Oregon native Jacob Melton wasn’t exactly earmarked as a future day one draft pick in his prep days and wasn’t drafted out of high school, but did enough in the often underscouted Pacific Northwest to earn a spot at one of the region’s premier programs. His freshman year was all but wiped out by the pandemic, but he worked his way into regular action in 2021, hitting .404/.466/.697 in 32 games (117 PAs) to put himself squarely on the draft radar. While that torrid pace was all but impossible to match, Melton came awfully close as a redshirt sophomore this past season, slashing .360/.424/.671 across a larger 295 PA sample, hitting 17 HR while adding 21 stolen bases to give himself some of the best top-level statistics in Power 5 play.
It’s hard not to be impressed by that kind of production in one of the better conferences in college baseball, but the pro evaluation wasn’t perfectly straightforward for a couple of reasons. Most prominently, Melton’s strikeout rate, while manageable at 17.2%, was a bit behind the pack when compared to other top collegiate prospects, and his 8.8% walk rate was also a bit below average. Additionally, Melton’s swing aesthetics raised some eyebrows, as his bat path and lower body actions are both a bit unorthodox.
The under the hood plate discipline data was also a bit funky- he did a disproportionate amount of his damage against secondaries, at times appearing to hunt them at the college level. His ability to track offspeed and breaking stuff made this a viable strategy, but it also led to occasional issues with both chasing well outside the zone and some dubious takes within it. His overall swing/chase rates were within healthy ranges even if they didn’t stand out, but it was fair to wonder how this kind of approach might translate to the pro game. The combination of these factors led to a lower perceived confidence level in his future contact ability than other day one candidates from the college position player pool.
Helping to buoy Melton’s stock is some significant defensive potential. While he may not quite be a slam dunk stick in center field, he has good odds to stay there with above average to plus raw speed and above average arm strength. His actions in the outfield could use some rounding out, but plenty of big league center fielders have started with less. The Astros organization has done a good job polishing up this type of athlete on defense, so I think there’s reason for optimism as far as Melton staying up the middle is concerned, which would take a good deal of pressure off of his bat vs. an outfield corner role.
We got a brief look at Melton in full-season ball after his signing, and the early results were largely encouraging, even if a 19 game sample isn’t really enough to draw any real conclusions. In 82 PAs, Melton slashed an impressive .324/.424/.577 with 4 home runs, 4 stolen bases, and a walk rate of 13.4%. His strikeout rate did remain on the higher side at 24.3%, but teams can certainly stomach that kind of figure if the quality of contact and walk rate are there to support it. If nothing else, it’s a strong starting point for Melton as he gets to work tweaking his approach for the pro game. Perhaps the optimistic view of his hitting style will be the correct one and only minor changes will be necessary, but it’s also possible that the upper levels could demand a proper revamp. Until we see him against fastballs of a consistently high quality, it could be tough to make a final judgment there. I would expect the Astros to go ahead and push him to High-A Asheville to start 2023 despite his limited pro experience, but Double-A is where we’ll really start to learn a lot about his trajectory in my view.