, FIU is “uniquely positioned” to recruit there, Cahill said.
“You can expect that trend to continue throughout his tenure at FIU,” Cahill said.
The four Puerto Ricans that Melendez has recruited so far are switch-hitting shortstop Abdiel Layer, and outfielders Heliot Ramos, Jonathan Rodriguez and Gabriel Rodriguez.
However, an ex-MLB scout, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said FIU “will be lucky” if even one of those four players goes to college. They should all get drafted, he said.
The highest-ranked FIU recruit — MJ Melendez — was likely the easiest to get since he is the coach’s son.
Melendez, who played in Montgomery last year while his father coached Alabama State, is a lefty-hitting catcher who has transferred to Westminster Christian. MaxPreps ranks him No. 31 among high school 2017 prospects.
“He’s not there yet as a prospect,” the scout said, “but he has all the tools. He has a strong arm and a quick release on defense and a power bat on offense.”
Another talent is Deltona left-hander Logan Allen, who the scout said is just as good a prospect as Melendez.
FIU also got commitments from a pair of Archbishop McCarthy hitters: catcher Andrew Fernandez and right fielder Adan Fernandez. Andrew, who is not related to Adan, is the son of former major-league pitcher Alex Fernandez.
Meanwhile, Adan Fernandez could be a steal and may end up playing for FIU.
“Adan may be the best hitter in South Florida,” the scout said. “He is a bit under the radar in terms of the draft.”
FIU also has pledges from Orlando left-hander Michael Perez, Jacksonville left-hander Elijah Gill, Sebring right-hander Everett Hurst and Orlando switch-hitting outfielder Oraj Anu, who is also highly regarded.
While we wait until next summer to see which players sign pro contracts, it’s becoming apparent that coach Melendez is well-connected throughout the state. He and his family moved to Orlando at age 13, and his years at Bethune-Cookman only strengthened his Florida reach.