AUSTIN, Texas — Texas designated hitter Ivan Melendez has been on a tear as of late ... and even that may be an understatement.
The redshirt sophomore has ascended quickly to the top of the Longhorns' home run category this season, after swatting an eye-popping seven home runs in the last six games.
In UT's most recent victory over Kansas State, Melendez hit two. Following Sunday's victory Texas head coach David Pierce was asked about Melendez's power.
"I think everybody is a little taken back," Pierce said. "It's hard to believe that it's been six games in a row that he's hit home runs. It's not like they are wind-aided, or he's just getting them over the wall. He's showing his true power."
His "true power" is certainly not new. Melendez was a player both Pierce and hitting coach Sean Allen spoke of throughout the fall because of his tremendous ability to drive the ball. The power has been there during Melendez's time on the Forty Acres — it has just taken a little while to transition from pregame batting practice and into a live game.
"Ivan is just a natural hitter with huge raw power," Allen said when Melendez committed to UT. "He is big and strong and can play either corner infield position. A JUCO All-American last year at Odessa Junior College, Ivan has proven he can be a huge presence in the middle of our order."
Allen's quote hints to Melendez's past. This is his first season in Austin, and he already has become a household name in the Longhorn baseball community.
Melendez grew up in El Paso, a community he recently described as having "a strong support system." Coming out of Coronado High School, it was easy to see that he had exceptional talent, hitting .524 his senior season, while also pitching, and posting a 4.67 earned run average.
Despite his abilities as a two-way player, he had just one Div. I offer by the time his prep career wrapped up. New Mexico State, about 45 minutes away, came calling, but was only able to offer him a partial scholarship of 25 percent. Though Melendez said the school tried to get him in-state tuition, he decided going to the junior college route was going to be best for both him and his family.
"Out of high school, I had about four or five (JUCO offers), and they all offered me two-way," Melendez said. "I only had one Div. I offer out of high school, which was New Mexico State, but it was very little, probably the least amount they could offer, like 25 percent. They tried to get me in-state tuition to try to work things out, but it didn't work out for my family and I. I thought going JUCO was the best decision."
He headed to Odessa College, where head coach Kurtis Lay recruited Melendez after realizing what a versatile all-around player he is.
"I was fortunate enough to get Ivan and his family to come down in the summer before his senior year," Lay said. "In fact a former player of mine was in El Paso, and he said, 'I've got this kid, Ivan Melendez. You really need to check him out.' I joke with a lot of people that Ivan was good at third base, and had the potential to swing the bat with some power. But what a lot of people don't realize is that Ivan, going into his senior year, was also 89 to 90 on the pitcher's mound. Anytime you get a (player with a) 90-mile-per-hour arm that's uncommitted, you certainly snatch that guy up.
"How hitting translates to the college level varies year to year with guy to guy. Sometimes you get it right, sometimes you don't. But the radar gun doesn't lie."
A shoulder injury during Melendez's freshman year ended the possibility of him being a two-way player, but perhaps it was a blessing in disguise. Melendez showed the potential to excel on the mound, but his hitting became the primary focus at that point, as he hit .411 with 17 home runs on his way to earning National Junior College Association of America (NJCAA) All-America honors his freshman year.
As with every slugger, everybody has a different "Ivan Melendez home run memory." For Lay, it came during Melendez's freshman year.
"It was a conference game, tied ballgame. We were playing Midland College," Lay said, "and I believe it was (a) full count. Ivan sits there with two strikes, and they've got a highway that runs behind their ballpark. It didn't get to the highway, but I'm pretty sure the ball was still going up on its way out of the ballpark. It wasn't mishit. It was on the screws — it was absolutely crushed."
A large part of Melendez's immense power comes from his approach. By approaching every at-bat the same, he is able to eliminate some variables in his swing.
"I just (try) to stick to my routine, whether it's going great or whether it's going bad," Melendez said. "One day you 0-for-3, one day you go 2-for-3, you just got to keep working. Sometimes you can't control your result, but you can control how hard you worked."
With his home run streak at seven over six games, and just two games away from tying the NCAA record, it would be understandable if Melendez entered Tuesday's game against Nevada with a different mindset. But when speaking Sunday with the media, he said that he is more focused on the team's performance than on his own accolades.
"I don't really think about it, but I just go out there, try to hit the ball and help the team win," Melendez said. "I see it on my social media and everything, but I try to clear it. I don't want it to be a distraction. I just go out there and play."