Minors Only - Investment Checking

July 7, 2009

Some players fall in the draft because teams don't think they are signable. But there will always be organizations that are willing to open up the checkbook to get their guy into the fold.

Last year was no different and there were several big bonus signings outside of the first couple rounds. A year later, we check in on the progress of five of them.

Tim Melville, RHP, Kansas City Royals

Melville had first-round talent but slipped due to signability concerns and a disappointing senior year. The Royals drafted Melville in the fourth round, a selection deemed to be a coup by many, and signed him for $1,250,000.

"Tim is a very talented young man and we are excited that we were able to add a player of his caliber to the Royals organization," Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier said following the signing.

Melville has an textbook pitchers frame (six-foot-five, 210 pounds) and a fastball that he can get up to 93 MPH. He backs it up with a curveball that has "significant break," as well as a developing changeup.

"Melville has a big projectable frame which has plenty of room for growth. Already possessing above-average arm strength, he could add even more velocity in the future," wrote MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo.

The 19-year-old righthander didn't sign in time to debut last summer and was held back until May this year. Once he was deemed ready, he was assigned to Burlington of the Low-A Midwest League, though he's been slow to get on track.

He has a solid 50% GB, but has walked more hitters than you'd like (10.0%) while sporting a lackluster K% (16.7) and a high FIP (4.81). As the summer progresses, you'd like to see him decrease his walks and increase his strikeouts, but he has plenty of time to get on track and has the upside of a mid-rotation starter.

Peter Hissey, OF, Boston Red Sox

A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, Hissey was selected with the final pick in the fourth round last year but Boston bought him away from a commitment to The University of Virginia for $1,000,000, the type of money supplemental first round picks were getting.

"Though he has little present power, he projects to get bigger and stronger, and he could be a legitimate five-tool player once he adds a power component to his game," wrote Perfect Game Crosschecker's Allan Simpson.

Hissey has been with Low-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League and has had a rough first half of the year. He has a .280 wOBA and his anemic .051 ISOP is third-worst in the circuit, showing Hissey has yet to tap into his power potential. But not all is bad, as his 11.4% BB is tenth-best in the league.

Despite the struggles, Hissey is only 19 years old, and the organization is satisfied.

"He's just out of high school last year but he came with a real good middle-of-the-field approach to hitting," said Boston minor league field coordinator Rob Leary.

Hissey hasn't shown any imminent signs of turning his season around, but it's far too early to be overly concerned.

T.J House, LHP, Cleveland Indians

Baseball America rated House as the 100th best prospect in last year's draft, but a strong commitment to Tulane knocked him to the 16th round. Cleveland was able to sign him for $750,000, equivalent to mid-second round money last summer.

"It is easy to see why the Indians like House so much and felt it necessary to sign him because even though he is raw he is very skilled and projectable as a pitcher," wrote Indians prospect guru Tony Lastoria, adding that House has a pair of plus pitches in a low 90's fastball and a mid 80's slider.

The 19-year-old has enjoyed a solid start to his professional career. Pitching for Low-A Lake County of the South Atlantic League, House has a 3.16 FIP and a 51% GB to go along with a 7.6% walk rate and 19.6% strikeout rate.

June was his best month yet, as he set season-bests in K% (23.1) and GB% (58). If he can maintain those K% and GB% numbers from June, he'll soar up prospect lists even more.

House lacks a dependable third pitch, which is something he'll need as he moves up the ladder, but he has mid-rotation potential and is shaping up to be a wise investment.

Brett Hunter, RHP, Oakland Athletics

Hunter was seen as a potential first round pick early last year, but elbow probelms derailed his 2008 college season, and he slid to the seventh round. Despite the injury, Oakland signed Hunter for $1.1 million, a record for a seventh round pick.

"If he ends up being healthy, he'll be a great bargain. He's got a premium arm and was one of the premium picks in the draft, and we took him understanding he's not fully healthy right now," Oakland Athletics scouting director Eric Kubota told MLB.com last June.

Between a prototypical pitchers frame (six-foot-four, 215 pounds), a mid 90's fastball and a potentially plus curveball, Hunter was appealing on several fronts.

But he came with his share of negatives. Hunter was dealing with an elbow injury and had been criticized for questionable mechanics and iffy command, leading some to believe his future would be as a reliever.

Hunter has spent the year with Kane County of the Low-A Midwest League and has split time between relieving and starting. He's fanning 20.5% but is walking an alarmingly high 24.5%. He has handed out 51 free passes in 40.2 innings, a rate Steve Blass would be proud of. His velocity is down to 88-91 MPH and his mechanics and arm action remain major concerns.

"He's nowhere close to what scouts saw during his prime with Pepperdine and Team USA," wrote Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, who saw Hunter pitch in May.

Hunter, who recently turned 22, has been a major letdown in his first full professional season. While you don't want to write anyone off too soon, Hunter may have too many red flags to overcome.

Robbie Grossman, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

There was a time when Grossman was seen as a potential first rounder, but thanks to a commitment to The University of Texas and a subpar senior season, he tumbled to the sixth round.

He was still paid like a first rounder -- the Pirates signed him for $1,000,000 -- and that indicated a major organizational shift. In previous years, the Pirates were known for taking cheap, signable players at the expense of pure talent but the Grossman signing signaled a new direction.

Grossman, 19, signed too late to get more than a cup of coffee in the Gulf Coast League last summer and he was assigned to West Virginia of the Low-A South Atlantic League to start this year.

He has manged a BABIP of well over .400 through the first three months of the season, though his line drive rate has been sky high (27%) and it rose each month from April-June.

He's struck out too much (30.0%) and hasn't shown much power (.103 ISOP) but both marks improved in June. His K% last month was a season-low 23.9% and his June ISOP was a season-high .146. His walk rate (a solid 11.9%) has been steady and he's 23-for-28 in stolen bases.

Grossman is hard to get a read on right now. There is some potential, but we need more data. If one thing is certain, it was refreshing to see a small-market franchise like Pittsburgh put considerable financial resources into the draft. They set a franchise record by spending $9.8 million on draft bonuses last year.

Expect to see more players like these five this year -- prospects who fell due to signability, but still end up getting paid quite handsomely. The signing deadline is August 17th and many signings will likely come down to the final seconds. 


Contact Ryan Fay at rfay@projectprospect.com