(Photo courtesy of the Miami Herald)
Coming off a 31-27 season, including taking three of four from crosstown rival, University of Miami, Florida International will enter the 2018 season with the 21st recruiting class according to Baseball America.
FIU lost six players to the 2017 MLB draft, highlighted by catcher, first baseman JC Escarra (Baltimore Orioles – 15th round) and shortstop Irving Lopez (St. Louis Cardinals – 19th round). But Head Coach Mervyl Melendez put in the offseason work, bringing in a Top 25 recruiting class. Coach Melendez enters his second season as skipper of the Panthers, and already is making a statement with his recruiting and big game wins.
The Panthers welcome back right-handed pitchers Tyler Myrick and Nick MacDonald to the rotation in 2018, as the club looks to build off its success from a year ago. Myrick started 10 games for the Panthers in 2017, leading all starters in ERA at 3.73 in 72 1/3 innings pitched. Myrick had a 6-2 record and struck out 57 batters. MacDonald appeared in 15 games, starting 13 of them, posting a 7-3 record with a 4.29 ERA and striking out 68 batters in 71 1/3 innings pitched. Both pitchers are entering their sophomore year.
Javier Valdes adds to the list of another talented freshman from 2017 who played a prominent role in the Panthers success. Playing in 54 games, Valdes hit .287, scattering 56 hits in 195 at bats. The right-handed hitter slugged .431 with a .380 OBP and an .811 OPS. Valdes had 17 extra base hits and drove in 36 runs in his freshman campaign.
Also returning in 2018 are pitchers Andres Nunez and Andrew George, as well as infielder Eddie Silva. All three players missed time in the 2017 season due to injury. Nunez, a right-handed pitcher, logged 67 2/3 innings in 2016, so the Panthers expected the innings eater back in the rotation after missing the entire 2017 season. George was limited last season as well, appearing in only four games. Silva will be a great addition to the lineup in 2018 for FIU, as he only played in 13 games last season. Prior to that, in 2016, Silva posted a .293/.354/.401 slash line with 18 doubles.
Coach Melendez was successful in landing talented transfers from across the country. Aaron Soto, a former University of Tennessee pitcher is no stranger to South Florida. The left-handed starter went to Archbishop McCarthy high school prior to heading north to UT, posting a 6-2 record with a 3.63 ERA in 62 innings pitched in 2016. Soto missed the entire 2017 season with Tommy John surgery, and will look to build back up and bring his SEC experience to FIU. The 5-foot-11 pitcher has a four-pitch arsenal including a fastball, curveball, changeup and cutter. He likes to use his cutter, relies on movement, and has a plus changeup. Prior to surgery, Soto could touch 90 mph with his fastball.
Local outfielder Juan Teixeira continued his high school success and consistency with a breakout year for ASA College as a freshman. The 6-foot-1, 195 pound outfielder has potential to be a five-tool player. With the ability to play all three outfield spots, Teixeira has the speed to play centerfield. In 165 at bats, Teixeira collected 64 hits, 14 doubles, three homers, 47 RBI, 18 walks and a .388/.460/.527 slash. An impressive .987 OPS will grab the attention of any coach in the country, and FIU certainly took notice. Look for Teixeira to increase his power numbers, as his strong build could allow him to maximize his power potential more by incorporating lift and extension in his swing.
FIU will also welcome a new third baseman, as Austin Shenton looks to man the hot corner for the Panthers in 2018. Shenton comes in from Bellevue, where he hit .395 in 185 at bats. The left-handed hitting infielder had 15 doubles, a triple and seven home runs last season. Shenton also walked 29 times to just 24 strikeouts in nearly 200 at bats. FIU will gladly welcome his power to their lineup.
Other notable transfers are catcher Patrick O’Brien from Alabama State, outfielder Lorenzo Hampton from Cal, and another Alabama State transfer, outfielder Diandre Amion. In 2017, Amion hit .333 with an .814 OPS in 165 at-bats.
To add to an already great recruiting offseason, left-handed pitcher Logan Allen decided to forgo the 2017 MLB draft where the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 16th round. Instead, the 6-foot starter will bring his 94 mph fastball to FIU. As a high school senior, Allen posted a 13-0 record with a 0.35 ERA in 81 innings pitched and struck out a staggering 150 batters. Allen gave up just four runs in his 81 innings, and walked just 11 batters to his 150 strikeouts. The sky is the limit for Allen.
Another talented pitcher, right-hander Christian Santana joins the Panthers for a freshman season after declining a 15th round draft selection by the Milwaukee Brewers. Santana has a 6-foot-3 frame, weighing 210 pounds, with a fastball topping out at 95 mph.
To cap off a freshman class that had three of their names called during the 2017 MLB draft, catcher Jose Garcia will bring depth to FIU after losing JC Escarra. In the 38th round, the Boston Red Sox called Garcia’s name.
Other notable incoming freshmen are Jan Figueroa, a right-handed pitcher from the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy and right-handed pitcher Everett Hurst.
There is a lot of buzz and excitement hovering around the FIU campus, with good reason. An incredible pitching staff is being built, and key transfers will take over for the recent draftees the school had lost. Coach Melendez and the FIU Panthers are sneaking up on a lot of schools, and are nowhere near done with their mission.
FIU’s baseball site can be found at FIUSports.com