Originally considered a high-end prospect when he was drafted in 2008, San Diego Padres right-hander Tim Melville has followed something of a circuitous path to the majors.
A 4th round selection by the Kansas City Royals (115th overall), Melville was being hailed by some as a likely major-league star in the years that followed. Baseball America called him the best high school pitcher in the 2008 Draft. Baseball Prospectus had him ranked 93rd among all ML prospects before the 2010 season. However, while his first season as a 19 year-old starter with the Class-A Burlington Royals in the Midwest League was a strong one, considering his age (7-7, 3.79 ERA in 21 starts at age 19), he would not experience such success over a full season for the next seven years.
He was pushed to High-A Wilmington in the Carolina League in 2010, where he was nearly three years below the average age of his competition. The numbers were reflective of his relatively advanced competition, as he posted a 2-12 record with a 4.97 ERA over 112 1/3 innings. He walked 54 batters, but also struck out 90 over his 22 starts, suggestive of the talent he possessed even if he was poorly prepared for an advanced level of competition.
Melville repeated with the Blue Rocks in 2011, spending the entire season with the team and making 29 appearances, 25 of them starts. Over 135 1/3 innings, he again got knocked around a bit (152 hits allowed) but also struck out 108 batters and walked almost exactly the same number of batters (53) as he did the previous season in 23 fewer innings.
The 2012 and 2013 seasons were lost time for Melville, as he fell victim to the dreaded Tommy John surgery. When he returned to the mound in 2014 he found himself in Class-AA Northwest Arkansas in the Texas League, and again his numbers were disappointing: a 2-11 record, 5.50 ERA, 68 walks and 144 hits allowed in 129 1/3 innings. He again posted fairly good strikeout totals with 105 in his 26 starts, averaging 7.3 K/9 IP.
Melville found himself a free agent after the 2014 season, though not for long. The Detroit Tigers scooped him up and sent him to Class-AAA Toledo in the International League for 2015, where he showed little improvement. Over 27 starts, he posted a 7-10 record with a 4.63 ERA, walking fewer overall (68 over 151 2/3 innings) but also striking out fewer (102), and Melville found himself looking for work in the off-season.
After the Cincinnati Reds signed him to another minor-league contract, this time with an invitation to Spring Training, Melville made six appearances with the Louisville Bats in the International League, as well as three appearances with the AZL Reds during the 2016 season. With the Bats, he was used as a reliever exclusively for the first time in his career.
The Reds called Melville to the majors in April, and he made his debut on the 10th against the Pirates at Great American Ballpark. Over four innings, he allowed one run on five hits, walked four and struck out five. It was a short appearance, especially for a start, but he worked his pitch count up to 92 before he was pulled.
Still, it was a solid debut performance. He would start again on the 15th at St Louis, where he was roughed up for seven runs (six earned)on six hits, walked three and struck out two in a 14-3 Cardinals victory. He gave up a homer each to 1B Matt Holiday and SS Aledmys Diaz. His third appearance was in relief against the Cubs at Cincy, but it was more of the same (2 IP, 4 ER, 5 H, 2 BB, 1 K, 2 HRA).
Melville spent the winter with the Naranjeros de Hermosillo in the Mexican Pacific Winter League, trying to work out the kinks. He made eight starts there, going 2-2 with a 4.66 ERA while walking 20 and striking out nineteen. As Spring rolled around and the 2017 season was approaching, Melville was a man without a contract.
Fortunately, the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League gave him a shot in their rotation. Pitching against many former high-level minor-leaguers as well as hitters with MLB experience, Melville posted a 3.45 ERA in nine starts (47 IP), walking 18 and striking out 48 in the process.
The Minnesota Twins took notice and signed him to a minor-league contract in June assigning him to Class-AAA Rochester, making this his third season in the International League, all with different teams.
Over 11 appearances with the Red Wings (10 starts), Melville posted his lowest ERA since his first pro season, compiling an outstanding 2.70 ERA over 66 2/3 innings, striking out 64 and walking 23 batters.
The Twins called him up to make a start in the first game of a double-header vs the White Sox on August 21st of this year, and he was knocked around for five earned runs over 3 1/3 innings. He gave up four hits but walked three more. Shortly thereafter, he was designated for assignment. This is where the San Diego Padres enter the picture, as they claimed him off waivers and assigned him to the Class-AAA El Paso Chihuahuas.
Now, I said all of the previous to get to my main point: there is more to like about Melville than the numbers would suggest.
While his fastball sat around 92-93 in 2016, he has shown an 2-MPH increase in velocity in his last start with the Twins. He also throws a slider in the mid-80's, a curve at 82-83, and a changeup that comes in a bit hard at 88-89.
Although he could use a bit more separation between his change and fastball, both of his breaking pitches are dependable weapons when he can command them consistently. The slider is especially promising, and could become a plus offering, but again this hinges on his command. Using Melville as a starter may not be the best option; bringing him out of the pen, however, could revive his career altogether.
Over shorter appearances, Melville's control issues could be mitigated somewhat. He would likely gain a touch more on his fastball, potentially pushing his average velocity up to 95-96. If he retains both his slider and his curve, the Padres could have themselves a short reliever or even situational/matchup-type with three different offerings, which is uncommon among relievers.
Working out of the rotation hasn't panned out for him, but he's still young, he has the stuff to compete in a MLB bullpen, and the Padres really have nothing to lose by trying him in a relief role.
Worst-case scenario: he doesn't get the job done, and he finds himself back in the minors.
Best-case: he becomes a solid and consistent, perhaps occasionally excellent reliever who can make an emergency start if the team requires it.
There is still potential in Melville, and it might just be a case of “right place, right time, right situation.”