Shelby Miller has a Plan

The top prospect is receiving tips from Colby Rasmus, experimenting with a two-seam fastball and planning to move up through the St. Louis Cardinals system quickly.

Arguably no player in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the arrival of Shelby Miller has had as much written about him after appearing in as few as four professional innings - three regular season minor league frames in 2009 and one inning in a major league spring training game on Wednesday.

The latter made Miller the youngest pitcher to appear in a Cardinals major league spring game since then-phenom, Rick Ankiel, did it in 1998.

After hearing Miller's manager Tony La Russa praise his mound presence the day before, I learned after spending just a few minutes with the teenager that he has a maturity off the field that is truly beyond his years, as well.

We began our interview with a review of Miller's background growing up in Texas and his singular goal to become a professional pitcher. He made a college commitment to Texas A&M, but his primary intent all along was to secure a professional contract. College was discussed over the Miller dinner table, but in a show of honesty, Miller admitted that further classroom education isn't a part of his plans.

"I am looking forward to making enough money in my professional baseball career to not have to worry about going back to college," Miller explained. "Try to stay healthy and get to the big leagues, where the money is at."

Despite having set his mark high, coming into 2010, even Miller didn't expect to be lockering in St. Louis' clubhouse this spring. He has been impressed by the supporting environment there, and has learned some of the "do's and don'ts" of being a major leaguer.

"It doesn't get any better than big league camp," Miller exclaimed. "I had no idea I was going to start here. I thought I had the opportunity to pitch maybe in a game from minor league camp coming up but I didn't know I would steadily be along in big league camp."

In just a couple of weeks, Miller can see a marked change in himself.

"I've matured so much and learned so much about the baseball game that I had no idea existed," he acknowledged. "It is just a different world here."

Picking up is something that Miller is doing – picking up tips from others and picking each other up as players.

La Russa has complimented the youngster's composed demeanor and expects to see more of Miller in his camp this month.

"As long as we keep him in shape and get him his outings… He is going to pitch in the minor leagues… Whenever it is better for him. If we are not doing enough for him here… but I think he can get another appearance. We are not all that deep," La Russa said Thursday.

I asked the pitcher his poise comes naturally or was something he had to teach himself.

"I have always had good composure when I have been on the mound," he replied. "I've always been serious about this game. Really, really focused…"

His primary focus is on the biggest picture of all, becoming a major leaguer.

"I have a goal to get to the big leagues," Miller said calmly. "I know what you've got to do to do that. You've got to perform well, you've got to stay healthy, you've got to keep your composure, don't let anything get you too high."

His most notable provider of encouragement in big league clubhouse might first be considered an unlikely source – a second-year position player. Yet that isn't any player. It is the man who for three years carried the expectations that have now been heaped upon Miller – a high schooler who immediately became the top prospect in the entire Cardinals organization. Of course, that is Colby Rasmus, St. Louis' top draft pick four years earlier.

"You've got to go out with the mindset that you can get anyone out," Miller said as he glanced across the clubhouse to where Rasmus was also being interviewed at the time. "You can never be scared. You can never back down. It is something that Colby Rasmus tells me every day. He says, ‘Always think your stuff is better than the other person's.' He said to never be scared. That is exactly what he does. He has the best mindset about the game that I have seen in the game today."

Rasmus was characteristically modest in relating his discussions with Miller.

"I told him some of the things I learned since being a first-round draft pick (back in 2005)," Colby said. "It can be tough sometimes, not having anyone in your same (group), everybody looking at you as a bonus baby and all that stuff.

"I just told him to stay focused. That is how I play the game. Don't let any of people picking at you get you away from any of that. Stay focused on what you are trying to do and play the game."

Until Miller actually took the mound on Wednesday against Washington, it was unclear whether having him make an appearance in a spring game was in the Cardinals plans. By Thursday morning, La Russa's confidence had grown to the point that he volunteered that Miller will probably get another look in a big league game.

While clearly appreciative, Miller's emotions never changed while expressing them – to me another impressive sign of maturity that I had not expected from any teenager.

"I can't thank Tony and Duncan enough for keeping me up here," Miller said. "Being only 19 and being here with these guys and learning from them every day, it is just an awesome experience. I really never thought I would have the opportunity to do this. It is really kind of unexplainable what goes through my mind every day. I just try to hang back and watch everybody…"

I wanted to sense whether it might be difficult for Miller to return to the reality of Quad Cities and the Midwest League after having had such a positive drink from the major league fountain. Miller knows he has to go back, but doesn't want to linger very long. I asked Miller what he hoped to accomplish there.

"The Quads – just staying healthy, really," he replied. "You know it gets freezing cold there. My goal is to fly through the minor leagues as fast as I can. Get batters out, throw a lot of strikes. Stay healthy, have a lot of bonds with the guys down there. Make a lot of friends, know everybody in the organization."

This is purely speculation, but perhaps if Miller continues to impress in camp, he might earn a spot to remain in Florida with A-Advanced Palm Beach instead of reporting to Davenport, Iowa in April.

Miller outlined his most straight-forward plan for the next 12 months.

"Really do all the right things and do one step at a time, move up through the farm leagues. Hopefully, I will stay about a month at Quad Cities, perform well and get up to high-A and maybe by the end of the year, have a couple of games at Double-A and just be back at big league camp next year."

While his plan is most aggressive, Miller didn't say it in a boastful manner, but instead in the calm and positive tone that caused me to acknowledge it may be realistic for a special talent.

I was initially surprised with what I learned when I finally asked Miller about where he is focusing on improving his pitching. In hindsight, his reply shouldn't have been any more unexpected than was hearing his intent to move up through the system quickly.

Yes, Dave Duncan has introduced his trademark to his top prospect, the two-seam, sinking fastball. Miller disclosed it in his consistent matter-of-fact manner.

"(I will) focus on getting a little bit more sink on my fastball because I am going to be moving up and I am going to need more movement," he explained. "I figured out a two-seam. My change up is there. I just really need to throw strikes and stay focused and get batters out.

"Duncan just told me how to grip a two-seam and I have been throwing it in bullpens. It has been a pretty good pitch for me so far. I haven't used it a lot in batter situations because I am not really comfortable with it like my four-seam. My change up is there and it is a good off-speed pitch for me and my curveball is coming along."

Duncan quickly downplayed the experimentation.

"Actually, his two-seamer doesn't move as much as his four-seamer, so it is not really a pitch we are paying a lot of attention to," the pitching coach said.

Miller summarized his near-term plan as follows:

"Figuring all the pitches out and how to pitch to professional hitters."

Miller certainly has a plan and after first seeing him on the mound, then speaking with him, I have no reason to suspect he can't do it.

Premium Article Exclusive for The Cardinal Nation/ subscribers: Hear the entire 14-plus minute audio interview with Miller, including many more specifics beyond the subset of his remarks highlighted above.


Brian Walton can be reached via email at Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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