Name: Drew Miller
DOB: February 24, 1986
They were rewarded for their efforts, signing the power pitcher to a six-figure bonus to lure him away; it helped that he wanted to start his professional career.
After whiffing 76 in 50.1 innings in college, the right-hander was ready to take on the Arizona Rookie League, his first stop – but not his last.
After allowing four earned runs over four innings in his debut, Miller would go on to yield just five earned runs over his next 19.1 innings by working to contact and throwing strikes. He would not give up a single earned run over his next 13 innings as a starter.
"I like this kid," AZL Padres pitching coach Dave Rajsich said. "He has some kind of upside. His fastball rises. It has a natural lift to it when he throws it up in the zone. His curveball wasn't consistent enough in the zone for strikes yet but his changeup had a great bottom. People were asking us if it was a split-finger. ‘No, that is his change.' It is a little bit harder, about 83 to 85 but it has the action of a split-finger. It was tremendous.
"The last game before he went up it was absolutely outstanding. Now, if we can just get that curveball on track. He has a good curveball. It has good, tight rotation. He is in a situation right now where his arm comes up and he flips it out instead of letting his arm come into a basic one-seven type of delivery. There is more of a rap in the back and it is cast out. When he does throw it right it is nice to see. I have seen it in the bullpen so I know it is there. It is just a question of him taking it out to the field."
Splitting time between starting and relief, Miller was not accustomed to the short burst and quickly getting ready – posting a 6.75 ERA in three relief appearances. He had no such qualms as a starter – holding the opposition to a .175 average.
He would be promoted to Eugene, and after one relief outing, Miller joined the starting rotation for good.
The Oklahoma native went on to post a 3.62 ERA over nine appearances, yielding 39 hits and walking 20 in 37.1 innings.
The numbers weren't ideal, but Miller was working on the development of his changeup and curveball to supplement the effectiveness of the heater.
Miller has solid mechanics and comes out at a slightly three-quarters arm angle, giving his fastball good life down in the zone. He keeps his body well aligned and gets good extension, staying on top of the ball to give it the downward angle that makes it so effective.
"He has major league stuff across the board," said Padres minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk. "He has to hone it and be consistent with it. Miller is probably not where Breit is mentally but certainly has as good of stuff and maybe even more projectibility."
His release point has been a little erratic at times and Miller has worked hard to correct that.
The result in Eugene was a loss of command at times; 15 of his 20 walks came in four games. Once he losses the feel, he has had a tough time gaining it back.
"Another power arm," 2006 Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He has had some real good starts and some not so good. He will have to get better at throwing strikes earlier in the count and getting a better feel for the changeup."
Some scouts point to a lack of a killer instinct on the mound and trusting his stuff. They believe he has frontline starter material and has to act like it. Too many times this past year he allowed the mental part of the game to get the best of him.
But that comes with maturity those same scouts say and Miller has the makings to be something special.
He already has a refined approach with his mechanics and that has allowed him to pick up the changeup and given him more tilt on the curveball – both potential plus pitches in the future.
Miller's two-seam fastball runs 91-93 MPH with good life late in the zone and its heavy sinking action tends to force ground ball outs. His four-seam fastball can hit 95-96 MPH and is a heavy ball that shows late pop.
His ability to command each fastball helped him initiate contact – yet he can become wild with his entire arsenal.
"He has very nice mechanics, very smooth and really you can do a lot of other things but if the ball comes out in the hand, out in front with ease and consistency that is really what you are after," said Rajsich. "All the other stuff they do in the back affects that. You try and make sure they do anything that is going to cause injury to the elbow or shoulder."
The right-hander was more effective against left-handed hitters, fearlessly coming inside and holding them to a .217 average. Right-handed batters, meanwhile, hit .276 off him and part of that seemed to be an unwillingness to work the inside corner and throw his curveball and changeup against them.
"Drew Miller has a live arm," 2006 pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He has a lot of potential and a feel for three different pitches. Has a fastball, curve, changeup – started off a little slow and I think the one thing Drew needs to work on is having more of an attitude and presence on the mound. He pitched well his last three outings. It is coming for him; it is just going to take some time."
The 21-year-old prospect has room to fill out his frame and could stand to add more mass after checking in at less than 200 pounds last year. The added weight should help his stamina as he heads into full season ball and could add a tick or two to an already above-average fastball, especially given his solid mechanics and ability to put his whole body behind each throw.
Credit Lane Decker for signing Drew Miller and Aaron Breit – coups as draft-and-follows.
ETA: Miller could be fast-tracked through the system if his secondary pitches advance as quickly as anticipated. While he first needs to show he can master full season ball, skipping a level is not out of the question. He has the stuff to be a potential No. 2 starter at the big league level and needs refinement, a sense or urgency, and time to meet those lofty goals.