Breaking down the draft: some requests

Before I begin, let me first thank everybody who e-mailed me for requests on various players drafted last June. I’ll keep all those requests in mind for future reports.

I have broken down these requests into various segments rather than one big, long article. That allows a more concentrated focus on each player, and frankly, is easier on me. Today, we’ll look at three players: Tim Melville, Kyle Russell and Xavier Avery.

50. Xavier Avery | CF | Baltimore Orioles

Avery wasn’t drafted for his baseball skills or because he would move quickly through the minors. He was drafted because he is an excellent athlete with plenty of tools that his organization will try to mold into results.

The biggest problem I have with Avery—and picks like him—is that it isn’t just his tools that will need to be molded into results. He has to learn how to recognize pitch types, develop adequate plate discipline, and notice pitcher tendencies, among other things. He also has to overhaul his swing to produce desired results.

Avery’s swing mechanics are inconsistent. He opens his hips too soon and can let his swing get long and armsy, meaning he is relying mostly on his arms to generate bat speed. He displays these qualities in the clip below:

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Other times, Avery will maintain a shorter swing. However, he’ll also get too handsy, pushing his hands out in front to achieve “extension,” which is helps neutralize a player’s power. The hands and hips should be turning together on a firm front leg.

Avery does display good bat speed when he lets the ball travel deep into his hitting zone, but he doesn’t do that often enough. Avery’s initial appearance in the Gulf Coast League was a mixed bag. He started off dreadfully (.482 OPS in June), but bounced back with a .744 OPS in July and a .681 OPS in August. He hit for a .280 average, but displayed little power (.057 ISO) and more importantly, displayed little plate discipline or patience (1:5 BB:K ratio and a base-on-balls percentage of just 5). Avery did show a good feel on the base paths with 13 steals in 16 attempts.

Avery has a lot of development ahead and likely won’t find himself on a major league roster for years. On the plus side, as a center fielder, Avery’s bat doesn’t have to be special for him to succeed.

93. Kyle Russell | LF | Los Angeles Dodgers

Russell’s stock dropped a little after he failed to improve on his numbers from his sophomore season at Texas. Both the batting average and the power dropped off and his OPS went from 1.263 to 1.087. Russell ended up dropping to the third round of the draft.

The problem for Russell involves contact and there are two big reasons for this:

1. In last year’s draft review article, Carlos Gomez pointed out the need to adjust Russell’s swing plane to make sure the bat head stayed in the hitting zone for a longer period.

This is still a problem for Russell. Watch how little time his bat stays in the hitting zone—with his bat in the zone for as little time as it is, you can expect Russell to swing and miss an awful lot. His current swing plane is very much an uppercut. As you would expect, Russell hits a lot of fly balls (close to 70 percent of his batted balls for the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League were in the air), which will naturally lend itself to more home runs.

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2. Russell also has a long swing. He’s able to generate terrific bat speed, but it takes him longer to produce that bat speed. As a result, Russell has to start his swing a little earlier than normal, which gives him less time to judge the pitch’s type and location.

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Probelms notwithstanding, when Russell does make contact, the ball travels an awfully long way. He shifts his weight forward, plants firmly on his front leg and then rotates his hands and hips together as the ball travels deep into his hitting zone.

The biggest question with Russell is obviously whether he can make enough contact to hit at the major league level. You can alleviate some problems by adjusting the swing plane, which I think is a relatively easy adjustment. But can he shorten the swing, which is a much tougher thing to do? He needs to quicken his bat without losing much of the bat speed he is able to generate from his longer swing. Russell has passed his first test by dominating a league he was probably too old for. But the red flag remains: a 31.4 strikeout percentage. Russell had to use a .390 BABIP just to hit for a .274 batting average.

It only gets tougher from here, and he likely will have to make some sort of adjustment to make more contact.

115. Tim Melville | RHP | Kansas City Royals

You can see why scouts drool at his velocity potential. Melville has a very projectable frame and is said to throw anywhere from 90-95 mph, though I have not seen him reach 94 or 95 mph. He does this with a pretty slow tempo, which I add up to around 27 frames. His windup also looks smooth, and combined with the slow tempo, you can see why his fastball velocity looks harder than it really is.

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Melville could add velocity if he sped up his delivery or at the very least increase his perceived velocity. One thing that may be limiting Melville’s velocity is the way he plants his front foot. It lands in a closed position and as a result he is cutting his hip rotation short, which you can see below:

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This not only is an issue with velocity, but also injury risk. Because the foot lands closed, Melville is forced to throw more across his body. He’s also not maximizing the stretch between his hips and torso/shoulder, so he has to use more of his arm to generate velocity.

My advice would be to simply change the path his front leg takes as it strides into foot plant. He could do a couple of things:

1. Instead of bringing the leg around into foot plant, drop it in more of a direct line toward home plate. Aaron Crow, draft pick of the Washington Nationals and now pitcher with the Fort Wayne Cats of the Independent League because he didn’t sign, does this very well. You can see it illustrated in the clip below:

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This would require a change in how Melville initiates his hip rotation and builds momentum before planting. Rather than using what I call his “kick out” move, he instead uses a step-over move to increase the stride length and pick up an extra dose of momentum just before planting his front foot. Kicking out or following a straight path both trigger similar results, but I think the straight path makes it easier to plant the foot in a more open position.

Melville may be more comfortable kicking out, but he kicks out fairly softly. He might want to kick out more aggressively, which would help make his hip rotation more forceful. Accompanying any changes in stride would be the need to adjust other areas of a pitcher’s mechanics to correct for any timing differences in the delivery. Any adjustments made to Melville need to be done in a way where it feels natural and comfortable for him.

Lastly: Melville’s arm. I’m sure many of you noticed his elbow going above the shoulder during his delivery. Brett Marshall, a player I profiled recently, had a similar arm action and here is what I said about it:

One reason the injury risk rises is that it can delay the external rotation, which occurs when the forearm appears “lay back” as the arm is rotating into release. The elbow goes above the shoulder, but drops back down just as the front shoulder begins to open. In an effort to keep up with the opening of his front shoulder, Marshall’s rotation is faster, more forceful. This is good for velocity, but perhaps more stressful on the shoulder because again, more force is being applied to the shoulder.

That’s just a theory. Until we get actual research and evidence of its effects, all we are dealing with is speculation.

Don’t get confused, however. The general feeling is that the more velocity you throw with, the more stress you put on the arm. Since the “M” type arm action speeds up the arm and can increase velocity, we also have to assume that more stress is placed on the arm.

The bottom line on Melville is that he is a projectable pitcher with an above-average fastball with the potential to be plus, an inconsistent but plus-flashing curve ball, and a still-developing change-up. Combining these qualities with his good command and a strong makeup, Melville is a high school pitcher who could rise quickly. His upside is somewhere around a solid No. 2 starter.

Next time, we’ll look at Seth Lintz (Brewers), Craig Kimbrel (Braves) and Robert Grossman (Pirates).

References & Resources
For more articles related to the 2008 draft, please click here
MLB Scouting Bureau
Perfect Game
First Inning

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