Friday, May 16, 2008

Mark Melancon Is A Monster

Made my way to Trenton last night to see Trenton vs. Portland with top Red Sox pitching prospect Justin Masterson taking the hill. However, the real reason for my visit was the much anticipated arrival of Mark Melancon, who had recently been promoted from A+ Tampa.

I've heard about his flawless make-up, devastating stuff and mad dog mentality on the mound. I'd read several scouting reports on him since the Yankees drafted him in 2006. However, this was the first time I'd seen him in person.

My expectation level was reminiscent of the first time I saw Joba Chamberlain pitch. That night, Joba struck out 12 batters over six scoreless innings.

Melancon was not as dominant - he allowed an earned run over his two innings of work - but you quickly understand why so many scouts drool over the former Arizona closer's ability.

As soon as he entered the game, the crowd perked up, particularly the countless scouts who had lost interest after Masterson coughed up seven earned runs. Seated next to me were Trenton starters Dan McCutchen, George Kontos and Chase Wright, who were all in the house to chart Melancon's pitches and catch a first glimpse of their new closer.

His pitching arsenal:
Fastball: sat at mostly 93-94 mph throughout the outing and topped out at 95 mph.. He threw a more sinking heater at 91 down in the zone. His arm slot is nearly over the top (or basically high three-quarters) making the 94 mph fastball drive downward on hitters and probably seem even faster than it already is. A plus fastball in terms of velocity, movement and command.

The lateral movement it generates, however, may be the most impressive characteristic to the pitch. Melancon is able to command the fastball well inside, though he did leave a few pitches out over the plate, a single and RBI double coming as a result. The majority of the time Melancon's heater bent in and out of the zone as he attacked hitters with a 7-1 lead.
Curveball: The epitome of an outpitch, Melancon possesses an absolute hammer power curveball hovering around 80-81 mph. He showed the ability to drop the pitch in for a called strike as well as bury it in the dirt for swinging strikes. Potentially a plus-plus pitch, Melancon throws it with great conviction and bite.

From my vantage point behind homeplate, the ball just seemed to be on a continuous downward spiral. This comes in part because of Melancon's high release point. Following his fastball, the curve has great depth and simply drops off the table, somewhat like Francisco Rodriguez's big breaking ball. Two of his four strikeouts came on the pitch.
Changeup: An average major league offering, Melancon's change sits in the low 80s. I believe Melancon only threw the pitch twice during his two frames and while it seemed he commanded it well enough to throw it for strikes, the movement and deception was not particularly exceptional. The simple fact of the matter is that Melancon does not need a third pitch to succeed at the major league level. His fastball and curve are that strong.
Barring an injury, there is no doubt in my mind that Melancon will be pitching in New York this Summer. The only question is when and in what capacity. With guys like Dave Robertson, Ross Ohlendorf, Dan McCutchen and possibly Scott Patterson having the ability to set up for Mariano Rivera, Mr. Melancon will have some competition for the eighth inning role. But I'll still put my money on Melancon.

The final line for Melancon's first appearance at AA Trenton: 2 innings; 2 hits; 1 earned run; zero walks; 4 strikeouts.

For what it's worth, Masterson's 87-91 mph sinking fastball has about as much movement as I've ever seen at the minor league level. His secondary pitches - a slider and change - paled in comparison but Masterson's command and movement of his sinker may be good enough that he will rarely need his off speed stuff.

[Photos & Video thanks to The Thunder Blog]

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