Oakland A's Prospect Profile: Tom Milone

Oakland A's minor league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson preaches fastball command - not velocity - as the most important aspect of any pitcher's arsenal. Tom Milone optimizes this philosophy. Not a hard thrower by any stretch, Milone has still dominated as a professional thanks to impeccable fastball command and a solid array of secondary offerings. We take a closer look at the left-hander.

Name: Tom Milone
Birthdate: 02/16/87
Height/Weight: 6'1''/205 pounds
How Acquired: Traded along with Derek Norris, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole for Gio Gonzalez and Robert Gilliam on December 22, 2011. Originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 10th round in 2010.


Background

Milone joined the Washington Nationals' organization in 2008 after a three-year career at the University of Southern California. While pitching for the Trojans, Milone was teammates with current A's prospects Grant Green and Ryan Cook. Milone was a tenth round selection of the Nats that season in large part on the strength of his very strong showing at the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2007. During the '07 Cape season, Milone had a 2.92 ERA and a 46:7 K:BB ratio in 52.1 innings. Those numbers were significantly better than the ones he put up at USC, although his K:BB ratios were always solid.

As with most collegiate draft picks, Milone signed quickly and he appeared in 13 games (10 starts) for short-season Vermont and Low-A Hagerstown in 2008. The left-hander had a solid professional debut for the Lake Monsters and the Suns, posting a combined 3.51 ERA with a 49:9 K:BB ratio in 59 innings pitched.

Milone's success in 2008 put him on a fast track with the Nationals. For the 2009 season, Washington sent Milone to High-A Potomac, where he would spend the entire season. He threw 151.1 innings for the P-Nationals that season and had a 2.91 ERA. His strike-out total fell to 106, but he walked only 36 and allowed just nine homeruns.

The next season would be more of the same for Milone. Suiting up this time for Double-A Harrisburg, Milone tossed 158 innings. He lowered his ERA to 2.85 and improved his K:BB ratio significantly, striking-out 155 and walking only 23. His HR/9 ratio stayed roughly the same (10 homers allowed), as did his H/9. For his efforts, Milone was named the Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year for 2010.

The 2010 season was memorable for Milone, but the 2011 campaign would be even better. The southpaw jumped to Triple-A and would earn All-Star honors for his work with the Syracuse Chiefs. In 24 starts for the Chiefs, Milone had a 3.22 ERA, but that number was actually deceptively high. He struck-out 155 batters in 148.1 innings (crossing the 9.00 K/9 barrier for the first time in his pro career) and he walked only 16 while holding opposing batters to a .241 average. He also allowed only nine homeruns.

That effort earned Milone a spot on the International League's mid-season All-Star team and a post-season Baseball America Triple-A All-Star nod. More importantly, however, it earned Milone a ticket to the major leagues. When Nationals' starter Jordan Zimmerman reached his season limit for innings pitched in late August, the Nationals turned to Milone to take Zimmerman's place in the rotation. Milone would make five starts for the Nationals and he held his own in the big leagues, posting a 3.81 ERA and a 15:4 K:BB ratio in 26 innings pitched. He also homered on the first pitch of the first at-bat he had as a major leaguer, a three-run shot.


Scouting Report

In some ways, Milone is a very similar prospect to former A's southpaw Greg Smith, who was acquired by Oakland as part of the Dan Haren trade in December 2007. Like Smith, Milone is not a hard-thrower, but he has impeccable command and his ability to mix his pitches and out-think hitters allows him to pitch above his natural abilities. Also like Smith, Milone is an above-average athlete for a pitcher and an excellent hitter. The first at-bat homerun was no fluke. Milone hit .346 in 26 at-bats for Triple-A Syracuse last season.

In other ways, Milone profiles similarly to current A's starter Dallas Braden. Like Braden, Milone has a plus change-up that is a swing-and-miss weapon. Milone's fastball sits in the 85-88 MPH range, but he has a deep arsenal of secondary pitches, including a cut fastball, the change-up and a curveball. His command of all four pitches is on the plus side. Despite his lack of velocity, hitters have a tough time squaring Milone up. Even though he is not a groundball pitcher per se, he has allowed only 0.69 homeruns per nine innings pitched during his minor league career.

Milone has been very durable as a professional, throwing at least 148 innings in every full season as a pro. He fields his position well and controls the running game effectively. His ceiling is as a Braden-like starter in the big leagues, although his career may ultimately more closely resemble Smith's (or at least what Smith's was before injuries derailed him with Colorado).


Outlook

Although Milone was the least heralded of the four players the A's received for Gio Gonzalez in December, he is the player who is the most likely to have an impact for the A's in 2012. Milone will turn 25 during spring training and has enough polish and experience to thrust into a starting rotation at the outset of the 2012 season. He will need to earn a spot in much the same way Smith did during the spring of 2008, but he should be given ample opportunities to show what he can do during camp.

Longterm Milone's ability to stay in the big leagues will be dependent on how well he is able to keep hitters off of his fastball and guessing on his secondary stuff. The A's have never judged a pitcher by his radar gun readings, so he is in a good spot to show what he can do at the big league level.


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