July 02, 2008

Even at the age of 10, Holt High (Wentzville, Mo.) pitcher Tim Melville had a fastball good enough to make people cry.

"I remember that he would be pitching in Little League and the other teams' kids would go back to the bench after striking out and they would just be so upset there would be tears in their eyes," Melville's mother, Valerie, said. "Tim would just be smiling at them."

During last month's Major League Baseball amateur draft, Melville, who last summer received the Jackie Robinson Award given annually to the nation's best baseball player at the Aflac All-American Baseball Classic, was not smiling. Despite having a fastball that can reach 95 mph, worries about Melville's signability began to surface. According to reports, a week before the draft the Melvilles sent out a letter roughly detailing what kind of money it would take for Tim to sign and not go to the University of North Carolina. This scared off some teams and Melville fell in the draft. Once projected as a potential top-five pick, Melville did not hear his name called until the fourth round, taken with the 115th pick by the Kansas City Royals.

"I was definitely surprised, and it wasn't what we were expecting at all," Melville said. "We were hoping for the first round. It was frustrating."

After a sophomore year that was plagued by shoulder tendonitis, Melville erased all doubts about his health and his stuff, going 10-1 with a 0.89 era in 12 games. Although he would lose a couple of games this past season, he lost nothing off his fastball and he ended the season as the top-ranked pitcher in the TAKKLE.com/Sports Illustrated high school baseball player rankings.

"We had received word right before the draft that he probably wasn't going to be picked in the first round," Valerie Melville said. "But even so, it was an emotional rollercoaster."

Back in Wentzville, baseball coach Joel Adam had gathered Melville's teammates to watch the draft at a sports bar, expecting to hear Tim's named called sometime in the first round. Scouts had been coming around for months and each had told him that Melville had the stuff and the mental make-up to be a top-flight starter. As name after name was called and the party began to break up, Adam, who just a year prior had seen former Holt hurler Ross Detwiler selected No. 6 overall by the Washington Nationals, was left befuddled.

"I guess in baseball these days, the draft is more about signability than it is about talent," Adam said. "He's such a competitive guy that I wouldn't be surprised if he asks to be the first player in Major League history to wear the number 115 just as a reminder."

If Melville and the Royals are unable to reach a deal, there is always the Tar Heels, an option that his mother calls "a really outstanding Plan B." Melville spent last week in Arizona being briefed on the Royals' summer conditioning program and he will head off to North Carolina for freshman orientation later this month. Drafted prospects have until Aug. 15 to either sign a deal or re-enter the draft next season, and the Melvilles say that they are in no hurry to make a decision.

"He really, really wants to play pro baseball," his mother said. "Hopefully, what he thinks he's worth and what the Royals believe he can be worth to their organization comes together."

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