Melville Combines Intriguing Size And Velocity
Missouri righthander is draft's top prep arm
WENTZVILLE, Mo.—When Joel Adam answered the phone, the first words out of the caller's mouth were, "Oh my God."
Before Adam had time to react to the message, he realized the caller was Todd Arnold, the cross-country coach at Holt High in Wentzville. It was a calm September day in 2004, and Adam, the school's baseball coach, was certainly confused by his colleague's message.
Arnold had just witnessed one of his freshman runners idly stop and pick up a baseball off the school's track. Casually, the tall youngster, a month shy of his 15th birthday, told those around him that he thought he could throw the baseball through the football uprights at the other end of the field.
The "oh yeahs" and "sure, un-huhs" followed. The boy then cleared out some space, took his time, and fired the ball directly through the goalposts. Arnold later told Adam the throw had to cover at least 330 feet.
Arnold immediately called Adam to tell him what he had just witnessed, providing Adam with his first eye-witness account of the kind of magic Tim Melville could perform with a baseball in his right hand.
Adam had heard about Melville, a transfer student from Chesapeake, Va., but had yet to meet him. Melville's mother, Valerie, had accepted a job with U.S. Bank and moved to the area over the summer with Tim and her younger twin daughters. Already aware that her son had a bright baseball future, she called the coach to question him about the school's baseball program before buying a house in the district.
"She asked me about our success in recent years, asked about having scouts at our games," Adam recalled. After politely answering all of her questions, Adam remembers hanging up the phone and thinking, "Wow, all that and the kid's a freshman."
Baseball workouts soon began, and when Melville stepped on the mound and threw a fastball 90 miles per hour, there was no doubt in Adam's mind how special the future could turn out to be.
He had just sent a pitcher out of his program and on to Missouri State, a lefthander named Ross Detwiler, who three years later would be selected sixth overall by the Nationals in the 2007 draft. A month away from the 2008 draft, Adam is convinced he is about to send another pitcher off to the pros as a first-round selection.
"A lot of coaches, if they have one kid get drafted that high, they feel very lucky," Adam said. "To have two of them is almost unheard of."
A Legend Is Born
The stories of Melville's success have become legendary in the area. There was his first high school home run, a grand slam. There was the no-hitter against Francis Howell Central High, and the perfect game against Borgia High, when he recorded 15 strikeouts.
As a freshman, Melville was 5-1, 1.09 with one save and 71 strikeouts in 45 innings. He pitched just five innings as a sophomore because of a mild shoulder injury, but returned to the mound full time as a junior last year and went 10-1 (his only loss coming in a relief appearance), 0.89 with one save and 117 strikeouts in 63 innings. For good measure, he also hit .443.
As a senior this spring, Melville has had to overcome not only high expectations and constant observation from scouts, but other hurdles as well. This was a particularly wet spring throughout the Midwest, affecting all prospects, but Melville also had to deal with the death of his grandmother and a freak injury in gym class, when a hockey puck struck him directly in his eye.
Melville was 5-1, 3.53 in 40 innings toward the end of spring. He had allowed 30 hits and 15 walks while striking out 62 batters in seven games. He also had a team-high seven homers and 20 RBIs while hitting .404 in 70 plate appearances.
He earned a complete game victory over Fort Zumwalt South High in a recent outing in which eight of the first 11 outs came by strikeout. He finished the game with 14 strikeouts and only one walk in a 5-4 victory. His fastball was clocked at 93 mph in the seventh inning.
"The wet weather and all of the indoor practices have held him back," Adam said, "but I believe he is starting to find his groove."
Having grown to 6-foot-5 and a solid 200 pounds, Melville's fastball now regularly reaches the mid-90s. He also has an above-average curveball and changeup. If that physical talent was not enough to separate him from other high school pitchers, Melville also has a mental makeup and an amazing knowledge of pitching not typically found in an 18-year-old.
"The mental side of the game is huge with Tim," Valerie Melville said. "Deciding what pitch to throw in different situations, analyzing his pitches. He's like somebody who is passionate about collecting something or working with cars or something like that. Transfer that passion into a pitcher and that's Tim. He's at a whole different level than anybody I know."
An Artist's Touch
When he was younger, Melville did not have the typical posters of major league stars on the walls of his bedroom. His posters were about the art of pitching and the art of throwing a baseball. Like a typical teenager, though, those posters have now been replaced with photos of swimsuit models.
Melville is still just as serious about wanting to know as much as possible about pitching. He worked with former major leaguer Gary Lavelle when the family lived in Virginia, and now takes private lessons with former major leaguer Pat Perry. "Five minutes into the conversation the first time Pat and Tim met they were talking about grips and seams and it was immediately over my head," Valerie Melville said. "They were in hog heaven. They knew what each other was talking about."
Perry, who sees up to 200 young pitchers a week, has known there is something unique about Melville ever since their first meeting.
"Tim might be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of guy for me," Perry said. "I hope I get to work with another one like him. He is far ahead of other kids in terms of evaluating what he is doing and as far as his feel for the game. He is a great student. He is only going to get better."
That opinion is shared by most scouts who have seen Melville pitch.
"He's a big kid with a good arm," said Phillies scouting director Mike Arbuckle, one of four baseball executives in town to see Melville pitch in late April. "With all of the wet weather, you just have to mix in what you saw last summer and hope you got enough looks to put it all together."
Melville's final outings before the draft will certainly impact his standing, but at least one scout thinks teams pay more attention to a prospect's complete body of work when making their evaluation and decision.
"Teams do a lot better job of that now than they used to," said veteran scout Marty Maier, now a scouting supervisor with the Royals. "Scouts see kids in the summer and evaluate them over a longer period of time, not just what they do in the spring of their draft year."
The Melvilles have had time to prepare a strategy for the draft, since Tim has been considered a prospect since early in his high school career.
"I'm trying to learn enough not to be ignorant," she said. "It has been kind of interesting when the scouts come to visit with us. They see me bring out the milk and cookies, and then I say something like, 'I see you drafted so-and-so last year, what are you looking for from him?' I try to talk the talk."
There is no mistake that mother and son know millions of dollars will be at stake after the draft. Melville picked North Carolina over Arizona State for a college choice, but realistically there is little chance that he will ever wear Carolina blue.
"I want to play," he says. "I've always been like that. Even when I was a kid, if I started to watch a game on television, I would get bored and want to go out and play. I still would rather be out playing unless it is somebody I know on the television."
One of Adam's prized possessions is a baseball he has signed by both Detwiler and Melville. Detwiler already has become the first member of the 2007 draft class to pitch in the major leagues and Adam believes it will only be a matter of time before Melville joins him there.
The superintendent of the Wentzville school district must agree. He recently sent two baseballs to Adam and asked the coach to get Melville to autograph them for him, a task Adam accomplished.
Four years after Melville picked up that baseball and fired it through the goalpost, he is still doing things other high school students could only dream about.
Rob Rains is a freelance writer based in St. Louis