Even if it had, Melker wouldn’t have seen it.
The former Cal Poly outfielder wanted nothing to do with the majority of the three-day, 50-round draft in early June. For an event so long, Melker could barely pull himself to watch any of it.
“I kind of knew that I wasn’t going to go on the first two days. Obviously I hoped that I would, but in the back of my mind I just kind of knew I wasn’t,” Melker said. “To be honest, I only watched about a half an hour of the last day.”
His friends weren’t as pessimistic. At his house in San Luis Obispo, roommates and friends all sat together watching the draft. They watched round after round, waiting to see if they could soon call their friend a professional baseball player.
The player under the microscope played center field for the Mustangs last season. He started in more than 10 games in all of his four seasons at Cal Poly, and with the exception of his freshman year, never finished a season with a batting average below .280. Toward the end of his senior season, he rode a hot streak that consisted of a 36-for-79 stretch, nudging his career batting average to just over the .300 mark. Yet, through two draft days, none of that was appealing to a major league ball club — at least not yet.
With 10 rounds left and two days of boycotting behind him, Melker gave in. Although every MLB team had already neglected him — numerous times — he joined his friends, watching and waiting to see if he had a chance to continue his baseball career.
“It was getting to like the 40th round and I texted my mom, ‘This isn’t good,’” Melker said. “Right when I texted her, a scout texted me from the Cardinals asking me if I wanted to go I said, ‘Of course.’”
Ten minutes later, Melker said, his name finally popped up on screen — the 1,339th selection of the draft. Melker was relieved his baseball career wasn’t over; it was just taking a detour to a new destination — the St. Louis Cardinals.
“It was a good day,” Melker said.
He was the last of three Mustangs selected on the final day of the draft. The Boston Red Sox selected former Cal Poly outfielder Luke Yoder in the 40th round and the Cincinnati Reds selected former Mustang starting pitcher Matt Leonard in the 38th.
“I was just happy for them,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “We knew Yoder would get the opportunity; we just hoped Melker would also get that same opportunity.”
With the help received from Lee and his former coaches, Melker is now a professional baseball player — playing for the Batavia Muckdogs, a Class A short season affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.
However, his road to the major leagues isn’t over. That road still extends through the twists and turns of the minor league system. All he has to do is prove to the Cardinals’ coaches and scouts that he has what it takes to make it.
In turn, they will shove his game under the microscope, picking at any flaw or potential flaw in his game. His success in batting drills, fielding drills and in-game situations will decide his future.
This is where ball players are separated from impostors.
For now he takes a new field, in a new city, with a new uniform on his back. The majority of the players around him are in the same position, all hoping to move further in their journeys to the majors. But Melker has one tool that has been drilled into his mind at all four years at Cal Poly, something that sticks him out from everyone else.
“Mental strength,” Melker said. “That’s my biggest asset I got from Coach Lee. Just how to be tough… he taught us that and I think it is really giving me an edge over a lot of the guys here who might let little things affect them.”
That strength is helping him combat one of the biggest changes he has had to deal with now playing for the Muckdogs — the loss of playing time.
Melker has now gone from a collegiate starter to the minor league bench. He will have far less at-bats to prove himself as he did in college. The change hasn’t discouraged him; it has just solidified his first goal for his first professional season.
“I just want to win a starting job,” Melker said. “Just to play like I did in college and don’t try to change my game too much. I got drafted as the player I was, so I am just going to try and keep playing like that and I am going to try to keep myself in the lineup as much as I can.”
But while Melker is being forced to prove himself, some of the tools he became so familiar with as a Mustang are no longer relied upon. There are many differences between the pro and the college game.
“The college game is geared solely on winning, the pro game — everybody definitely wants to win — but it is also about player development,” Melker said. “Sacrifice bunts, moving people over, hits and runs, things like that we see commonly college, you don’t really see in pro ball, they let you hit away more.”
His former teammate, Yoder, is experiencing the same type of change as well. There are not many similarities between being a Mustang and being a member of a Red Sox minor league roster.
“It’s a lot different,” Yoder said. “(The Red Sox) don’t stress the whole thing about hurrah and the camaraderie, it’s not very ‘hurrah-ish’ at all.”
A new aspect enters the game when players move through the minor league systems from college — the business aspect. When the players sign a professional contract, the game now becomes a job, rather than just a hobby. The change can make the game a bit mechanical, he said.
“You just show up to the park early, get some work done, go ahead and play your game and after you’re done playing, you work out, hop back on the bus, shower and go from there,” Yoder said. “It’s pretty much the same routine day in and day out.”
This is what Yoder has wanted all his life. He spent 13 years as a gymnast, but once he realized he was talented enough to someday play professional baseball he knew this was the career he wanted to chase. Now he is living his dream, and although the game may be a bit more serious, the approach may be different and the family aspect may be gone, Yoder is still making the most of his lifelong goal.
“We still have as much fun as we can,” Yoder said.
The same goes for Melker. He may now have a different seat on the playing field, and he may now play on the other side of the continent — separated from any direct contact with anyone he met in his four years as a Mustang — but he plans to grind out every moment of it.
“I am going to stick around as long as I can,” Melker said. “I am sure when that time comes, when my time is over, I’ll know.”
So for both, right now, it’s about being remembered or being forgotten. Both have moved onto the next step of their baseball careers, but are far from over. Proving themselves is the key until the call to move up comes. After all, there may be many differences between the college and pro ranks, but no matter where you are, the general concept always stays the same.
“You’re still swinging a bat, you’re still playing catch,” Yoder said. “When it comes down to it, there is nothing different about that.”