MELANCON THE NEXT JOBA?
ON THE MARK: Mark Melancon, picked in
the Yanks’ 2006 draft that included Joba
Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and several
other players projected to have big futures,
could make a quick ascension to The Bronx,
say Yanks officials.
February 25, 2008 -- TAMPA - Attention shifted from the main diamond at Legends Field in mid-afternoon yesterday. Alex Rodriguez had begun signing autographs down the right-field line and the roughly 200 fans who had stuck out an entire workout on a hot, sunny afternoon either raced to the area or focused upon it.
They very possibly missed Next.
Mark Melancon did not pitch an inning last season. He has pitched 62/3 innings in his entire minor league career. Yet, Yankees officials speculate Melancon could pull a Joba, emulating Mr. Chamberlain by rocketing from the Florida State League to late-inning Yankee relevance in one season. This season.
"I thank Joba for opening that door," Melancon said after a simulated two-inning batting practice session.
The scouting report on Melancon is above-average fastball with command (though his control was sketchy yesterday), a power curve that some in the organization equate as an out pitch to Chamberlain's slider and, as Nick Green, who hit against him in the BP session, said an ability to hide the ball in his delivery. However, what every Yankees official cites as Melancon's greatest asset is a serious, professional, determined makeup.
"This guy wants to compete and will not get rattled," minor league pitching coordinator Nardi Contreras said.
Sixteen months removed from Tommy John surgery, Melancon will begin in Single-A Tampa's pen and try to further build on the positive results of a 2006 Yankees draft that already has delivered Chamberlain and Kennedy, a draft that is appearing as a seminal moment in franchise history.
For there are many events over the past few years that accentuate the Yanks' attempted shift toward a more youthful hue, beginning with the early-season 2005 promotions of Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. But the 2006 draft just might be the most symbolic episode because of its marriage of amended philosophy to successful execution.
That was the first draft in which GM Brian Cashman participated fully and the first in which VP of Pro Scouting Damon Oppenheimer was empowered to take whomever he wanted, regardless of cost. The night before that draft, despite Kennedy's sub-par junior season and falling stock, Oppenheimer told Cashman he wanted the USC righty based on the totality of Kennedy's college career and solid work with Team USA.
Many organizations shied away from Chamberlain because of health (knee/shoulder) concerns. But the Yanks were encouraged by their head minor league trainer Mark Littlefield's reports. And when Cleveland took the other player on the Yankees board with near Chamberlain's rating, UCLA lefty David Huff, with the 39th pick, the Yanks grabbed Joba two picks later.
If the Yanks were to get nothing else from that process besides Kennedy and Chamberlain, it would be considered an excellent draft. But the Yanks think they will get more. Oppenheimer said the Yanks "felt blessed" how the draft fell, allowing them to grab six players ranked in the top 70 on their board: Kennedy, Chamberlain, Melancon, Zach McAllister, Dellin Betances and Colin Curtis. The Yanks also believe pitchers from that draft such as George Kontos and Daniel McCutchen, particularly, but perhaps David Robertson and Tim Norton, too, have a chance as major league relievers.
One NL talent evaluator called it a "high-end draft." An AL executive, however, while terming the picks "very good" said "do not attribute it to genius" because the Yanks simply overpaid to get a high-ceiling player such as Betances to forego Vanderbilt and sign.
But this was part of the new philosophy, to use the money advantage here to stop wasting money in the free-agent market. And in many ways Melancon was representative of where the organization was going. He was classified a mid-first round talent while closing at Arizona, but had to be shut down as a junior. It became obvious he would need elbow surgery. But playing their new risk, high-reward strategy, the Yanks still took him in the ninth round and gave him second-round-type dough ($600,000) to sign, willing to spend and wait for elite talents.
As they would later show in trading for Humberto Sanchez and using a first-round pick on Andrew Brackman, they were not concerned about doing Tommy John surgery on a big talent. And now Melancon has rehabbed. He is in big-league camp, hinting at more big-league action. In 2008.
Maybe he is Next.