Texas Slugger Ivan Melendez Evaluates Himself Ahead Of 2021 Draft
The Hispanic Titanic set sail some time around October or November of last year.
Ivan Melendez, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound slugger who personifies the name, walked into the Texas locker room in the fall one day and echoes of the nickname rained down on him. He’s not sure of its exact origin, and at first it was just one moniker among many, but it wasn’t long before it took on a life of its own.
“One day I walked into the facility and everyone was calling me the Hispanic Titanic, just shouting it out as I walked through the doors,” Melendez said. “And it stuck. People started calling me that and then it grew. It’s grown a lot.”
The legend of the nickname grew exponentially during Melendez’s April home run streak this year. The 21-year-old went yard in six straight games for the Longhorns, capping it off with two long balls in the sixth matchup. He quickly rose up the draft list to where he now sits at No. 137, and though the power helped him there, Melendez doesn’t think it’s the best of what he has to offer.
“I try not to hit for power—I take pride in my batting average and getting on base, so that’s my highest,” Melendez said as he ranked his tools. “Obviously I haven’t been playing many games defensively (as a primary designated hitter) … but I’d say I’m a pretty good defender, pretty athletic, mobile, and move well for my size. I have an above-average arm; it has a little bit of arm strength. Running, I’m probably a 6.9, 7.0 runner.”
Breaking down those tools even further, Melendez offered a glimpse into the game that has taken him from being a football-playing high school pitcher to a slugger at Odessa (Texas) JC to a fast-rising Texas draft prospect.
In game settings, Melendez takes a traditional approach to the plate, always aiming to simplify and let his ability and effort do the work.
“Stepping into the box, it depends where the runners are,” Melendez said. “If there are less than two outs, runner at second, I’m trying to find green. Or I’m trying to hit a ground ball to second base, a back-side bullet. I try not to give away everything I try to do, but when there’s a runner on second, sometimes pitchers will start me off with a curveball and usually when I put a good swing on a first pitch curveball, it’s very rare for them to come back with it again. Usually that leads to a fastball and a better chance of hitting the ball.
“Anything middle in, a little bit up, on a fastball, that’s a huge pitch for me to hit because I know how to get on top of baseballs. Sometimes pitchers are trying to spin it a lot. I’ve been better at sitting on curveballs—not really sitting on curveballs, but hitting offspeed. I try to hit everything through the first-base side, through the four-hole, and if I catch a curveball, pull it into left field for a line drive or something. I just try to keep it simple.”
Preparing for games, Melendez’s focus is on backing up the baseball and seeing pitches longer.
“I have pretty long limbs, long arms, so my bat stays through the zone for a decent amount of time,” the El Paso, Texas native said. “And I have pretty quick hands, so backing up the baseball for me is what I work on in the cage, and going towards right-center, whether it’s off the machine or some flips or a tee or a live arm, that’s what I try to work on.
“It’s been an evolution. I’ve always had the hand-eye coordination skills as far as making contact or getting the barrel of the bat through the ball. But I’ve been focusing on my work and the older I get, the more I’m starting to know and starting to learn about how to play the game.”
To go with his plus pull power, Melendez has shown an ability to work to all fields in the parks he’s been in this year.
“Some of the pitches I hit toward center and right-center were fastballs,” Melendez said. “I let it travel longer, I trust my hands, and go that way with it. If you look at my pull-side home runs, they’re usually 0-2 or 0-1 breaking balls that are usually just hung over the plate and I usually just catch them out in front. I have enough bat speed and strength and weight behind my ball to hit them as hard and as far in those situations.”
Melendez did spend time at the corner infield positions in high school, but he was focused on pitching for the majority of his career. He still has the arm strength and accuracy, but his time on the mound came to an end when he injured his non-throwing shoulder playing football in his senior fall and followed it up with labrum surgery the following year.
“I ended up focusing on hitting because I used to think I was pretty good at both during my high school days,” Melendez said. “I was throwing in the upper 80s, I would top at 91 on the bump, and I was always doing both, playing third or first and pitching. But now those days are over and we’re focused on hitting.
“I gave up pitching when it happened and … that really was the biggest change now that I look back and think about it. I was always doing one-hand drills when I had my sling on, over the winter break, and I still ended up playing that season in the spring. I was maintaining shape after I had the surgery, and right after I got out of my sling I was slowly swinging and went back into it.”
Though he hasn’t spent much time on the field at Texas, Melendez is confident in his abilities as a corner infielder, and is constantly working to be prepared for any opportunity.
“I’m always ready,” Melendez said. “Whenever I’m not DHing, I get the job done, whether it’s third or first. But wherever I end up playing, or if whatever team I play for wants to put me out on the field, it’s truly up to them, but I’m always ready.
“If I’m DHing, I’m usually getting extra reps in the batting cages with some of the guys after batting practice. Before batting practice, before we have our team-oriented workout, I take ground balls. It just depends on the daily routine … I’m just going to get better as I can and go from there, but I definitely see myself as a decent defender.”
“I’m a good runner,” Melendez said. “I’m not a base stealer, but I will score from first on a ball in the gap. It’s just smart baserunning. But I’m a pretty big guy so I’m not going to go out and make outs on the basepaths.”