The Tigers have a knack for finding pitching prospects at a bargain, and it looks like they may have done it again. Troy Melton was the team’s fourth round draftee in 2022, but he was somewhat overlooked at the time. Now, he’s at West Michigan, and his performance demands the attention he didn’t get on draft day.
Over the course of 10 starts and a relief appearance at High-A, Melton has put together one heck of a stat line. The 1.91 ERA over that stretch is irreproachable, and he backs it up with a little over a strikeout per inning while suppressing opponents’ power output. I got the chance to speak to Melton last Sunday, and he attributed his successes to two things — consistent mechanics and a fastball that anchors his entire strategy as a pitcher.
“I feel like mechanically, I’ve been in a really good spot. I don’t think I’ve really varied on anything since Spring Training. I think I put myself in a good spot then, so it’s pretty much for me just execution,” he said. “The last month has been a little bit more iffy, but the first couple months I was here felt really good. Trying to be consistent with my fastball and that kind of sets up everything else, so I’m just making sure I’m in a good place mentally and mechanically. Everything else just takes care of itself.”
Anyone who has seen Melton pitch knows that his fastball is at the core of what he does as a pitcher. He cranks out high 90s heaters with bat-missing action every time he takes the mound. However, I was intrigued that he would mention it in particular as one of the roots of his success. Most athletes are reluctant to paint themselves with detailed strokes, sticking to clichés and generalities instead.
When I asked, though, Melton was excited to talk more about his signature pitch. He also elaborated on how the way he approaches its use has evolved as a professional.
“I mean, the fastball is what you have to establish everything with. It’s the pitch you need the most. I’m comfortable with it for sure. Yeah, I’d say it’s one of my best pitches,” he said.
“When I got into the Tigers’ system last year, I’m exposed to all this technology, really for the first time. I had to learn about who I was, I had to learn about what all the numbers meant, how I play into those numbers, and then how I can improve on those numbers.”
“I really like it. I enjoy it, and I think it’s really good for everyone to know and for everyone to learn. It really helps you get better pretty quickly,” he continued with a grin. “I think the basic one that everyone kinda knows about is the break of the pitch. Like, the vertical break and the horizontal break of a pitch. Sometimes your fastball will get a little more flat and you just wanna make sure that’s cleaned up so you get a little bit more jump, especially at the top of the zone.”
Melton seems to have struck a balance in his mind between buy-in with the Tigers’ high-tech approach to pitching development and his own instincts.
“It’s definitely an adjustment to me because I’d never been exposed to any of it and I’m just thrown into this world of all this technology,” he explained. “I don’t really try to get into [the metrics] too much, I try to let that department handle it and do their job because it’s really hard to pitch and think about numbers at the same time.”
It’s easy to see why Melton is willing to trust the Tigers’ pitching development when they steer him in one direction or another. By combining his talent with their methods, it’s earned him fantastic results in West Michigan. Even the month of July, which he described as “iffy” in one of the quotes above, was essentially three good starts sandwiched between two poorer ones. All in all, he still finished the month with a 3.57 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 17.1 innings, and then turned around to dominate again in his first start of August.
The biggest complaint about Melton’s game isn’t related to the quality of his pitches, but the way he uses them in-game. As a converted catcher, he’s somewhat new to pitching, and some people see that immaturity shine through in the sequencing of his pitches. The Tigers are deploying him as a starter for the time being, but he tends to pitch like a reliever, relying heavily on two pitches in a sometimes predictable manner, albeit to undeniably great results. It hasn’t manifested as a problem yet, but if left unattended to as he moves into the upper minors and faces a more consistently good quality of hitter, it could force a transition to relief down the line.
Melton isn’t blind to that pitfall, either.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been working on the most: knowing what pitches to throw when. In college, your pitching coach calls the pitch, and you kinda just throw it. Now, it’s working with your catcher and knowing what to throw when, what feels good, and what you see from the hitter in terms of how you think he’s attacking you, because you’re attacking him too, so it’s just a lot to learn on sequencing and trying to get guys out,” said Melton.
“Trying to make as many good pitches as possible and sequencing them in a way so I can get guys out — that’s what I’m looking at. Am I making A) the right pitch? And then B) am I executing them the right way? That’s all I’m really focused on.”
“How the hitter is either taking it or swinging at it kinda is what I’m more reading,” he continued. “So, if they’re late on the fastball, running one more up or more in on them you’re kinda making yourself a good spot to make it easier. You make them more late, more uncomfortable. It’s just all you can do to make the hitter uncomfortable. Just kind of realizing and reading and feeling the game more is what I’m working on.”
Improving his understanding of effective sequencing is something Melton clearly cares about. He spoke about the details of pitching, some of which there just wasn’t space for here, with a sincerity and enthusiasm that is rare among even pro athletes, who are often searching for the right words to say for the mic.
That being said, it’s not his primary objective as he continues to grow as a pitcher. When I asked him about his goals, he pointed to the same place he credited his successes: consistency.
“I think the goal of any minor league baseball player is the consistency [that] sets you apart from a Major League Baseball player. So just trying to be consistent and making sure that every start’s a good one instead of having some ones where maybe I don’t feel so good. Gotta battle through those and minimize those as much as possible,” said Melton.
It’s tough to see how he can get much more consistent from a results standpoint on a start-to-start basis. Stretching back to the beginning of the year and his seven games in Lakeland, he’s only had two dud outings. What Melton is aiming for is a more granular level of consistency, executing on a pitch-to-pitch basis. If he can pull that off, it will be a lot easier to keep him in the rotation at higher levels of competition. Even if he’s moved off a starting job and into the bullpen, the ingredients are present for one heck of a reliever.
It may not have looked like it when the season began, but by now it sure seems like Detroit has a a high probability big leaguer on their hands. That’s a testament to both the team and the player, and it’s something Tigers fans can have guilt-free excitement over as another somewhat dreary big league season enters its final months.