March 22, 2020
The 18-year-old center fielder, currently at Norco High, is on the Philippines roster for a World Baseball Classic qualifier that was postponed.
Menelik “Izzy” Israel, 18, plays center field for Norco High and was selected for the roster of the Philippine baseball team for a World Baseball Classic qualifying tournament that was supposed to begin Friday in Arizona but has been postponed indefinitely due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo courtesy of the Israel family)
Menelik “Izzy” Israel was supposed to be in Tucson this week.
He is an 18-year-old center fielder for Norco High, a 6-foot-2, 165-pound junior whose baseball reputation had been growing thanks to his play for the North Carolina-based Canes travel ball organization last summer. He has already committed to Duke, and his baseball education – and future prospects – probably haven’t been hurt by the fact that his father, Mishael Israel, is an associate scout for the Seattle Mariners as well as being involved with the Reggie Smith Baseball Academy.
And the younger Israel was scheduled to play with the big guys. He had been added to the Philippines roster for a qualifying tournament for the 2021 World Baseball Classic, which was supposed to have started Friday in Tucson in a pool with Brazil, Germany, New Zealand, Nicaragua and South Africa, with the top two advancing to next spring’s WBC.
There’s talk that the qualifier might now take place in October, but there is no certainty at this point. And Philippine Amateur Baseball Association president Pepe Munoz was quoted in the Manila Bulletin last week as saying, “We will reorganize the team once we know the next tournament schedule.”
It was to be a huge opportunity, on a roster that was to include one player with major league experience, recently retired utilityman Chase d’Arnaud, and a number of minor leaguers – including the most high-profile player in the minors, former University of Florida and NFL quarterback and current Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow.
“My high school team was going crazy about it,” Israel said via phone. “I’m excited to meet him.”
Tebow qualified because he was born in the Philippines to Christian missionaries. Others who qualify because of some sort of Filipino bloodline include former Cal State Northridge catcher Riley Conlan and older brother Brady, a former Cal State Dominguez Hills player who was hired this winter as a Dodgers minor league hitting instructor; former Dodgers minor leaguer Angelo Songco from Van Nuys and Loyola Marymount; Huntington Beach High grad and Blue Jays minor leaguer Dom Abbadessa and former Santa Monica High pitcher-outfielder Devon Ramirez, who played at both Cal State Dominguez Hills and Cal State L.A.
Bill Picketts, the head baseball coach at L.A. Pierce College who will coach the Philippines team at the behest of MLB, was looking for Filipino-American players, and Mishael Israel said a couple of MLB scouts forwarded Menelik’s name.
The rest of the roster is made up of homegrown Philippine players, many of whom were part of the country’s gold medal-winning team in the Southeast Asian Games, hosted by the Philippines this past December.
The ages of the U.S.-based players on the roster range between 21 and 31. So if and when Israel finally gets thrown into this mix, it will be an education.
“Worst-case scenario, he learns that, ‘Hey, look, I’ve got a long way to go and I need to continue to get better,” his father said. “That’s why we were looking so forward to the WBC. One, for his pride; being raised in the Philippines and (having) huge family out there, and the other was just because of the fact to get that experience under his belt and he’s a junior in high school.”
Menelik qualifies because his mother, Marilou, is Filipino, and he was raised in the Philippines for a decade before moving here. He speaks three Filipino dialects, his dad said, and was raised in that country’s culture.
“She (his mom) is from a place called Udiao Launion,” Mishael said. “You better put that in because her family and her people will be like, ‘Whaaaat? You didn’t mention where she’s from?’”
How good can he be? His scouting report on the Perfect Game website says, among other things:
“Tall and lean, square-shouldered build, high waist, projects well physically. Runs very well, speed is his best tool, has young outfield fundamentals but has the athleticism to keep improving with instruction and repetitions. Right-handed hitter, hits from a wide base with a deep hand load, loose swing with good extension through the ball, line drive approach and will hit to all fields, aggressive hitter who is looking for fastballs.”
“That (summertime experience) really helped boost my confidence and the way I play, and just changed the dynamic of how I play,” he said. “I’m more confident, more relaxed, more calm and I know what I can do because of my performance (on a) high level.”
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His 2020 high school stats posted on MaxPreps, compiled before seasons were suspended, reflected dominance: a .452 batting average and 1.013 OPS in 12 games at Norco with 19 hits, 13 runs scored and 10 RBIs in 43 plate appearances against pitchers who, when they threw fastballs, usually threw them out of the zone and rarely topped 90. This tournament would have been an opportunity for Menelik to be challenged by opposing pitchers throwing real heat, a necessary part of his development.
He professed to being “kind of bummed out” when he learned of the postponement, but his mind seems to be in the right place.
“I guess it’s a good thing,” he said. “It just gave me more time to get better, so I can perform at a better state when they reschedule it and go out there.”
And what do you suppose he’s been doing during his hiatus, with schools closed and games postponed? Working out three days a week at an indoor facility in Murrieta, hitting, throwing and lifting weights.
“It’s all preparation,” he said.