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Archive for December 2009

Know Your Prospects: Melky Mesa, OF, New York Yankees

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If I had to describe New York Yankee’s prospect Melky Mesa in one word, it would be “polarizing.”

Those that scout him have routinely been blown away by his explosive raw power and simultaneously baffled by his superiorly under-developed and sophomoric plate discipline. To add to Mesa’s mystique, he looks like a ballplayer: at 6’1″, 165 pounds, his sinewy and lanky frame is fluid in the outfield and promising in the box.

Baseball America named him the No. 20 prospect in the South Atlantic League for 2009 and also included him in an August 2009 Helium Watch. On Pending Pinstripes, a Yankee’s minor league blog, however, Mesa didn’t even break the organization’s top 30 prospects.

But perhaps Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally said it best: Mesa is a “lottery ticket” with enough “red flags to fight back my adoration of his raw tools.”

Born Melquisedec Mesa, “Melky” was just 16-years-old when the Yankees signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2003. He spent two years in the Dominican Summer League before joining the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2006.

Initially, the Yankees suspected that they had a legitimate five tool player in Mesa: he could hit for average, he had great speed, a good power stroke, a cannon of an arm, and good defensive instincts. But how would these skills translate to a real game on American soil? Would the promising tools develop?

Mesa’s first professional season clearly and succinctly presented the answers to some of those questions: in just 40 games, Mesa struck out 45 times, batted just .201, and posted a subpar on-base percentage of .261. Despite his “world class speed,” Mesa stole just three bases and was caught three times.

He did, however, play great defense.

His 2007 stat line is peculiarly similar. Every positive improvement was hindered by an equally powerful negative. Improvements in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and batting average overshadowed a drastic upturn in strikeouts and a decreased walk rate.

With the New York-Penn League’s Staten Island Yankees in 2008, Mesa showed marked improvement in power. He finally flashed the pop that many thought he would develop, crushing seven homeruns in just 122 at-bats. His OPS jumped a notch over .700 for the first time in his career.

Mesa had found his calling card.

In his first full professional season with the Charleston RiverDogs in 2009, Mesa worked on harboring his game-changing, light tower power at the expense of plate discipline of any kind. He led the team with 20 homeruns, 74 RBI, and 24 doubles. He also, however, led the South Atlantic League with 168 strikeouts in 497 at-bats. He batted just .225.

Because of Mesa’s molasses-like offensive development, he has earned comparisons to Alfonso Soriano, another Dominican Yankee farmhand that didn’t wow anyone until he broke out at an advanced 25-years-old.

Having seen Mesa play a lot in 2009, I firmly believe the comparisons are premature.

At no point in his career has Mesa shown an ability to hit for average, posting measly batting averages of .201, .235, .221, and .225 from 2006-09.

Soriano, by comparison, never hit below .250 at any level he played more than 60 games at. One has to consider Soriano’s putrid playing in Japan a result of the conditions; he was so miserable overseas that he “retired” in order to get out of his contract with the Hiroshima Carp. Sure, it’s not an entirely fair conclusion to make, but clubs don’t usually offer $3.1 million to someone who really stunk it up in the Japanese Central League.

For a 22-year-old still toiling in the low A South Atlantic League, one would think Mesa would attempt to refine his hacking approach at the plate. Still, just once in his four-year professional career has he posted an on-base percentage over .300 (.309 in ’09). For someone who was pitched to “like [he’s ] Barry Bonds” this season, as RiverDogs’ manager Torre Tyson said, you’d think that number would be significantly, if not substantially, higher.

In 2009, the Yankees never promoted Mesa when it seemed most appropriate, when his numbers separated him so far from the rest of the league that it seemed imminent.

That’s a telling judgment of where the club thinks his development is. And it’s justified.

Mesa is Jekyll and Hyde act in the purest sense.

On May 9, 2009, Mesa crushed a game-trying homerun against the Asheville Tourists in the bottom of the ninth inning with two out. I remember the at-bat vividly. He patiently sat on a middle-in fastball and crushed it well beyond the wall in left field.

I also, however, remember a game against the Savannah Sand Gnats late in the same month where he struck out two times on consecutive breaking pitches. He reached into the left-hander’s batter’s box for both, something I’d seen him do multiple times before. He repeated the performance the next night.

Two different nights, two different players: one a five tool star, the other a lost cause.

One thing about Mesa is certain, however.

He is a premier defensive outfielder. His speed plays better in the outfield than on the basepaths and he has a natural knack for route running. His arm is well above-average and could be the best in the Yankee’s farm system (it was definitely the best on Charleston). His 19 outfield assists led the South Atlantic League in 2009.

Mesa is slated to begin 2010 with the Tampa Yankees of the high A Florida State League.

And the promotion should serve as a good barometer for Mesa’s future. Will he thrive in the pitcher friendly F.S.L.? Or will he regress?

Pedroia to play shortstop for Red Sox in 2010?

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If I had kids, I’d let them play around this year’s Hot Stove.

Since nothing of significance has happened this offseason, the country’s baseball analysts have become nothing but rumormongers: “The [insert team name here] have shown interest in [insert 2010 big-time free agent here].”

Rinse, wash, and repeat for the 29 other Major League Baseball teams and voila! you’ve got yourself a newsday.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some gems amidst the rubble. Today, the reputable Peter Gammons revealed that Dustin Pedroia is “all for” a switch to shortstop, the position he played at Arizona State University and in the Red Sox minor league system.

For Theo Epstein and the Red Sox, moving Pedroia to shortstop makes an incredible amount of sense. The market for everyday shortstops hasn’t developed, with Marco Scutaro and Miguel Tejada considered the highlights. If it were 2002, “highlights” would be the operative term here, but in 2008, it pretty much means “the only guys who aren’t terrible.”

But the second base market is much deeper, peppered with former All-Stars like Orlando Hudson and Placido Polanco and serviceable, everyday bats like Ronnie Belliard, Mark DeRosa and Felipe Lopez.

And while none of these options likely provide the Red Sox with future stability, the drastic realignment will shore up the rotating door of ineffective stopgap shortstops the Red Sox have become a laughingstock for trotting out. Since the departure of Nomar Garciaparra in 2004, the Red Sox have used 19 different players to plug the hole, none of them particularly effective or successful.

Nineteen!

Pedroia hasn’t played shortstop since 2006, so this proposed transition obviously wouldn’t be seamless. Still, in 184 games at shortstop during his minor league tenure, he committed just seven errors. And at Arizona State University, he was an All-American.

What’s your take on the situation?