Prospect Press: Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals
From young minor league prospects to rookie big-league talent, Prospect Press will be providing an inside look at baseball's best talent for years to come. Today's Prospect Press focuses on St. Louis Cardinals prospect Shelby Miller
The St. Louis Cardinals selected righthanded pitcher Shelby Miller with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 June amateur draft, and in 51 starts over three professional seasons he carries a 3.17 ERA and an 11.4 strikeout-per-nine innings (K/9) ratio, with only 11 home runs allowed in 247 innings pitched. After starting the 2011 season in High-A Palm Beach, Miller finished the year with Double-A Springfield. This came after the youngster spent his previous two pro seasons with the Cardinals' Low-A affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits.
The six-foot-three righthander will be 21 years old at the beginning of the 2012 season and, at the start of the 2011 season, Baseball America ranked him as their thirteenth-best overall prospect and their fifth-best pitching prospect, and he'll likely move up that list for the upcoming year.
After most scouting agencies labeled him as a steal at the 19th overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft, Miller made two starts late in the 2009 season and then spent all of 2010 with the Low-A Quad Cities Bandits of the Midwest League. In 2010, he worked to improve the command of his 12-to-6 curveball and develop a changeup to go with his dominant 4-seam fastball. Miller finished 2010 with a 3.62 ERA, a 12.1 K/9 rate, and only 2.8 walks-per-nine-innings (BB/9). Those numbers were a significant accomplishment, considering that most of the players he faced were a couple of years older than him and had more minor league experience.
This past year, the Texas native finished the season by making 16 starts for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. Though his strikeout rate dropped to 9.8 K/9 and his walk rate increased to 3.4 BB/9, Miller's ERA improved to 2.70 and his WHIP was an impressive 1.21. Again, he was pitching against older and more experienced talent in one of the most hitter-friendly parks of the Texas League, which made his numbers even more impressive.
Shelby is labeled as a "power pitcher" and, as a Texas native, he has quite a pitching tradition to live up to behind fellow Texas hurlers Nolan Ryan
, Kerry Wood
, and Josh Beckett
. Currently, his fastball sits comfortably in the low 90s but consistently touches 95-96 mph early in games. As a pro, he has made strides in the development of his curveball (delivered in the high 70s or low 80s) and threw it more often and in different situations this past season. As for his changeup, Miller's arm speed is deceptive when throwing it but he has struggled to find a consistent release point for the mid-80s pitch.
Miller's biggest developmental roadblock is the inconsistency of placing his secondary pitches. With a three-quarters arm slot delivery, he has a tendency to whip the ball across his body, causing him to lose his release point. If that consistency in his delivery doesn't come and his command of his secondary pitches doesn't develop, it could delay his path to the major leagues.
Miller will likely start the 2012 season with the Cardinals' Triple-A affiliate, the Memphis Redbirds. There is little chance that he will break camp with the St. Louis Cardinals in the spring, especially since the organization has been quite careful with his innings workload in the past two seasons (he's tossed 104 1/3 and 139 2/3 innings in 2010 and 2011, respectively). In addition, after the team picks up Adam Wainwright
's option, the Cards will have six possible starting pitchers on their 2012 major league roster.
If there is an injury or a pitcher is struggling in the St. Louis rotation this year, it's possible that Miller could be called up mid-season. However, it's far more likely that the Cardinals will try to protect the organization's best young arm and Miller's big league debut will come in 2013.