Mark Melancon | RHP
Melancon was born in Wheat Ridge, CO and grew up in nearby Golden, just outside of Denver. He attended Golden High School, where he lettered all four years in baseball and basketball and three times in football. He helped capture the National Championship in baseball, winning the clinching game after doubling off Ian Kennedy earlier in the double elimination tournament. Melancon was named to the All-State Team twice in his career (as well as twice in football and once in basketball) and graduated as a member of the National Honors Society.
Despite being rated the third best prospect in the state by Baseball America, Melancon was not a major prospect for the 2003 Draft. The Dodgers grabbed him the 30th round, adding him to a haul that included Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, Russ Martin and Andy LaRoche. Melancon didn’t sign, instead following through on his commitment to The University of Arizona.
Melancon established himself as a strong contributor out of the bullpen as a true freshman, allowing just 55 hits and 19 walks against 46 strikeouts in 62.1 IP. He set a single season freshman record by making twenty-nine appearances, and followed that up by going 2-0 with two saves in five postseason appearances as Arizona returned to the College World Series for the first time since 1986. The Wildcats went 1-2 in the CWS, losing twice to Georgia in the double elimination tournament. While pitching for the USA National Team over the summer Melancon made ten appearances and led the club with five saves. He allowed just seven baserunners (all hits) and zero runs in 12.2 IP.
After his dominant performance with the National Team, Melancon was given Arizona’s closer’s job as a sophomore and he had another record breaking season. He topped his freshman mark by appearing in thirty-four of the team’s sixty games, and also set a new single season record by notching eleven saves (potential ’09 first rounder Jason Stoffel broke the record with thirteen saves last year). Melancon’s 66.1 innings was more than anyone on the staff outside the team’s top two starters, and he finished the year with a 1.10 WHIP and 9.40 Kper9. The Wildcats went 2-2 in the Regionals, losing a doubleheader to Cal State Fullerton to end their bid for a second consecutive trip to Omaha. Melancon finished the year with fourteen career saves, tied for most in school history.
Prior to his junior season Melancon was one of forty players named to the watch list for the Roger Clemens Award, which is given each season to college baseball’s best pitcher. Arizona’s pitching staff was stretched thin because of graduation and injury in 2006, and Melancon was forced to work an even heavier workload than usual. He set the school’s career saves record in the second game of the year, throwing three hitless innings against Loyola Marymount. After racking up 39.1 IP over just fourteen appearances (1.25 WHIP, 11.9 Kper9) Melancon came down with elbow pain which was ultimately diagnosed as a strained elbow ligament. He didn’t require surgery, however he was shut down in early April and didn’t pitch the rest of the season. Melancon finished his Wildcat career with 18 saves, the most in school history (Stoffel has since tied that mark, and will assuredly break it this year).
Melancon was considered a borderline first round talent prior to his junior season, when Baseball America rated him the top prospect in the state, the 14th best college prospect, and the 35th best draft prospect overall. His injury killed his stock because teams feared he would need Tommy John surgery. Melancon ultimately fell to the ninth round, when the Yanks grabbed him with the 284th overall pick. The Yankees were satisfied with condition of his elbow following an MRI, and signed him to a well-above slot $600,000 bonus, the equivalent of mid-second round money. He was assigned to Short Season Staten Island after a brief tune-up at homebase in Tampa.
Melancon got into seven regular season games with the Baby Bombers after signing, then picked up the save in both of Staten Island’s wins in the NY-Penn League Finals, recording four outs without incident (two strikeouts) to clinch the title in the deciding Game Three. The Yankees sent Melancon to the reborn Hawaii Winter Baseball league after the season for extra work, however he had to be shut down after just four appearances because of elbow soreness. Melancon underwent Tommy John surgery in November 2006 and missed the entire 2007 regular season.
Melancon didn’t suffer any setbacks during his rehab, and he attended Instructional League in both Tampa and the Dominican in the fall of 2007. Not only did he finish the six week camp in the Dominican, he moved in with teammate Jairo Heredia and stuck around for a few weeks of extra work. After the season he returned to Tuscon and took twenty one hours of college courses towards completing his degree.
The Yankees invited Melancon to Major League Spring Training in 2008, and he picked up the save in his only appearance with the big boys before being assigned to minor league camp. He began the year in High-A Tampa, but he was promoted to Double-A Trenton in mid-May after just 25.1 strong innings (2.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP). Melancon was even more dominant in Trenton, throwing 49.2 innings of 1.81 ERA & 0.89 WHIP ball before being bumped up the Triple-A Scranton at the end of July.
At his best with Scranton, Melancon put up a 0.75 WHIP in 20 innings down the stretch, helping the Yanks to the postseason. He was his usual shutdown self in the playoffs, allowing just two baserunners against three strikeouts in two appearances as Scranton took home the International League Title. All told, Melancon threw 95 innings over just 44 appearances on the season, allowing just 69 hits (.202 avg against) and 22 walks while striking out 89 and posting a 1.54 GB/FB ratio.
Melancon regained his pre-TJ stuff by the end of 2008, sitting 92-94 and touching 96 with good life on his fastball. His out pitch is a hard 12-to-6 curveball that he can drop in for strike one or use to get chases for strike three. He toyed with a splitter in college, however the Yanks had him scrap in favor of a true changeup that is now a usable third pitch. Melancon commands his two main pitches extremely well, and he often threw ten or fewer pitches per inning last season, leading to so many multiple inning outings.
The biggest drawback for Melancon is his delivery. He’s a max effort guy that comes straight over the top, although the Yanks have been working to clean it up his motion since he signed. It does benefit him slightly however, because it adds deception and creates a steep downhill plane for his pitches. Until he smooths it out, he’ll always be an injury risk. Now twenty-six months out of surgery, Melancon is officially clear of the procedure. Perhaps his best tool is his work ethic and makeup, which is off the charts and has been lauded since high school.
You can see his MLB Scouting Bureau video here. You can also check out Melancon closing out the NY-Penn League Title Game here (via Robert Pimpsner), as well as a slew of clips from last year here (via Mike Ashmore).
Melancon was worthy of a September call up last year, but the Yanks choose to shut him down after such a large workload during the season. He’ll compete for a bullpen job in Spring Training, but may have to settle for a return trip to Scranton because of the numbers crunch. It’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that he’ll make his big league debut at some point in 2009, perhaps as early as May. He’ll be Rule 5 Draft eligible after the season, but it would be an upset if he wasn’t on the 40-man roster by then.
Colorado has history of producing quality big league pitchers (Roy Halladay & Goose Gossage are the most notable), and it looks like the state has produced another gem in Melancon. Like everyone else, I love the kid. As if his stuff wasn’t good enough, his all-out attack approach and outstanding makeup are just icing on the cake. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t force his way to the big league bullpen by June, and there’s a good chance he could become one of Joe Girardi’s most trusted relievers in the second half. I look forward to seeing him march out of the Yanks’ bullpen for many years to come.
Photo Credit: Reuters Pictures