From The Instructional Leagues: Kevin Melillo

Kevin Melillo isn't one to rest on his laurels. After an outstanding campaign that saw Melillo zoom up the A's prospects charts, the second baseman isn't taking any time off. He is currently hard at work in the heat of the Arizona desert at the Oakland A's instructional league camp. We recently caught up with Melillo from the instructional leagues and got his reflections on his award-winning 2005 campaign, found out what he is working on in Arizona and what his plans are for this off-season.

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If you had told Kevin Melillo in May that he would lead the A's minor leagues in homeruns and move up two levels by the end of the season, he probably would have thought you were crazy. In May, Melillo -- like many of the Kane County Cougars -- was mired in a bit of a slump. The cold Chicago-area weather kept Melillo and the rest of the Cougars' offense on ice for much of the first two months of the season, but as the weather warmed in June, Melillo's production rose with it. Still, Melillo was surprised when he received a promotion to High-A Stockton in early July.

"It was kind of frustrating at Kane County at first because I started out slowly, but right around the All-Star break I started seeing the ball better and getting results and I got my average up above .280," Melillo said.

"Pretty soon after the break, the coaches pulled me aside to tell me that I was headed to Stockton. I was really surprised and excited. It was a great opportunity to play in California against a higher level of competition."

Melillo took to the California League instantly. From the moment he arrived in Stockton, Melillo was red-hot, and he helped the Ports get off to a fast start to the second half of the season. Although he would only be with the Ports for one month, Melillo was a big factor in Stockton's second half division title. While in Stockton, Melillo hit an even .400 with nine homeruns in only 22 games.

"It was pretty amazing to me. I have had hot streaks before, but I've never had a streak with those kind of power numbers," Melillo said.

"The ballpark [in Stockton] is a great hitters-ballpark, especially for left-handers, and I was able to take advantage of that. I had a routine when I was in Stockton that I stuck to very closely, and I think that helped me succeed."

Despite his fast start at Stockton, Melillo wasn't expecting to be promoted to AA.

"I had taken a look at [Midland's] middle infield and with Omar [Quintanilla] and [Mark] Kiger there, I figured their middle infield was really solid and they wouldn't necessarily have room for me this year," Melillo said.

"Then when Omar was traded, I gave it some thought, but it was still a shock when I got the call. When I was drafted, I heard that the A's are an organization that moves you up and rewards you if you play well and I definitely think that has been the case for me so far."

Melillo joined the Midland Rockhounds in early August. The Rockhounds had been the best team in the Texas League all season and had one of the league's best offenses. Despite the team's offensive prowess, the Rockhounds inserted Melillo into the line-up right away and he played nearly every day for the team that would post the league's best regular season record and would win the Texas League Championship. Melillo had solid numbers with the Rockhounds, although a late-season stretch dropped his batting average from the .330s to his season-ending AA average of .282. Melillo said that he learned a lot from playing in AA.

"The biggest difference on the field in AA was the pitchers. In Single-A, you'll see guys who can hump up and throw 98 MPH, but in AA when you see those guys, everything has a lot of movement," Melillo said.

"The pitchers don't groove you 2-0 or 3-1 fastballs like they do in Single-A, so you can't just guess fastball. You have to trust your hands more and rely on your instincts and plate discipline to make sure you don't get yourself out."

After hitting mainly in the lead-off spot for Kane County and Stockton, Melillo moved around a lot in the Midland batting order, hitting anywhere from first to seventh. However, after his late-season struggles, Melillo was pleasantly surprised to find his name at the top of the Rockhounds' batting order for the first game of the Texas League playoffs.

"The Midland line-up was probably the best line-up I've ever played with. When the first game of the playoffs came and [Midland manager] Von Hayes put me in the lead-off spot, it was a big boost to my confidence because I felt like they were relying on me to be the sparkplug for that line-up," Melillo said.

Melillo and the Rockhounds powered their way through the Texas League playoffs and beat the Arkansas Travelers three games to one in the Championship Series to capture their first outright Texas League Championship in franchise history (they shared the title in 1975). Although Melillo has been a part of winning teams at South Carolina and with Team USA as a high schooler, he said that winning the Texas League Championship was an excitement all its own.

"Winning the championship was an unbelievable thrill and definitely compared to the College World Series. You might say that the College World Series is bigger because it's on ESPN and there are 30,000 people watching the games, but this [AA] was the biggest stage I've ever played on, against the best competition, so it was the high point in my career so far," Melillo said.

"The dog pile was great, the champagne was great, and I can't wait to get that championship ring in the mail. It's definitely something you'll always remember. Hopefully the A's front office will take a look at that team and think that it was a roster filled with a bunch of winners and that will hopefully help a lot of guys out in their careers."

Once the dust settled from the playoffs, Melillo headed to Arizona to take part in the A's instructional league camps for the second straight year. Although his 2005 season will be remembered for his hitting, Melillo has spent much of the instructional leagues working hard on his defense around second base.

"The coaches have told me that they know I'm going to hit, so they have me focused on fielding. I have been working on turning double-plays and being consistent. They have emphasized a lot to me how consistent [A's second baseman] Mark Ellis was with the glove all season for the A's," Melillo said.

"I got to work last year in the instructional leagues with Mark and tried to learn as much from him as possible. I just want to be ready if I am given the opportunity to get an invitation to big league spring training and I'm looking to improve on my defense for next season."

Melillo will be leaving the instructional leagues on October 21 and will immediately head to Columbia, SC to take part in the South Carolina alumni game on October 22. After that, he will spend the off-season in Columbus working in the weight room on improving his strength and agility and possibly hosting a few hitting clinics. Melillo also may take some classes, as he is only three classes away from earning his degree from USC.

As for next season, Melillo has no idea where he will begin the year. He is hoping for an invitation to the A's major league spring training camp, but he vows to be ready for whatever next season holds for him.

"I don't want to get ahead of myself and guess where I'll be. I'm just going to work to be ready to go wherever they want to send me," Melillo said.

And if 2006 is anything like 2005 for Melillo, where he starts will be only the beginning of the journey.

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