The Astros’ 2022 draft class has largely been off to a torrid start at the pro level, but one of their top prizes, reigning Pac-12 player of the year and second round pick Jacob Melton, wasn’t quite as quick out of the gates as were the likes of Drew Gilbert, Ryan Clifford or Zach Dezenzo. Players with Melton’s level of collegiate production (.360/.424/.671 with 17 HR and 21/22 SBs as a junior) tend to breeze through the low minors, and he appeared primed to do just that following his 19 game Low-A debut last season, during which he hit .324/.424/.578 with 4 homers in 85 PAs. He did strike out a less than ideal 20 times, and being that Melton didn’t make quite as much contact as many of his peers in college ball and employs an unorthodox swing and approach, some evaluators were a bit cautious in their projections entering 2023.
Early in the season, the contact concerns appeared to be rearing their head, as Melton got off to a tough start to the season, striking out 12 times in his first 7 games while recording 4 hits. This raised some eyebrows, but a potential alternate explanation was introduced when he was shut down for a week with back discomfort on April 18th. He didn’t immediately catch fire upon his return, but the contact rate did start to creep up once he was back in the lineup on the 25th, and the production gradually improved from late April into mid-May, getting him back over the Mendoza line from his .111 nadir in the early-going. Over the last week though, Melton has truly hit his stride, going 9 for 23 with 3 HR, 2 BB and 5 K to raise his season slash line to .253/.387/.494, and .304/.385/.587 for the month of May. He’s always going to have some swing and miss in his game as he’s always trying to do damage, but the recent heroics certainly suggest that the early struggles were a product of a real injury as opposed to a fundamental flaw in his swing.
The April version of Melton was hesitant to swing, and when he did, those swings often missed. With the back pain at bay, he has been much more aggressive, and his contact has become much more damaging, which is what evaluators hoped and expected to see during his run at Oregon State, where he was an aggressive, flashy player who impacted games with power and speed at the expense of some efficiency. The shape of his swing remains unique, primed to lift and punish low strikes, and there are real, persistent concerns about how that might translate against modern pitching approaches at the upper levels, but those were present before the season got underway and were priced into his organizational top 5 rankings from preseason. Now that he has found his groove at an age appropriate level, those rankings should be on solid footing. The jump to Double-A is a potential stumbling block for his profile, and we’ll learn much more about him once he makes that transition- if he can maintain something close to his recent pace, that could come at some point this summer.