High School Sports

Elite prospect Melendez hoping to lead Westminster Christian

Westminster Christian senior M.J. Melendez, rated the top high school catcher prospect for 2017 by Baseball America and the son of first-year FIU coach Mervyl Melendez, spearheads a loaded squad looking to win the Class 4A state title.
Westminster Christian senior M.J. Melendez, rated the top high school catcher prospect for 2017 by Baseball America and the son of first-year FIU coach Mervyl Melendez, spearheads a loaded squad looking to win the Class 4A state title. Westminster Christian

M.J. Melendez grew up a Yankees fan watching Jorge Posada manage some of baseball’s top pitching staffs.

Not long after he started playing the position, he learned how to throw runners out from his knees like Benito Santiago, his favorite catcher growing up.

These days, it’s the major-league scouts that can’t get enough views of Melendez’s exploits behind the plate.

“This kid is the real deal,” Westminster Christian coach Emil Castellanos said. “I had a private workout for him the other day and 24 MLB teams sent scouts. He put on a show. His maturity is much more than others. He’s not fazed by the attention.”

Melendez is a recognizable name nationwide for those who follow baseball’s top prospects.

But he is ready to become a household name in Miami-Dade County this season.

Melendez, a 6-1, 175-pound senior, moved to Miami last year shortly after his father, Mervyl, was hired the head baseball coach at FIU.

Melendez had been playing the past seven years at Saint James School in Montgomery, Alabama, not far from where his father spent his time turning Alabama State University into one of the top mid-major programs in college baseball.

Melendez was born in Daytona Beach and lived the early part of his life there where his father coached for 12 years at his alma mater Bethune Cookman. Melendez’s father was an All-American third baseman/relief pitcher at Bethune in 1996.

Being coached by his father, Melendez got used to being around a baseball environment from a very young age.

“I was in dugouts all the time growing up while my dad was coaching and learning the ins and outs of the game,” Melendez said. “One of my dad’s former players, Peter O’Brien, was a big influence on me growing up, and I learned a lot from him. It’s helped me handle the attention at this level a whole lot.”

Melendez’s arm strength, powerful swing from the left side of the plate, quick delivery from behind the plate and speed on the base paths have made him the top catching prospect in the nation, according to Baseball America.

Melendez, who has signed with FIU, is rated the No. 15 overall prospect in the nation by Baseball America, giving him a solid chance to be drafted in the first round of the MLB amateur draft this June.

Melendez has earned plenty of accolades including chances to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego and the Under Armour All-America Game at Wrigley Field.

But his biggest thrill came last year when he played for the USA Under-18 team that won a gold medal.

Melendez will work with a Westminster pitching staff led by University of Miami commitments Dylan Cloonan and Alex Ruiz, the younger brother of UM senior infielder Johnny Ruiz, also a Westminster alum.

The Warriors have nine players signed or committed to Division I schools including first baseman Luis Aviles (Rice), infielders Tyler Paige (UM) and Anthony Villar (UM), and outfielder Max Pinto (Samford), as well as a freshman pitcher/third baseman, Jamar Fairweather, who is already committed to FIU and has drawn comparisons to former pitching prospect Touki Toussaint, now a pitcher in the Braves minor league system.

“It could be one of the most talented teams we’ve ever had, which is saying something at this school,” Castellanos said.

Season overview

KEY DATES

April 10-15: Spring break tournaments; April 24-27: GMAC championship; May 1-5: Districts; May 9: Regional quarterfinals (Classes 9A-5A); May 10: Regional semifinals (Classes 4A-1A); May 16: Regional semifinals (Classes 9A-5A); Regional finals (4A-1A); May 23: Regional finals (Classes 9A-5A); May 24-27, 31-June 3: State tournament in Fort Myers.

2016 STATE CHAMPIONS

Class 9A: Douglas; 8A: Tampa Steinbrenner; 7A: Tampa Gaither; 6A: Archbishop McCarthy; 5A: Jacksonville Bolles; 4A: Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian; 3A: Fort Myers Canterbury; 2A: Lake Worth Trinity Christian; 1A: Mayo Lafayette.

TOP 10 TEAMS

1. Westminster Christian; 2. Monsignor Pace; 3. Doral; 4. Palmetto; 5. Gulliver; 6. Columbus; 7. Coral Park; 8. Killian; 9. Southwest; 10. Goleman; On the rise: Mater Academy, Belen, Westwood Christian.

TOP RETURNING PLAYERS

P: Dylan Cloonan, Westminster Christian, Sr.; Manny Rodriguez, Monsignor Pace, Sr.; Andrew Schreiber, Palmetto, Sr.; Robert Touron, Gulliver, Sr.; 1B: Santos Grande, Pace, Sr.; 2B: Tyler Pedraza, Palmetto, Sr.; SS: Jeter Downs, Monsignor Pace, Sr.; Erwing Hernandez, Coral Park, Sr.; Freddy Zamora, Killian, Sr.; 3B: Mike Fernandez, Columbus, Sr.; Raymond Gil, Gulliver, Sr.; Brian Perez, Doral Academy, Sr.; C: Jose Garcia, Doral, Sr.; M.J. Melendez, Westminster Christian, Sr.; Andres Sanchez, Monsignor Pace, Sr.; OF: Adrian Del Castillo, Gulliver, Jr.; Gabriel Rivera, Killian, Sr.; Andres Santana, Doral, Sr.; Bran Socorro, Coral Park, Jr.

Others to watch - P: Ryan Floyd, Killian, Sr.; Nicholas Fusco, Monsignor Pace, Sr.; Chris Gonzalez, Columbus, Sr.; Marco Ruiz, Hialeah Gardens, Jr.; Oscar Trujillo, Doral, Sr.; Daniel Vazquez, Mater Academy, Sr.; 1B: E.J. Doskow, Columbus, Jr.; Ricardo Sobalvarro, South Dade, Sr.; 2B: Sammy Infante, Monsignor Pace, Sr.; Kevin Maura, Gulliver, Jr.; SS: Lency Delgado, Doral, Jr.; Willy Escala, South Dade, Sr.; Christian Rodriguez, Columbus, Sr.; C.J. Vazquez, Belen, Sr.; 3B: Axel Gomez, Coral Park, Sr.; C: Eddy Arteaga, Palmetto, Sr.; INF: Chris Garcia, Killian, Sr.; Victor Valderrama, Palmetto, Jr.; OF: Bryan Diaz, Monsignor Pace, Sr.; Peter Esposito, Westwood Christian, Sr.; Nathan Llanes, Hialeah Gardens, Sr.; Nicholas Regalado, Monsignor Pace, Sr.

NOTE: For complete team-by-team outlooks, go to miamiherald.com/sports/high-school.

Team-by-team outlooks

CLASS 9A

1. PALMETTO (Coach Danny Smith, 7th year at Pal, 24th overall). Last year: 15-10. Top players: INF-P Victor Valderrama, Jr.; P Matt Turner, Sr.; INF Tyler Pedraza, Sr.; INF Dixon Aburto, Jr.; P-INF Nick Labrada, Sr.; OF Nick Deegan, Sr.; C Eddy Arteaga, Sr.; P Andrew Schreiber, Sr.

2. COLUMBUS (Coach Joe Weber, 22nd year). Last year: 25-8 (State finalist). Top players: SS Christian Rodriguez, Sr.; 3B Mike Fernandez, Sr.; LHP Chris Gonzalez, Sr.; C Danny Martin, Sr.; 1B E.J. Doskow, Jr.; 1B-P Chris Bohrer, Jr.

3. CORAL PARK (Coach Juan "Butch" Carnicero, 4th year, 40-37). Last year: 20-9 (Regional finalist). Top players: INF Erwing Hernandez, Sr.; OF Bran Socorro, Jr.; INF Axel Gomez, Sr.; C Erik Estevez, Sr.; P Edislandy Agusti, Sr.; P Luis Vitier, Sr.

4. KILLIAN (Coach Angel Herrera, 13th year at KIL, 17th overall). Last year: 20-9 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: SS Freddy Zamora, Sr.; OF Gabriel Rivera, Sr.; INF Chris Garcia, Jr.; RHP Ryan Floyd, Sr.; C Gabriel Garcia, Jr.; 1B Alejandro Mosquera, Sr.

5. SOUTHWEST (Coach Mandy Pelaez). Last year: 14-14 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: SS Danny Cruz, Jr.; 2B Erick Orbeta, Jr.; RHP Kike Aparicio Jr.; RHP Jose Valero Sr.; C Jorge Tejeda, Jr.; 1B Brett Mantrana Sr.

6. HIALEAH GARDENS (Coach Carlos Garcia, 1st year). Last year: 18-7 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: CF Nathan Llanes, Sr.; SS Manny Mollinedo, Sr.; 1B Mike Ramirez, Jr.; C Levis Aguila, Jr.; RHP Carlos Alcon, Sr.; RHP Marco Ruiz, Jr.

7. SOUTH DADE (Coach Rene Ruiz, 1st year). Last year: 22-4 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: SS-P Willy Escala, Sr.; 1B-P Ricardo Sobalvarro, Sr.; C-DH Juan Figueras, CF-P Yamil Chavarria, Sr.; 3B David Garcia, Sr.

8. HIALEAH (Coach Juan Garcia, 1st year). Last year: 11-13 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: SS Adrian Gomez, Sr.; 3B-C Branden Perdomo, Sr.; OF-P Gregory Rosario, Sr.

9. CORAL GABLES (Coach Phillip Wisser, 10th year at CG, 13th overall, 189-119). Last year: 12-13. Top players: SS Nico Montes, Jr.; C Gerardo Rodriguez, So.; RHP John Kenney, Sr.; OF Brian Garcia, Jr.; OF Harrison Stampler, Jr.; 3B Bryan Vargas, Jr.

10. VARELA (Coach Jose Padron, 1st year). Last year: 7-11. Top players: SS Darian Munoz, Jr.; 3B Andres Artola, Jr.

11. MIAMI BEACH (Coach Juan Cordero). Top players: P Sam Weintraub, So.; P Nolan Santos, So.; LHP Manny Alonzo, Jr.; C Marcus Garcia, So.; 1B Johnny Vasallo, So.; 3B Manny Arias, So.; SS Angel Viscaino, So.; RF Angel Hidalgo, So.; RF Harold Baez, So.; OF Joan Baez, Sr.; OF Bailey Rodriguez, Sr.; DH-2B Eduardo Rodriguez, Jr.

12. FERGUSON (Coach Bryan Morgado, 1st year). Last year: 9-13. Top players: 3B-SS-P Daniel Irisarri, Jr.; 2B-SS Mattew Corpus, So.; P-DH Frankie Melero, Sr.; C-OF Chris Abad, Sr.; 1B-OF-P Ricky Duran, Sr.; 1B-3B-P Raul De La Torre, Sr.

13. SOUTHRIDGE (Coach Wayne Hendricks, 1st year at SR, 10th overall). Last year: 12-11. Top players: 2B Branden Abreu, Jr.; SS Henry Wallen, So.; CF Alex Andalia, Jr.; C Jose Tabares, So.; P-1B Brandon Cabrera, Fr.; RF Jorge Valdes, Jr.

14. BRADDOCK (Coach Tony Casas, 2nd year at BR, 7th overall). Last year: 8-13. Top players: 1B-LHP Miguel Rivera, Sr.; 2B Hianny Olivares, So.; SS Yandy Morales, Jr.

15. MIAMI HIGH (Coach Francisco Suarez, 15th year, 163-180). Last year: 12-13 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: SS Manny Garcia, Sr.; OF Enrique Rivero, Sr.; P-INF Javier Alvarez, Jr.; OF Yiovanni Matias, So.; P-1B Ivan Rivera, So.; P Jonathan Sosa-Medina, Jr.

16. KROP (Coach Paul Barrios, 1st year at KR, 13th overall, 104-116). Last year: 4-14. Top players: OF-RHP Jason Girardi, Sr.; INF-RHP Manuel Santana, Jr.; INF Lenny Bates, Jr.; C Carlos Su, Sr.; OF Melvin Hatcher, Jr.; OF Jason Valdez, Jr.

CLASS 8A

1. MATER ACADEMY (Coach Mike DiRosa, 4th year). Last year: 12-13 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: OF Brandon Dudley, Sr.; RHP-DH Joe Soto, Sr.; SS Raynel Delgado, Jr.; OF Lewis Menendez, Jr.; P Daniel Vasquez, Sr.

2. WESTLAND HIALEAH (Coach Jose Alvarez). Last year: 21-10 (State semifinalist). Top players: C Jorge Diaz, Sr.; 3B-OF Evander Hernandez, Jr.; SS-2B Ronel Rodriguez, Sr.

CLASS 7A

1. DORAL (Coach Ralph Suarez, 3rd year at DOR, 28th overall). Last year: 17-11 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: CF Andres Santana, Sr.; C Jose Garcia, Sr.; P Oscar Trujillo, Sr.; 3B Brian Perez, Sr.; SS Lency Delgado, Jr.

2. BELEN JESUIT (Coach Jerry Albert, 6th year at Bel, 18th overall, 264-183). Last year: 19-11 (State semifinalist). Top players: SS C.J. Vazquez, Sr.; OF Erick Wilson, Sr.; C Andrew Hernandez, C-OF Humberto Torres, Jr.; P Michael Cabeza, Sr.; 3B Carlos Lara, Sr.

3. SUNSET (Coach Joseph Marcos, 1st year). Last year: 12-12. Top players: C-3B Marc Romero, Sr.; P Marcus Villar, Sr.; P Jordi Farinas, Sr.; C-3B Luis Rodriguez, Fr.; 1B Michael Suarez, Jr.; SS Damian Alfonso, Jr.

CLASS 6A

1. GOLEMAN (Coach Jose Lopez). Last year: 25-3 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: LHP-1B Adrian Garrastazu, Sr.; 3B-P-OF Ramid Alvarez, Sr.

2. MIAMI SPRINGS (Coach David Fanshawe). Last year: 13-9 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: C-1B Thomas Diaz, Jr.; INF-OF Michael Amat, Sr.; OF Steven Torres, Jr.

3. CAROL CITY (Coach Nate Wheeler, 2nd year). Last year: 0-16. Top players: 3B-C Brian Hernandez, Sr.; P-1B-OF Shamar Vance, Jr.; C-OF Theron Peterson, Sr.

CLASS 5A

1. MONSIGNOR PACE (Coach Tom Duffin). Last year: 27-5 (State runner-up). Top players: SS Jeter Downs, Sr.; P Manny Rodriguez, Sr.; 1B Santos Grande, Sr.; LHP-OF Nicholas Fusco, Sr.; 2B-SS Sammy Infante, Sr.; OF-RHP Nicholas Regalado, Sr.; C Andres Sanchez, Sr.; OF Bryan Diaz, Sr.

2. GULLIVER (Coach Manny Crespo, 2nd year at GP, 10th overall, 20-6). Last year: 20-6 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: P Robert Touron, Sr.; 3B Raymond Gil, Sr.; C-2B-OF Adrian Del Castillo, Jr.; 2B-3B-P Kevin Maura, Jr.; OF-C Tyler Grant, Jr.; SS Andres Machado, Sr.

3. LA SALLE (Coach Nathan Gomez, 1st year). Last year: 14-12. Top players: P-INF Jacob Perea, Sr.; UT-P Jesus Villacis, Sr.; P Joshua Leon, Sr.; OF Angel Marcano, Jr.; OF Joey Fortuny, Sr.; OF Brad McCormick, Sr.

4. ST. BRENDAN (Coach Jose Rodriguez, 2nd year at StB, 13th overall). Last year: 8-13. Top players: SS Abraham Sequera, Sr.; P-DH Kevin Martin, So.; OF Michael Perez, Sr.; OF Christian Centeno, So.; 2B Steven Diaz, So.

CLASS 4A

1. WESTMINSTER CHRISTIAN (Coach Emil Castellanos, 11th year, 223-71). Last year: Regional semifinalist. Top players: C M.J. Melendez, Sr.; P Dylan Cloonan, Sr.; C-1B Luis Aviles, INF Tyler Paige, Sr.; P Alex Ruiz, Sr.; INF Anthony Vilar, Jr.; OF Max Pinto, Sr.

2. FLORIDA CHRISTIAN (Coach Chris Brigman). Last year: 20-8 (Regional quarterfinalist). Top players: OF Jimmy Heyworth, Jr.

3. HIALEAH EDUCATIONAL (Coach Anthony Nalepa, 1st year). Last year: 13-14. Top players: P Erislandy Rives, Sr.; SS Alexandro Bello, Jr.; C Bryan Lopez, Sr.; C Brandon Puig, Jr.; CF-P Bryan Pazos, So.; 2B J.C. Rodriguez, Sr.; 1B Raymond Mendez, Sr.

4. SLAM (Coach Alfonso "Flaco" Otero, 3rd year, 41-16). Last year: 20-10 (Regional finalist). Top players: SS-2B-RHP Ryan Sablon, So.; OF-1B-LHP Christian Hermosilla, Fr.; 1B-LHP-OF Kevin Figueredo, Fr.; 3B-SS-RHP Luis Espinal, Fr.; DH-RHP Jorge Garcia, Jr.; C-2B Anthony Nunez, So.

5. PALMER TRINITY (Coach Donnie Harvey, 16th year at PT, 19th overall, 216-221). Last year: 11-14. Top players: SS Cole Hebble, Sr.; 1B Quentin Wheeler, Sr.; P-OF Carlos Carvajal, Sr.; P-OF Owen Almeida, Jr.; 1B Nick Sondon, Jr.; 2B Luis Carvajal, So.

6. MIAMI COUNTRY DAY (Coach Chuck Sennett, 13th year, 130-149). Last year: 9-16. Top players: SS-2B Austin Pollak, Jr.; 1B Kian Anderson, Jr.; C-UT Griffin Sennett, Sr.; 3B-P Connor Goodman, So.; 2B-P Jordan Sale, Sr.; P Jorden Gross, Jr.

CLASS 3A

1. ARCHBISHOP CARROLL (Coach Andy Blanco, 3rd year at ACC, 13th overall). Last year: 18-9 (Regional semifinalist). Top players: 1B-OF John Leon, Sr.; SS-2B Ryan Pereda, Sr.; OF-P Sal Lorenzo, Sr.; INF-OF Ricky Alvarez, Sr.; P Alfredo Silva, Sr.; 3B Ray Gonce, Jr.

2. ARCHBISHOP CURLEY (Coach Jerry Yeash, 37th year). Last year: 4-20. Top players: P-3B Brian Lopez, Sr.; P-INF David Diaz, Sr.; C-P Jose Pina, Sr.; SS Jesner Goman, Jr.

CLASS 2A

1. WESTWOOD CHRISTIAN (Coach Julio Andrade, 4th year, 36-27). Last year: 13-6. Top players: CF Peter Esposito, Sr.; RHP Marco Morales, So.; 2B Mike Mejias, Sr.; RHP Kevin Sabatier, Sr.; LF-RHP Matthew Mejias, Sr.; 1B Steven Jimenez, Jr.

2. BRITO (Coach Laz Fundora). Last year: 15-9. Top players: OF-3B Onelio Perdomo, Sr.; OF Alex Nino, Jr.

3. MIAMI CHRISTIAN (Coach Chris Cuadra). Last year: 13-10 (Regional finalist). Top players: SS-2B Luis Rodriguez, Sr.

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