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Medford Mustangs LHP Jacob Melton started on the mound against the Marketmen from Corvallis at Harry and David Field on Thursday.[PHOTO BY: LARRY STAUTH JR]

South Medford standout Jacob Melton fine-tuning his skills with Mustangs

What is your summer game plan if you’ve just earned a second straight first-team all-state nod after previously being named Oregon’s top high school senior baseball player by MaxPreps?

For South Medford High standout Jacob Melton, it’s only to get better.

And, unbelievably, he may be doing just that for the Medford Mustangs in his second stint with the four-time defending American Legion state champions.

“He’s been really impressive this year,” says Mustangs manager Nate Mayben, whose team is 24-8 overall and leads Area 4 at 6-2. “He’s a guy that when you look at all the tools, he has every one, and I think a little bit of everything has improved this year.”

That seems a little mind-boggling when you consider the numbers Melton has previously put up.

This past spring, Melton batted .513 with 51 runs, 28 RBIs, 33 stolen bases and as many home runs (8) as he had strikeouts (8) in 76 at-bats as the Panthers’ leadoff hitter.

Last summer for the Mustangs, Melton was the team’s second-leading hitter (.442) to go with 56 runs, 37 RBIs and 15 stolen bases.

Entering Wednesday’s doubleheader at Willamette Valley, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound center fielder boasts a whopping .536 batting average with seven home runs, 49 RBIs, 21 stolen bases and a .938 slugging percentage. His 44 runs trail only Joe Johnson, and he’s added 10 doubles and three triples to the mix.

For good measure, the left-hander has allowed only one earned run in 28?1/3 innings pitched for a 0.25 ERA and 3-0 record with one save. With a fastball that reaches 88 miles per hour, Melton has 37 strikeouts against 19 walks despite limited action at the high school level.

“I think for me in summer ball it’s just kind of about getting confidence going into the college fall ball season,” says Melton, who will be heading to Linn-Benton Community College. “I’m just trying to get everything worked out so I can make a smooth transition from summer ball to college ball.”

At Melton’s current pace, he has a chance to post the finest season at the plate in terms of batting average in Mustangs history. Jordan Stevens set the standard in 1983 by batting .519, with Chad Hegdahl (.512, 2004), Mike Allen (.512, 2003) and Seth Brown (.510, 2011) not far off the pace.

“It definitely would be a really cool thing at the end of the summer,” says Melton of potentially etching his name in Mustangs lore, “but at the moment I’ve just got to keep plugging away and trying to get hits every game to help the team win. It doesn’t matter what your stats are if the team isn’t playing well, so if we continue to do well that’s all that really matters to me.”

In hopes of becoming a better baseball player, Melton has adopted a slight change to his batting stance, closing it up after utilizing a more wide stance through the high school season. He’s also worked with Mayben to shore up a few more fundamentals to help him spray the ball to all fields, keeping his hands inside more and developing a more compact swing.

“It kind of hurt me in the beginning,” Melton says of the adjustments, “but once I got used to it, it’s all been the same thing for me. I think the biggest thing for me is just staying confident at the plate. It’s not really looking for results, it’s just trying to hit the ball hard.”

And, oh man, can Melton hit the ball hard.

Already one of the state’s top home run hitters for the past two seasons, he has shown an even greater ability to go opposite field and put the ball to the fence and over this summer.

“The guy is making those adjustments and it’s just incredible how much pop he has on his bat,” says Mayben. “He does so well at the plate with so much pop and power and really good hand-eye coordination.”

While the slight modifications have benefits, Melton says it’s also helped to be around such a talented lineup that helps spur him along. The Mustangs are batting .344 overall, with Johnson (.436), Jack Thompson (.391), Wyatt Baptiste (.375) and Brennen Watts (.357) helping spark the output.

“I think everything that we’ve worked on so far has actually paid off pretty well for me,” says Melton, who will turn 18 in September. “But to be honest, hitting is really a team thing so when other people on the team are hitting it really helps out. When certain people are hitting well it picks the team up, and our bottom half of the hitting order has really helped us keep turning things over.”

The fact that Melton has been so open to making adjustments and following through with full force is a testament to the type of player he is, according to Mayben.

“That’s what I love about this kid, he is willing to listen and he’s coachable,” says Mayben. “We haven’t had to change a lot, really, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get better.”

“He’s a grinder,” adds the coach. “He’s a guy that just loves the game and wants to be on the baseball field every day. You can tell by way he competes, he hates to fail. If you’re going to be OK with failing in this game, you’re going to be mediocre at best and he hates to fail.”

Not that failing happens very much for Melton, but the challenge is what has kept driving him in the sport since he started playing at age 4.

“I think the biggest thing for me why I enjoy baseball so much is because not everybody can do it,” says Melton “It’s a game where you’re going to fail a lot and you can’t really avoid that. No matter how good you get, you’re always going to fail at some point. I think baseball is a game you can strive for perfection and never get there, and that’s just what’s driven me because I’m not perfect but I’m still trying to be.”

And it’s that mentality that keeps Melton’s status on the rise.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@rosebudmedia.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry.

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