Early in the 2021 season, there has been no bigger revelation in the Astros farm system than 19 year old righty Jaime Melendez. An international acquisition who signed for a smaller bonus, Melendez, who hails from Puebla, Mexico, stands just 5’8”, which in years past would’ve been considered a good reason to write him off. While there are well-documented disadvantages for shorter pitchers, in recent years teams have become more aware of the benefits that a more compact frame can provide, and as a result, Melendez’ size adds to his intrigue more than anything.
As we’ve gotten access to more and more pitch data, it has become easier to quantify the effects of different pitch attributes, and one that has proven to be particularly impactful is vertical approach angle. Traditionally, steeper approach angles were valued for their tendency to create ground ball contact, but modern analysis has demonstrated that very flat approach angles are able to generate an even more highly coveted outcome very effectively: swinging strikes. There are several factors that impact a pitch’s VAA, but the most impactful, and most stable over time, of those is also the easiest to scout visually: release height.
It goes without saying that a 5’8” pitcher like Melendez is going to sport one of the lower release heights around, especially when we consider that he doesn’t use an especially high arm slot either. As a result, his fastball, which has solid but unspectacular velocity and movement qualities in the 92-95 range, is able to create a lot of results like this one:
92 MPH high cheese for the K pic.twitter.com/w4T8nb1u9u— Spencer Morris (@ProspectSpencer) June 11, 2021
Low-A hitters were completely overmatched by Melendez, and this probably shouldn’t have come as too big of a surprise. Flat VAA pitchers tend to perform very well at lower levels of the minor leagues, as they are far less common than their 6’0”+/running fastball counterparts, and younger pros haven’t had enough experience against them to adapt to the unique look. Melendez also sports advanced command, particularly of the fastball, and a nascent ability to tunnel his breaking ball off the heater. The bite on the breaker comes and goes, but the shape on it can show a lot of promise, and he’s been able to freeze Low-A opponents with it with frequency:
Jaime Melendez - 3 pitch K sequence pic.twitter.com/847zeAW0ZY— Spencer Morris (@ProspectSpencer) June 11, 2021
It’s likely that Melendez will face some kind of adjustment point at some point as he continues to shoot up the ladder, but it may not happen in Asheville. We do tend to see hitters get wiser to this kind of fastball higher on the ladder, but generally if these kinds of hurlers are going to hit a harsh adjustment period, it happens in the upper minors. His ability to move his flat-angled fastball around the zone, messing with hitters’ eyes and mixing in a developing arsenal of secondaries is a lot to deal with for A-ball competition, and his simple, athletic delivery allows him to execute it all with consistency.
Melendez’ Playstation-level numbers thus far in 2021— 0.49 ERA, 7 H, 38 K, 5 BB in 18 and 1⁄3 innings while roughly 2 years younger than his opponents on average— speak for themselves, and while it’d be fair to say he’s doing it with a bit of smoke and mirrors, it’s the kind of sustainable deception that should help his stuff play up for most, if not all, of his career. It’s probably a stretch to project him as a long term starting pitcher, but his tanky build, simple delivery and ability to locate could allow him to continue in a multi-inning relief role all the way up the ladder if the secondaries are sharpened up a bit. He’s one of the best stories in the organization this year and is trending towards placements on midseason Astros farm rankings.