Southern New Hampshire University might not be a household name amongst college baseball fans, but the Division II school has quietly built a highly respected program. Three Penmen were selected in the 2013 draft and five wound-up playing professional baseball this summer.
Right-hander Junior Mendez was the first member of the Southern New Hampshire squad to hear his name during the draft. The Oakland A's selected Mendez in the 16th-round, the second-highest draft position ever for a SNHU alum. Mendez's draft position was well deserved. The Long Island, New York, native entered the 2013 season as one of Division II's top prospects, and he lived up to those lofty expectations.
In a record-setting campaign, Mendez posted a 1.67 ERA and a 9-3 record. He struck-out 133 and walked just 17 in 97 innings of work. He led Division II in strike-outs and ranked second in K/9.
After signing with Oakland, Mendez was sent to Arizona, where he pitched for the A's Rookie League team for the first month of his professional career. Although his ERA was somewhat inflated (4.50), Mendez pitched well for the AZL A's, striking out 21 and walking six in 20 innings. He earned a promotion to Vermont in early August and he continued to miss bats at a good clip in the New York-Penn League.
In 19.1 innings with the Lake Monsters (all in relief), Mendez held opposing batters to a .181 average and he posted an 0.93 ERA. He struck-out 19 and walked nine and he didn't allow a homerun.
A starter in college, Mendez was used in a relief role during his pro debut season to limit his workload after a long collegiate season. Whether he returns to the bullpen or goes into the rotation next season will likely depend on the development of his change-up.
Donald Moore spoke with Mendez last week during the Lake Monsters' final roadtrip of the season.
Donald Moore: How's everything going so far for you this season?
Junior Mendez: It's going pretty good. I'm throwing the ball pretty well. Started off in Arizona and then I got moved up to here in Vermont, and now I'm doing pretty well. Getting my command back a little. At the beginning, I was leaving balls up, but now I'm starting to get better command on my pitches and working on my off-speed stuff and developing my change-up more.
DM: What are your goals for this season?
JM: Just to get out there and throw the ball, locate and get outs, pretty much.
DM: What is your greatest strength as a ball player?
JM: I'd say my mental side of the game. I think that is a huge aspect. Something like this is a grind, so you need to get through and work as hard as you can.
DM: What would you like to improve on?
JM: My change-up. My change-up has to improve a little more to reach the next level.
DM: What do you like most about being a pro ball player?
JM: There's a lot of perks and it's cool to say you are pitching for the Oakland A's, and seeing a lot of smiling faces in the crowds.
DM: Any pregame routine?
JM: Honestly, I really don't. I'm not a big into routines. I just change things up differently and concentrate on doing a good job.
DM: Favorite thing you like to do off the field?
JM: Play instruments. I play drums and bass and I love music, and instruments, so that's pretty much something I like to do.
DM: Favorite team growing up?
JM: I'd say the Mets because I'm from Long Island and they are right around the corner. It's been pretty much the Mets growing up all my life.
DM: If there is one person who taught you the most about baseball, who would that be?
JM: I'd say my pitching coach from Southern New Hampshire University, Corey Muscara. He's changed me from a freshman, when I was hardheaded, because I threw as hard as I can, to be able to pitch and brought my pitching level way higher than what I was in my freshman year. He has been a huge influence mentally, and he has always told me to be a mental warrior.
DM: Craziest thing you have ever seen on a diamond?
JM: Honestly, it kind of just happened a couple weeks ago. It was during BP and a line drive was hit back at one of my buddies, Michael Soto. He got a line drive to his face and broke a cheekbone. I felt pretty bad for him.
DM: Where do you see yourself four years from now?
JM: I'm hoping Double-A, at least, but you never know, anything can happen. I take it one day at a time and with God in front, it's all good.
DM: Junior, thank you for your time and the best of luck to you.
JM: Thank you.