Can top prospect power his way to Majors?

March 2nd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Brian McTaggart’s Astros Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The power stroke that has the Astros so intrigued with outfield prospect was on full display against the Nationals on Friday.

The left-handed-hitting Melton stroked a pitch from Washington pitcher Jake Irvin and sent it to the opposite field and over the fence for a two-run home run in the seventh inning.

“We do like the bat,” Astros manager Joe Espada said.

Melton, the Astros’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, slashed .245/.334/.467 with 23 homers and 46 steals in 99 games between High-A Asheville and Double-A Corpus Christi during his first full pro season in 2023, and his underlying metrics were even better than his raw numbers. His best tool is his plus speed, but it will be his bat that decides how quickly he can reach the big leagues.

“We thought his season last year was really impressive,” Astros senior director of player development and performance science Jacob Buffa said. “We knew he was a good performer in college, and to come in and not miss a beat and flash all five tools for us was fantastic to see.

“The thing that we’re going to work on this year is honing in on the consistency. For him, [it’s] understanding what his swing looks like, what he wants to feel when it’s going well. I think a lot of these guys are really talented, but to stick in the big leagues with it, those guys do it every single day. That’s just a skill that is going to be acquired for Melton through this year.”

Prior to hitting his Grapefruit League homer, Melton talked about trying to improve his offense. He said he’s pleased the home runs and steals stood out on his stat line, but so did his batting average. He admitted that’s not where he wanted to be.

“That was a big thing this offseason, to try to clean up the swing, simplifying a lot of things,” Melton said. “I just want to be in a better position coming into this season.”

With that in mind, Melton worked on his swing in the offseason, looking to have smaller and fewer movements, which he hopes will put him in position to see the ball better. He worked with former Oregon State teammate Wade Meckler of the Giants and Oregon State assistant coach Ryan Gipson.

“I feel like I’m in a really good spot right now,” said Melton. “Working on the little stuff and trying to get the big picture to come together.”

Buffa said the goal for Melton will be to execute his best swing more often.

“He’s got a fantastic swing,” Buffa said. “There’s points in the season where, just like any hitter, some things may change, and for him it’s about recognizing, ‘OK, if I missed that pitch, what do I need to go back to make sure I don’t miss it a second time?’ He’s currently equipped with the skillset he needs. He had pretty good contact rates throughout the season.”

Melton is a true center fielder who can play the corner as well in order to get some at-bats, but the team envisions him playing in center in the big leagues. He’s likely to start this season with Corpus Christi, where he appeared in 13 games at the end of last year, or at Triple-A Sugar Land. That would put him position to perhaps make his big league debut at some point this year.

The Astros have had five different Opening Day center fielders the past five years, and they are giving Jake Meyers -- their Opening Day starter in 2023 -- a chance to see if he can stick at the position with his bat to begin the year. Chas McCormick will also get plenty of time in center. Melton could be knocking on the door soon.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to set big expectations or anything,” Melton said. “I think it just adds pressure that doesn’t need to be there. The game’s already hard enough as it is. I think the more you can limit the pressure on yourself, the better position you’ll be in.”