Name: Drew Miller
DOB: February 24, 1986
A draft-and-follow signing just before the 2006 draft, Miller went 5-1 with a 3.56 ERA over two stops in his professional debut. In 60.2 innings between the Arizona Rookie League and the Northwest League, the right-hander allowed 58 hits, walked 30 and struck out 37.
This year saw his season cut short twice, once because of shoulder soreness that had Miller worried if he would lose a year or more and then an oblique strain down the stretch cut his season short and rendered him a bystander in the Padres Instructional League.
Instead of netting 150 innings, Miller logged just 80.2. The shoulder soreness claimed a month and a half while the oblique sidelined him for the final two weeks of the campaign.
He allowed two runs or less in eight of his 16 outings and four hits or fewer in nine outings but was hit hard in three of his final four starts, accounting for 38 percent of the runs he allowed on the year and pushing his ERA up nearly a full run.
The Oklahoma native ended the year with a 4-6 record and 4.69 ERA, allowing 74 hits and walking 24 while striking out 87.
Impressed with the way he was able to cut down on his walk totals, Miller worked ahead in the count, largely with his fastball. He has refined his mechanics over the year and is coming over the top more consistently in the past.
"I think he has made tremendous strides," Fort Wayne manager Doug Dascenzo said. "That is another injury where we lost Drew for a little while but he came back strong. From last year to this year – last year being his first and as with all first year guys they are not real sure of what to expect. We saw that a little bit from Drew last year but this year after being in it for a year he definitely knew what he needed to do, wanted to do, and went out and did it."
For the most part, he was able to do whatever the hitter was telling him to – working in three pitches: fastball, curveball and changeup.
"We all know he has electric stuff," former Fort Wayne and current Lake Elsinore pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "He has a great fastball, a power curve. His changeup is in the works. At times he throws it really well."
Miller favored a four-seam fastball through much of the season but has worked on the side with his two-seamer. While he can top out at 96 MPH with the four-seamer it is relatively straight. His two-seamer comes in at a healthy 94 MPH with sink.
Miller caught a little too much of the plate at times, particularly with his changeup. A pitch that he is continuing to master, he left it up in the zone and saw it tattooed several times, accounting for many of the 12 homers he issued. Most of the trouble came against right-handed hitters as he had trouble working inside on them.
After not giving up a homer over his first seven games, he allowed multi-homer games in four of his final nine while also hitting seven batters in his final seven games after not hitting any in his first nine.
Miller was extremely difficult against left-handed hitters, holding them to a .193 average. He challenged them by coming inside and used his curveball and changeup effectively as out pitches.
His hook has been a good pitch to keep hitters off-balance. A two-plane curveball, he is able to drop it in for a strike and get good break.
"He has a chance to have three above-average pitches and has a chance to be a frontline starter," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "He is still learning. He is still young. He had some injuries. I would not rush him or hold him back either."
He has room to grow and added weight would allow him better balance and perhaps even a tick or two more on his fastball.
"The biggest difference between this year and last year was mental," Whitehurst said. "He was more aggressive. Not so much concern with why things happened and why did I do this but going out and making things happen. He was a totally different kid. His aggression, his mound presence was there. It was fun to watch.
Miller is one of the few pitchers in the lower levels who are accomplished at keeping runners close. He has a quick step home with plus stuff that makes him hard to steal on. His catchers threw out nine of the 23 baserunners attempting to steal, good for 39.1 percent.
He is, however, a little stiff off the mound and does not come off the bump in good fielding position. Part of the problem is his big follow-through, which sometimes will come across his body.
"He is exciting to watch," Whitehurst said. "He has a bright future and is a good kid."
"This year, he really believed in himself a lot more," said Bryk. "He turned the corner. In his first year, you could tell he was like a deer in the headlights and wasn't sure if he was good enough. Miller passed up Breit on the belief and confidence."
"He is a tremendous young arm we have in the system that we are excited about," Dascenzo said.
ETA: Miller will be in Lake Elsinore to begin the year and could see his status rise significantly with a healthy season. He has as much talent on the mound as anyone and seems poised to make that leap. Still, Miller is several years away on his one level a year trek – putting him on target for San Diego in late 2010 or to begin 2011.
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