Jayden Melendez already knows what baseball at the next level might look like.
The 18-year-old is a high school catcher and potential draft target at Westminster Christian in Miami, but his family ties have allowed him extended glimpses at numerous futures. A longtime collegiate coach, Melendez’s father, Mervyl, is currently at the helm of the program at Florida International University, where the younger Melendez is committed. Right now his brother, MJ, also a backstop, is spending his season at Double-A with the Royals, who drafted him in the second round in 2017.
Last year during baseball’s shutdown, the youngest Melendez had the opportunity to take advantage of his time at home with his family—along with some of the facilities his dad still had access to at FIU—to help improve his game through some added time and tutelage from his brother.
“Having my brother here, I worked a lot physically on framing, blocking, all of that,” the 5-foot-8, 170-pound high schooler said. “It showed throughout the summer and definitely more recently during my season.”
At Northwest Arkansas, MJ Melendez has begun to put on display this season what Jayden always knew he had in the tank. Through his first 26 games at Double-A, the elder Melendez brother has slashed .269/.369/.559 with eight home runs. Both brothers have often been touted for their defense-first catching abilities, but Jayden thinks that’s not all they have in common.
“We’re both winners, there’s no doubt about it, we’re both going to do everything we can to make everybody around us better,” the younger Melendez said. “We have great tools in our arms, definitely well above average, and our hitting for power is there. But something that’s way different is our flexibility. Recently I’ve gotten more flexible but he’s very elastic and I was super stiff. But we’re more similar than different in the way we play.”
Jayden is also a few inches shorter and a few pounds lighter than his brother, but he’s looking forward to a chance to prove any of his doubters wrong as he moves forward in his baseball career. Breaking down the tools that will help him do that, Melendez offered personal insight into each of the pieces of his game.
“My hit tool is probably the best part of my game,” he said. “And along with that my power has developed as well, so I would probably rank that second. Then I would say my defense and arm are neck-and-neck, they’re both similar … Then as a catcher, running would probably be my least advanced tool. I’ve definitely gotten better at it but it’s not my strongest.”
“I try to look at the pitcher’s tendencies, if I have the ability to watch them from previous times,” Melendez said. “Typically, and with the pitching I’m facing now, I look to right-center field in that gap, and I look to drive the ball the other way. I believe my hands will be quick enough so if the ball comes middle-in, then I’m able to turn on it, but as long as I have the approach of looking center to right field, and the ball comes in that area, I can hit it well and who knows? Maybe I get under it and hit a home run.”
Melendez does much of his work behind the scenes using a tee, enjoying that it allows him to nitpick some of the finer aspects of his approach. He also credits his dad for throwing batting practice with the ability to spot up the areas he’s always trying to work on. One thing the young catcher is continuing to hone in on is separating his mindset behind the dish from the times he steps up to it.
“I try to outsmart the game sometimes and sometimes it hurts me,” he said. “I try to eliminate catching from hitting as much as possible, but of course as a catcher sometimes it’s like, ‘man, I was late on that fastball, he’s got to throw another fastball here, right?’ Then he may come in with a slider. So I try to eliminate my catching mindset from my hitting mindset as much as possible.”
“It’s a combination of bat speed and strength training,” the No. 252-ranked draft prospect said. “What I tend to focus on when I’m hitting is to use my hands as much as possible and let everything else follow behind. Some people like to use their lower half but my hands are the quickest part of my body, and without my hands I really can’t go anywhere with the bat.”
Melendez believes that being labeled as undersized is an advantage to his power game, offering him the ability to come out and surprise some people and perhaps even quiet some doubters along the way.
“Having the label is pretty cool because when people first see me they think, ‘Oh this kid’s just a small guy,’ and it’s cool to keep proving people wrong about me,” he said. “More recently I’ve developed my hit tool to all parts of the field, right field to center field, and pull side I’ve definitely developed in those areas, and the power to right field.
“That comes with me working out, working on my strengths when I’m hitting, working mechanically, and finding what’s comfortable for me. I definitely credit my strength training and my dad, who’s been coaching me all along the way but he’s let me be myself while fine tuning the stuff I may not be doing well along the process.”
“As a catcher, I believe you’re only as good as your pitcher, so I work to get the best out of my pitchers and help make them look good and vice versa,” Melendez said. “When it comes to mechanical stuff, I work with my brother a lot. He’s known for being a good defensive catcher. He’s a defense-first guy so I definitely pick his brain when it comes to mechanical stuff and mental stuff, like calling a great game.
“Pitch framing is definitely an undervalued thing that a lot of pitchers appreciate, and it’s a little thing that can change a game dramatically, along with throwing runners out. So that stuff is important, whether it’s framing or footwork, it’s huge, and I work on that as often as I hit.”
Melendez’s older brother has taught him first and foremost how to avoid getting caught up in the minutiae of the game and the moments it can speed up on players, and focus on becoming a leader for his team while he’s behind the plate.
“You have to have confidence in yourself and you have to build confidence in your pitcher, but you’re the eyes of the field,” he said. “You’re the quarterback. You put everyone in position. If you see a hitter who tends to do something, you have to call the infield that way or call a certain pitch that way. If the pitcher executes, that can go unnoticed for the catcher, but it’s something that can change the game. He taught me to stay in my game, slow the game down, and he ‘s very good at what he does so I like to listen to his mentorship.”
“I have a very strong arm, definitely above-average, and I use that to my advantage,” Melendez said. “My transfer and my footwork are good. It could definitely continue to be polished, but the rate that I throw out runners at is very good, and that’s a credit to my arm. I take care of it, I tend to long toss about three times a week, I do some running, I massage it, I do all I need to. I can definitely compete with the best when it comes to throwing out runners.”
“In baseball you have a lot of explosive movements, whether it’s catching, trying to get up and throw a runner out, or hitting a ball, and all of that is incorporated in running,” Melendez said. “My running has gotten better from last year. I ran about a 7.4 last year and at the last Perfect Game National I ran a 6.9 so it’s definitely improved.”