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Minor League Report: Mark Melancon

Minor League Report: Mark Melancon

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TAMPA, Fla. -- When you consider what Joba Chamberlain was able to accomplish in a short period of time last season, it doesn't seem fair to toss around teasers about "the next Joba."

Mark Melancon has heard them bandied about. While the right-handed reliever is flattered, he has his eyes set on a more immediate goal -- making his way back into game action after coming off Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.

"I came in to camp just wanting to be consistent and to make sure my arm's healthy," Melancon said. "I'm excited and happy to be here, for sure. Pitching-wise, it's been just OK. I'm anxious to get back out there and back after it."

Melancon, who turns 23 later this month, owns a zipping two-seam fastball and a plus curveball combination that could prove devastating in the late innings. As most fans know, Chamberlain rose all the way from Class A Tampa to the big leagues last season on the strength of two pitches (a plus fastball and plus slider).

It's not out of the question to wonder if Melancon could make a similar jump, but first, he'll have to return to action. When the Yankees go north to New York, Melancon will stay behind, set to open the season in Tampa once the Florida State League season gets under way.

Having also pitched in the Dominican Republic over the offseason, Melancon also plans to break out his improving changeup, giving him a three-pitch arsenal for the back end of games. He may have only 7 2/3 professional innings under his belt, all for Class A Staten Island in 2006, but Melancon isn't short on experience and know-how.

"There's always something to be worked on," Melancon said. "Location can always improve from everybody's standpoint. That's what I'm mainly working on and locating all my pitches down."

In his first big league camp, the former University of Arizona closer has already opened some eyes. He recorded a save with a scoreless ninth inning on Monday against the Astros in Kissimmee, Fla., and he has found the experience of being around Major Leaguers beneficial.

"Just being around everybody gives you a different perspective on being up in the big leagues," Melancon said. "It's been great. There's a lot of stuff they have to deal with as far as fans and stuff like that. There's a lot of great guys in here, and you definitely have to be on your top level of game every time you go out, for sure."

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On the pine: Right-hander Andrew Brackman continues to progress through his rehab from Tommy John surgery on his throwing arm, meeting or exceededing all of his goals so far. But he's still a season removed from actual competition. Brackman's throwing regimen is limited to long toss from about 100 feet. ... Humberto Sanchez is a bit further along in his recovery from the same surgery, and the right-hander is slated to begin working off the mound sometime in March. The best-case scenario for the burly righty is to find himself in the Yankees' bullpen sometime in 2008.

First-rounders: Eric Duncan, drafted in 2003, was reassigned to Minor League camp early because of the Yankees' glut of first basemen. ... Phil Hughes, drafted in 2004, is popping catchers' gloves with more velocity, and he seems a lock to be in the starting rotation. ... C.J. Henry, drafted in 2005, is back in the Yankees' Minor League system after being dealt to the Phillies in the Bobby Abreu trade. The club believes that he can rebound after correcting vision problems that hampered him with Philadelphia. ... Chamberlain, drafted in 2006, is preparing as a starting pitcher during Spring Training, and he could either start or relieve for New York this year. He gave up a long two-run homer vs. Minnesota on Wednesday. ... Ian Kennedy, also drafted in 2006, has a very good chance of breaking camp in the Yankees' rotation, though he could open at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He allowed a solo home run and struggled with his curveball in his first start.

Class of '07: Behind Brackman, catcher Austin Romine is in big league camp with the Yankees, helping out with bullpen sessions and the like. A second-round Draft pick out of high school, the 19-year-old Romine was reassigned to Minor League camp on Saturday.

What they're saying: "He is the best athlete in the organization. He moves like [Chargers running back] LaDainian Tomlinson. He glides and moves like Devon White and Gary Pettis." -- Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, on Yankees outfield prospect Austin Jackson

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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