An already unfortunate baseball off-season turned severely more tragic this week as the Guardians announced the passing of 20-year old minor league catcher Andres Melendez. The news broke in a statement from the team on Thursday, citing only that his death was sudden and occurred in Miami. No details as to the conditions of his troubling demise were released at this time out of respect for his family and their privacy.
Melendez, a native of Venezuela, played the 2021 season at single-A Lynchburg for Cleveland. He hit .247 with a strong On-Base Percentage of .367 and eight home runs in 73 games either behind the plate or as the designated hitter for the Hillcats. Among his best assets as a ballplayer was a strong throwing arm from behind home plate. One-third of base-runners who tried to steal on Melendez in 2021 were caught stealing.
Cleveland had acquired Melendez in a trade after the 2019 season that saw them send prospect infielder Mark Mathias to Milwaukee in return for the young backstop. Melendez had only played rookie and fall league ball professionally when the Indians made their transaction, but thought highly enough of his talent to trade a former third-round pick (in Mathias) for him.
Certainly, this is a disappointment in baseball terms, but more importantly, the world has lost a young man way before he could even sniff his potential as a person, let alone as a ballplayer. In the statement that the Guardians released, they referenced Melendez as “a thoughtful young man with a beautiful smile who has a profound impact on others”. Among other tributes to him came kind words from teammate Josh Wolf. Melendez caught 12 of Wolf’s outings on the mound this season, including three of four in which Wolf left his opponents scoreless. More significantly, Wolf referenced the joy with which Melendez lived, referring to him as “mi hermano” (or “my brother”).
I never thought I would be saying these words but RIP mi hermano. Anyone who knew or played with Andres saw the joy he brought everyday. He was always bringing positive energy to the field and locker room. He was a fantastic teammate and an even better person. Love you Andres. pic.twitter.com/bN1YpCtXU5
— Josh Wolf (@JoshWolf30) December 17, 2021
While rare, the startling passing of a young ballplayer is not a story we have never heard before. In 2014, budding St. Louis Cardinals star outfielder Oscar Tavares was only 22 when he died in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic during the off-season. Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura met a similar demise in 2017 at the age of only 27.
Discouragingly, the internet has also been abound with innuendo about the nature of Melendez’s passing since it was announced on Thursday. Rumors are being bandied about Twitter that his death was in some way related to being administered a COVID vaccination. Again, no cause of death has been announced and as such, any statement being made about COVID vaccinations being related to Melendez’s death is pure unsubstantiated speculation.
However, rather than dwell on the negative that can divide us, below is a clip of Melendez playing the game that unites us. As a staff here at CLESportsTalk we extend our deep sympathies to Mr. Melendez’s family. May he rest in peace.