Round Rock, Day Two: Catching up with Mark Melancon.

Mark Melancon was diplomatic when I asked him about how he felt to be traded from the Yankees to the Astros, calling the whole experience exciting and different, while expressing his appreciation to his former club.

But I’ll bluntly say what Melancon did not: this trade was a very good thing for him, because he went from an organization that is stacked from top to bottom to one that has more holes than swiss cheese.

Holes create opportunities for unproven players. When you’re an unproven player in an organization deep in talent, those opportunities are far fewer than if you’re in one working its way out of troubled times.

An organization’s first responsibility is to build a farm system with its own players by drafting them, signing them, developing them and getting them to the big leagues in a reasonable amount of time. But another very important element is an ability to identify its own weaknesses, find a team with a surplus in that area and, if all of the stars are aligned, strike a deal.

Melancon wasn’t touted as a top Yankees prospect at the time of the trade, but if you dig a little deeper, the Astros appear to have something here. He’s 25, throws between 92 and 94 mph and has four pitches: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball and changeup. And he’s working on a cutter.

Melancon has Major League experience, having been up with the Yankees three separate times last year and twice this year. Originally a ninth-round selection of the Yankees in 2006, the 6-foot-2, 215 pound right-hander has a 2.84 ERA over 123 Minor League appearances and in the big leagues, he has a combined ERA of 4.87 over 15 relief appearances.

He’s not years away from the big leagues as are the low-level prospects teams often get in return when they trade away a high-priced veteran. Look for Melancon compete for a job during Spring Training next year and don’t be surprised if he makes an appearance with the Astros when rosters expand to 40 on Sept. 1.

I wonder if this is sort of like the Dan Wheeler trade from six years ago. The Astros got him from the Mets for Adam Seuss, and before the year was over, Wheeler was one of the most reliable arms in the back end of the bullpen on a team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS.

Wheeler was behind a bunch of veteran relievers with the Mets, so to them, he was expendable. But he came to the Astros and soon, he was invaluable.

Time will tell if Melancon turns out to be that type of pitcher. He was endlessly lauded after the ’06 draft, but Tommy John surgery in 2007 slowed the development process and pushed him lower on the Yankees’ depth chart. Still, he seems to be someone who was still very highly thought of in the Yankees organization and who’s still young enough to develop into a pitcher who has staying power in the big leagues.

I asked him about his walk totals, which were unusually high this year. He walked 22 in ’08 and 11 in ’09, but by the time he was traded to the Astros, he had issued 31 walks over 56 1/3 innings. A change in mechanics may have something to do with that — after he was sent down to Triple-A earlier this year, Scranton coaches told him he needs to get the ball down a little more consistently. That led to a change in arm slot, dropping it from above the shoulder to more of a mid-range level. Melancon hesitates to use that as an excuse but acknowledged location issues can pop up when “you’re changing a lifelong habit.”

He hadn’t thought much about being traded from the Yankees, mainly because he had not heard his name come up in any rumors leading up to the July 31 non-waiver deadline. He said he was “completely shocked” when his manager called him in and put him on the phone with Yankees GM Brian Cashman. He didn’t sweat it, though, and realized pretty quickly this could work in his favor.

“If you’re established in the big leagues, (being traded is) probably more stressful, just depending on the situation. But going up and down between the big leagues and the Minor Leagues, you just try to establish yourself up there. You’re playing for all 30 teams, not just for one team. I feel this is a great opportunity for me. About five minutes after the trade, I was excited to be on board with the Astros.”

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Some images from a Thursday in Round Rock (Thirsty Thursday, no less: discounted soda and beer. Might explain the very healthy crowd on hand for the Express-Grizzlies games.)

That’s Melancon walking to the clubhouse from batting practice. After covering baseball at the Major League level for so long, the BP attire here — shorts and t-shirts – still takes me off guard. But as I mentioned during the Corpus leg of this trip, the heat is off-the-charts oppressive in the mid-afternoon hours this time of year (it was 102 at 4 p.m. on Thursday), so wearing uniform pants would be absurd.   

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The view of Dell Diamond from the press box. This is one of the best facilities in Minor League baseball, especially from a working standpoint. It really doesn’t get any better.

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Ran into Chris Sampson in the dugout (in this picture, he’s playing catch with his son). He pitched a scoreless inning Thursday night and has allowed two runs over 4 2/3 innings since he was sent to Round Rock not long ago.

 

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Meanwhile, back in Houston, the Astros officially announced the signing of their first-round pick, Delino DeShields Jr. The deal was completed much later than the Astros had hoped — the goal after the draft is to sign them and get them playing as quickly as possible — but the important thing is they signed him. Some images from an eventful afternoon at Minute Maid Park:

Before addressing the media,  DeShields signs the contract.

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He’s then congratulated by Asst GM/Scouting director Bobby Heck.

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Putting on the jersey…

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…and shaking hands with club owner Drayton McLane.

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Posing with Heck and Astros amateur scout Lincoln Martin, who signed DeShields.

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