A few years ago while covering the Catholic Youth Organization intermediate baseball championship at Msgr. McClancy H.S., East Elmhurst, I struck up a conversation with Crusaders varsity head coach Nick Melito.
I had just finalized my annual Tablet All-Star baseball team and was pleasantly surprised that Melito had nominated a freshman player to the team.
Coach told me right then that this kid had the potential to be selected someday in the MLB draft – a rare feat for a CHSAA baseball player right out of high school.
Well, Melito’s prediction has now come true.
With the 64th overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft, the reigning American League champion Cleveland Indians selected McClancy center fielder Quentin Holmes, who many draft analysts said was the fastest player in the draft.
Holmes, a soon-to-be four-time Tablet All-Star, enjoyed a stellar career for the Crusaders en route to being the first player from New York chosen in this year’s draft. He was all set to continue his baseball journey at Division I Mississippi State University, Starkville, this fall – that is until the Indians came calling.
Meanwhile, this season, Melito also had an inkling that his star senior pitcher Charlie Neuweiler would have a chance to be drafted as well. He and his twin brother, Ryan, were set to attend Long Island University, Downtown Brooklyn, on baseball scholarships.
Neuweiler though was taken 150th overall in the third round of the draft by the Kansas City Royals. In less than 12 hours, not one but two Crusaders were selected to MLB teams.
Holmes was a four-year varsity player at McClancy who earned CHSAA Player of the Year and New York Gatorade Player of the Year honors this year. The 17-year-old Queens native hit .420 with seven home runs, 18 extra-base hits, 33 runs scored and was successful in 22-of-23 stolen base attempts. He also set the career McClancy record with 85 steals.
“He’s (Holmes) gotten better every year,” Melito said. “He’s worked harder every year. He knows what he wants. He’s very mature for a 17-year-old.
“I don’t think anything’s going to stop him from obtaining his goal. He’s got the work ethic. That’s one of the first things you look for.”
Holmes became the highest player drafted out of New York City in 21 years since the Atlanta Braves selected Tottenville H.S., Staten Island, pitcher Jason Marquis 35th overall in the first round of the 1996 MLB draft.
He is also the first McClancy player selected out of high school since 2000, when the Arizona Diamondbacks drafted first baseman Khari Council in the 33rd round. He’s now the highest-ever Crusader picked in the draft, surpassing outfielder Sean Twitty, selected in the eighth round by the Seattle Mariners in 1989.
While professional scouts piled up at McClancy’s spring games to watch Holmes, they also caught a glimpse of Neuweiler, the Crusaders’ ace right-handed pitcher who played varsity ball since sophomore year. With a fastball sitting at 89-92 mph and an MLB-ready curveball, scouts immediately took notice.
Neuweiler finished his senior season 7-2 with a 0.28 ERA, six shutouts and 110 strikeouts. The soon-to-be three-time Tablet All-Star and product of Our Lady of Hope, Middle Village, was selected to the CHSAA’s All-League First Team this year.
“We knew with Charlie playing varsity as a sophomore that there was something special there,” Melito said. “His progress after his junior year…we all felt that as he got stronger that he’d be a draftable player. That was the consensus of our coaches.
“He doesn’t lose velocity. He throws as hard in the seventh inning as he does in the first inning.”
Holmes and Neuweiler became the first pair of New York City high school teammates to be taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft since 2004, when Rafael Gonzalez and Angel Salome from George Washington H.S., Manhattan, accomplished the feat.
Until this year, only one of Melito’s players in his 17 years of coaching had been drafted – infielder Danny Lopez by the Mariners in the 17th round in 2010. Unlike this year’s duo however, Lopez was drafted out of college – the University of Pittsburgh, Pa.
The Indians and Royals are of course American League Central division rivals. Imagine if someday Holmes happens to be leading off an MLB game against his old buddy Neuweiler.
“I’m not going to say that’s such a far-fetched idea,” Melito said. “That wouldn’t be bad sitting there watching that. I think there’d be a lot of people from New York watching that game.”
Good luck to these Crusaders as they begin fulfilling their childhood dream of playing professional baseball!
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.