Know Your Prospects: Melky Mesa, OF, New York Yankees

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Know Your Prospects: Melky Mesa, OF, New York Yankees

If I had to describe New York Yankee's prospect Melky Mesa in one word, it would be "polarizing."

Those that scout him have routinely and simultaneously been blown away by his explosive raw power and baffled by his superiorly under-developed and sophomoric plate discipline. To add to Mesa's mystique, he  looks like a ballplayer : at 6'1", 165 pounds, his sinewy and lanky frame is fluid in the outfield and promising in the box.

Baseball America  named him the No. 20 prospect in the South Atlantic League  for 2009 and also included him in an August 2009 Helium Watch. On Pending Pinstripes, a Yankee's minor league blog, however, Mesa didn't even break the organization's top 30 prospects .

But perhaps Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally  said it best: Mesa is a "lottery ticket" with enough "red flags to fight back my adoration of his raw tools."

Born Melquisedec Mesa, "Melky" was just 16-years old when the Yankees signed him as a non-drafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2003. He spent two years in the Dominican Summer League before joining the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2006.

Initially, the Yankees suspected that they had a legitimate five tool player in Mesa: he could hit for average, he had great speed, a good power stroke, a cannon of an arm, and good defensive instincts. But how would these skills translate to a real game on American soil? Would the promising tools develop?

Mesa's first professional season clearly and succinctly presented the answers to some of those questions: in just 40 games, Mesa struck out 45 times, batted just .201, and posted a subpar on-base percentage of .261. Despite his "world class speed ," Mesa stole just three bases and was caught three times.

He did, however, play great defense.

His 2007 stat line is peculiarly similar. Every positive improvement was hindered by an equally powerful negative. Improvements in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and batting average overshadowed a drastic upturn in strikeouts and a decreased walk rate.

With the New York-Penn League's Staten Island Yankees in 2008, Mesa showed marked improvement in power. He finally flashed the pop that many thought he would develop, crushing seven home runs in just 122 at-bats. His OPS jumped a notch over .700 for the first time in his career.

Mesa had found his calling card.

In his first full professional season with the Charleston RiverDogs in 2009, Mesa worked on harboring his game-changing, light tower power at the expense of plate discipline of any kind. To go along with 20 home runs, 24 doubles and seven triples, he led the South Atlantic League with 168 strikeouts in 497 at-bats. Almost half of his hits went for extra bases. He batted just .225.

Because of Mesa's molasses-like offensive development, he has earned comparisons to Alfonso Soriano, another Dominican Yankee farmhand that didn'twow  anyone until he broke out at an advanced 25-years old.

Having seen Mesa play a lot in 2009, I firmly believe the comparisons are premature.

At no point in his career has Mesa shown an ability to hit for average, posting measly batting averages of .201, .235, .221, and .225 from 2006-09.

Soriano, by comparison, never hit below .250 at any level he played more than 60 games at. One has to consider Soriano's putrid playing in Japan a result of the conditions; he was so miserable overseas that he "retired" in order to get out of his contract with the Hiroshima Carp. Sure, it's not an entirely fair conclusion to make, but clubs don't usually offer $3.1 million to someone who really stunk it up in the Japanese Central League.

For a 22-year-old still toiling in the low A South Atlantic League, one would think Mesa would refine his hacking approach at the plate. Still, just once in his four-year professional career, he posted an on-base percentage over .300 (.309 in '09). For someone who was pitched to "like [he's ] Barry Bonds" this season, as RiverDogs' manager Torre Tyson said, you'd think that number would be significantly, if not substantially, higher.

The Yankees never promoted Mesa in 2009 when it seemed most appropriate, when his numbers separated him from the rest of the league so far that a call up seemed imminent. That's a telling judgment of where the club thinks his development is.

And it's justified. Mesa is Jekyll and Hyde act in the purest sense.

On May 9, 2009, Mesa crushed a game-trying home run against the Asheville Tourists in the bottom of the ninth inning with two out. I remember the at-bat vividly. He sat on a middle-in fastball and crushed it well beyond the wall in left field.

I also, however, remember a game against the Savannah Sand Gnats late in the same month where he struck out two times on consecutive breaking pitches. He reached into the left-hander's batter's box for both, something I'd seen him do multiple times before. To add insult, he did the same thing the next night.

Three different nights, two different players: one a five tool star, the other a lost cause.

One thing about Mesa is certain, however: he is a premier defensive outfielder. His speed plays better in the outfield than on the basepaths and he has a natural knack for route running. His arm is well above-average and could be the best in the Yankee's farm system. His 19 outfield assists led the South Atlantic League in 2009.

Mesa is slated to begin 2010 with the Tampa Yankees of the high A Florida State League.

The promotion should serve as a good barometer for Mesa's future. Will he thrive in the pitcher friendly FSL? Or will he regress?

This article can be found at Blogging About Baseball .

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