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Prospect Retro: Melvin Mora

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Melvin Mora (AP)

Prospect Retrospective: Melvin Mora

Melvin Mora was signed by the Houston Astros as a free agent out of Venezuela in 1991. He hit just .222 in rookie ball in '92 as a 20 year old, showing good speed (16 steals in 49 games) but otherwise not distinguishing himself. Promoted to the Sally League in '93, he hit .285 with 20 steals but just a .373 SLG. I wasn't doing prospect analysis full-time back then, but it looks like a retrospective Grade C would have been appropriate.

In '94, Mora hit .282 with 24 steals for Osceola in the Florida State League, while boosting his SLG to .426. Eddie Epstein didn't write about him in the 1995 Minor League Scouting Notebook, but again a retrospective Grade C or C+ would be appropriate.

Moving to Double-A in '95, Mora hit .298 with 22 steals for Jackson. His SLG dipped to .385, but otherwise his transition to the high minors was successful. I'd probably have given him a Grade C+.

Mora split '96 between Double-A and Triple-A, hitting .283 combined but with a sub .400 SLG again. His speed declined, with just 7 steals. I saw him play for Tucson late in the year and was not impressed; I didn't put him in the '97 book, rating him as just another anonymous Grade C semi-prospect.

Mora hit .257/.345/.330 in Triple-A in '97. He was now 25 years old, and had shown little to no offensive growth for 4 years. I thought at best he would be a utility player, and there was nothing in his numbers to indicate otherwise.

Mora bounced around in '98, playing in the Mets farm system for 28 games but spending most of the year in Taiwan. Age 26 now, he rated as nothing more than a journeyman.

Back in North America for all of '99, Mora hit .303/.389/.451 in 82 games for Triple-A Norfolk, suddenly showing good power and much improved plate discipline. He even stole bases again, swiping 18 bags. He got in some bench work with the Mets that year, but was used mostly as a pinch-runner and defensive sub. He was getting a lot of hype that year based on his Triple-A numbers. In the 2000 Minor League Scouting Notebook, I wrote "Don't buy the hype! Mora runs well and can field, but is a .250 hitter with no power." I thought his big numbers at Norfolk were just a fluke; they were certainly out of context with the rest of his career.

Mora split '00 between the Mets and Orioles, not hitting much for New York, but banging the ball at .291 in 53 games for Baltimore. After a weak '01 season (.250/.329/.362) for the Orioles, he hit 19 homers and 30 doubles for the Birds in '02. In '03 he broke out with a .317/.418/.503 season, then was one of the best players in baseball last year, having a superstar season at age 32.

Sabermetrically, there is no good explanation for what Mora has done. There is nothing in his minor league record indicating that he was capable of the performance he put in the last two seasons. He was past the age where big improvement is likely. He is playing great again this year. I am open to suggestions about how he has transformed himself from light-hitting scrub to outstanding player.

Comparable Players to Melvin Mora (Based on Sim Score and PECOTA, no active players listed)

Sean Berry
Ray Jablonski
Hank Majewski
Keith Moreland
Lee Lacy
Ray Boone
Don Hoak