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Better know a draft prospect: Ivan Melendez

This first baseman out of Texas hits nukes

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NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Mississippi State v Texas
Ivan Melendez celebrates after going yard
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 MLB draft is still over three months away, but with the college baseball season just past its halfway point, now is as good a time as any to start looking at some potential draft prospects for the Royals. There are many big-time college hitters that the Royals could look at with the 9th pick of the draft, but I’d like to start today with a guy that you won’t see near the top of draft prospects lists: Ivan Melendez.

Melendez, also known as the “Hispanic Titanic”, is the first baseman for the University of Texas. Melendez is a physical specimen, standing 6’3” and weighing in at 225 lbs. Hailing from El Paso, he played high school ball at Coronado High School, earning First-Team All-State honors as a third baseman his senior year. He began his collegiate career on the JUCO circuit, playing for Odessa College in 2019 and the abbreviated 2020 season.

Melendez transferred to Texas for his redshirt sophomore season in 2021 and immediately established himself as one of the premier power threats in the country, going 2-for-4 with a double and a homer in the season opener against Mississippi State. He would go on to torch Big XII pitching, at one point hitting home runs in six consecutive games. He finished conference play in a bit of a slump, but got his bat going by the time postseason play rolled around. Texas would advance through the Regionals to Omaha, where he provided one of the biggest highlights of last year’s College World Series with this go-ahead homer in the semi-finals that forced a deciding game against Mississippi State.

Melendez would finish the 2021 season with a line of .319/.438/.603 with 13 home runs and 13 doubles in 249 plate appearances. He was drafted in the 16th round by the Miami Marlins, but opted to return to Austin for another season.

Thus far, returning to college is looking like an excellent decision on Melendez’s part. He got off to a hot start in the opening series against Rice, including a big two-homer performance in Sunday’s game 3.

Melendez has done nothing but hit throughout the season so far, including a huge three-homer weekend against South Carolina, one of which featured possibly the coolest bat flip I’ve ever seen.

As of the time of this writing, Melendez is slashing .378/.509/.811 with 9 doubles and 14 homers in 163 plate appearances. That home run total is tied for second in the country, while his 1.320 OPS is 8th highest.

I mentioned previously you won’t find him high on any prospect lists. He is not listed among MLB’s top 100 draft prospects, nor is he on The Board at Fangraphs. D1 Baseball ranked him 149th among draft-eligible college players in the preseason, while Prospects Live ranks him 128th among draft prospects (including prep players). The power was never in doubt, but the knock against him coming into the season was the swing-and-miss in his profile. As a right-handed hitting first base type, the bat has to carry him, and the strikeout concerns were enough to scare teams off. But he has improved in every respect as a hitter this year. A quick comparison of some key stats for Melendez from 2021 and 2022:

2021: 26.1% strikeout rate, 13.7% walk rate, .409 BABIP, .284 ISO

2022: 19.0% strikeout rate, 19.6% walk rate, .417 BABIP, .433 ISO

I included BABIP to demonstrate that Melendez’s 59-point increase in batting average isn’t simply a product of batted ball luck, rather it’s a product of an improved approach at the dish. Making better swing decisions does more than simply improve strikeout and walk numbers. By hunting pitches he can drive, Melendez has been able to consistently make better quality contact, leading to a higher batting average and allowing him to access even more of his elite raw power. He has already eclipsed last year’s home run total in just over half the at-bats. He’s transformed from a big-swinging pure slugger to a truly complete hitter.

With his power-patience combination, lack of a defensive fit outside first base, and swing-and-miss concerns, Melendez is a dude that could someday be a middle of the order bat for a big league team, but is likely not a day one of the draft type of guy due to the risk in his profile. Dreaming big, he could be Pete Alonso or J.D. Martinez. More likely, it’d be a success if he becomes C.J. Cron or Justin Smoak. Of course, there’s about an equal probability that he’s Will Craig. This isn’t a guy that’s going to make or break this draft for the Royals (I’ll write more about those guys in the coming weeks), but with his power and, more importantly, his swag, I’d be pleased with the Royals using a fourth or fifth round draft pick to bring in Ivan Melendez.

Note: This piece was written Tuesday afternoon. On Tuesday night, Melendez had another huge performance against Stephen F. Austin, going 3-4 with 2 homers and a double. This brings his season slash to .389/.515/.863. His 16 dingers leads Division I Baseball, and his 1.378 OPS is 4th in the nation.

Another note: D1Baseball released their midseason top prospects list today. Melendez has jumped up to 72nd among college players, projected to go in the 4th round.