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Royals sign fourth-round pick Melville for a whale of a bonus

MELVILLE FOR WEBBy SAM MELLINGERThe Kansas City Star

The symbolism is worth noticing.

Friday morning, the Royals agreed to a deal with fourth-round pick Tim Melville, a right-handed high school pitcher from suburban St. Louis. Melville was widely considered a first-round talent before the draft -- Baseball America -- rated him 15th overall -- and slid only because of signability questions.

So now its the Royals taking players too expensive for other teams, and then signing them, like they did with Melville for a bonus worth about $1.25 million.

“It’s been building up all summer, so now that it’s finally happened, I’m really excited,” Melville said. “With any other team I kind of would’ve doubted it, but I felt so good about the Royals, I knew it’d be a perfect fit.”

Before and after the draft, Melville and his family grew closer and closer with scouting director Deric Ladnier and other members of the Royals’ staff. That relationship was so close that many in baseball circles felt the Royals were the only organization that could Melville to skip his scholarship to play at North Carolina.

As negotiations with the Royals progressed this summer, coaches at UNC grew more and more certain they’d never see Melville on campus.

“I consider him family,” Ladnier said. “You try not to make it personal, but it was personal with this.”

The scouting report on Melville is pretty flawless. He’s 6-foot-5 and 205 pounds, with a fastball that he spots well and throws hard -- it sits in the low 90s and touches 96. His curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch, and he also throws a changeup.

Ladnier said all three pitches are above-average major league quality. Melville said he feels his curveball is his best pitch, because of his ability to locate it and throw it in any count.

Melville had some early struggles his senior year at Wentzville (Mo.) Holt High -- he was 8-1 with a 2.56 ERA as a senior after going 10-1 with a 0.89 ERA as a junior -- which may have conspired with the signability issues in him sliding in the draft.

But the Royals scouts who saw him say he was terrific later in the season.

Ladnier said described Melville as “lights out” during a workout at Kauffman Stadium before the draft in which the Royals suggested a couple minor changes to his mechanics.

“There’s not a lot to tinker with here,” Ladnier said. “He just needs to go pitch now. He’s big and strong and durable, he’s got great makeup. He’s got a chance to be a horse.”

Melville projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter and will report to the Royals’ facility in Surprise, Ariz., today. It’s doubtful that he’ll pitch in real games this season, but will build up arm strength while working with coaches there.

Signing Melville certainly doesn’t mean the Royals are the new Yankees or Tigers, prepared to add any draft prospect with high demands. But it does represent an important shift from the days when the team mostly drafted prospects it thought would sign for cheap.

The estimated slot value for Melville’s place in the draft -- 115th overall -- was $290,000. The player picked before him signed for $293,000, and the player picked behind him signed for $287,000.

According to Baseball America, Melville’s bonus is more than any other player selected from the second to fifth rounds, and more than double any other fourth-round pick.

His bonus is in line with baseball’s recommended slot value for a late first-round pick.

“Ownership is committed to building a great farm system here,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “To do that, you have to be aggressive in signing talent and Tim Melville is an example of that aggressiveness that ownership has directed us to have.”

Royals officials continued to grind through negotiations with No. 3 overall pick Eric Hosmer on Thursday afternoon, though no deal was expected to be completed until close to the 11 p.m. deadline -- if at all.

They also insist that drafting and signing Melville was not done as a way to ensure the organization adds a first-round talent even if Hosmer doesn’t sign.

“Eric Hosmer is an opportunity for us to sign one of the very best high school position players in the country,” Moore said. “It’s an opportunity we have. It’s an opportunity we want to take advantage of. Certainly that’s been a strong focus of ours this entire summer and it will come to a conclusion today.”

To reach Sam Mellinger, national baseball reporter for The Star, call 816-234-4365 or send e-mail to smellinger@kcstar.com.

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