Name: Shelby Miller
Notable 2011 Stats: 2.89 ERA, 1.82 FIP, 2 HRA, 20 BB, 81 K, and 35% GB% in 53 IP with Palm Beach (High-A);
2.70 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 2 HRA, 33 BB, 89 K, and 42% GB% in 86 2/3 IP with Springfield (AA);
2.77 ERA, 2.38 FIP, 4 HRA, 53 BB, 170 K, and 40% GB% in 139 2/3 IP total
Why He’s This High: Miller followed up an excellent 2010 season with a truly dominating performance in High-A as a 20-year-old, striking out a whopping 13.75 batters per nine innings. He then moved up to Double-A for the majority of the year, where he continued to strike out over a batter per inning and held his walk rate steady at 3.4 BB/9. He also allowed just four home runs all season, an impressive feat; his Double-A home park is probably the most hitter-friendly stadium at that level.
More than any sort of statistical dominance, Miller’s always been known for having a very powerful right arm. He whips fastballs in the 93-96 range with excellent riding life up in the zone, and he backs it up with a solid curveball and a workable changeup. His delivery is extremely simple and effortless, so he isn’t sacrificing durability for the sake of velocity. At 6’3″ and a sturdy 200 lbs. he’s built to pitch deep into games.
Why He’s This Low: Miller could stand to tighten up his secondary offerings and his command somewhat–it’s not easy to be an elite MLB pitcher with a walk rate around 3.5 BB/9. The usual pitcher attrition possibilities apply, and Miller’s been brought along slowly when it comes to workload–his 139 2/3 IP in 2011 followed 104 2/3 in 2010.
In particular, the spotlight will be on his changeup. Miller had a 52/9 K/BB against Double-A righthanders, but that slipped dramatically to 37/24 against lefties. His K/9 rates against LHB and RHB were similar, but he had to throw many more pitches outside of the zone to lefthanders to get his K rate to that level. Having a changeup that he can attack the zone with is going to be important if Miller is to be tough on lefties at the major league level–probably the difference between his being an ace and a #2 or even a #3.
Conclusions: Miller is a potential #1 starter who has come a long way in two full pro seasons. While he still has some refinement to make, it’s nothing that you wouldn’t expect him to need to improve at this stage. Miller should open 2012 in Triple-A as a 21-year-old and be up later in the season; barring dramatic steps backward, he should at least be an Edwin Jackson-type arm. It’s very possible that he’ll follow Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright as the next dominant St. Louis starter.
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