Name: Drew Miller
DOB: February 24, 1986
Miller came into spring of 2009 with discomfort in his throwing elbow. As the frustration mounted – putting a dismal 2008 behind him and looking forward to a more positive season, Miller was prescribed rest. After several weeks, it was evident that he was not getting any better – leading to surgery and a lost season.
Selected in the 37th-round in 2005 out of Seminole State Community College, Miller was part of the now deceased draft-and-follow process, signing just prior to the 2006 draft.
He began his career in the Arizona Rookie League in '06, going 3-0 with a 3.47 ERA across seven appearances before quickly moving up to short-season Eugene. In nine outings, the right-hander went 2-1 with a 3.62 ERA. He allowed 39 hits and walked 20 across 37.1 innings while striking out 23.
The following season, Miller was elevated to full-season ball. With Fort Wayne, the Oklahoma native made 16 starts, going 4-6 with a 4.69 ERA. In 80.2 innings, he allowed 74 hits, walked 24 and struck out 87. His year was cut short by shoulder soreness and an oblique injury.
The right-hander went to the California League this past season, going 10-7 with a 6.10 ERA across 27 games, including 26 starts.
Miller allowed 11.6 hits per nine innings pitched, giving up 172 in 134.1 innings, Combined with the 46 walks, Miller had a 1.62 WHIP – third worst in the California League.
Lefties and righties both hit .313 off him, as he surrendered more hits than innings pitched in 18 of his outings. He ended up with a 4.76 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) – the third worst mark in the circuit. The .354 BABIP
(Batting Average on Balls In Play) ranked fifth from the bottom. His 61.7 left on base percentage was the eighth worst.
The then 22-year-old also allowed 1.27 homers per nine innings – tied for the third worst mark in the circuit – after allowing 19 homers, which included a bomb surrendered in seven straight games.
He was eager to put all of that behind him with a strong 2009. Instead, he took the injury news hard and the inevitable and understandable frustration poured forth. He underwent a second procedure in August – this one was an ulnar nerve transposition. He is not expected to touch the mound until extended spring training with an eye on returning in July.
"I have no reason to think he won't come back better than before," roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said.
His mental toughness has been questioned in the past, and the Padres placed a heavy burden on him coming into 2009 – the time for performance outweighed his potential. Essentially, it is time for Miller to put his considerable tools into action.
The right-hander has a plus fastball and above-average curveball but putting the combination together with location has been an issue.
Miller throws a two- and four-seam fastball. The two-seamer sits 90-92 mph with lateral movement. The four-seam sits in the 94-95 mph range and has hit 96 mph. Miller's four-seam fastball has a natural rise to it when thrown up in the zone – giving him the high strikeout pitch at eye level. The two-seamer can appear flat at times and gets hammered when thrown over the plate – something that has happened way too frequently in the past.
His curveball has shown a tendency to come out a little high at his release point, making it float up in the zone. It has tight rotation and drops like a two-plane curveball but is not consistently down in the zone. Hitters sitting back on the pitch get a chance to pounce on it and hit it out of the park. When he gets extension and delivers it out in front of his body, it is a power curve that has quick dropping action.
The changeup has been a three-year process that has not made many strides. There are times when he shows a good bottom-out of the pitch but oftentimes he is throwing it at 88 mph – way too hard for a changeup to actually see any action. It is a pitch that appeared like a batting practice ball to hitters – many of whom took it deep. When he does have a feel for it, the pitch can be very effective but the inconsistency must be worked out.
One of the problems Miller has faced is an inability to work inside to righties and lefties alike. Hitters are hanging out on the outside corner waiting for a pitch they know is coming. Working inside with effectiveness would cause hitters to have to worry about both sides of the dish. It would also get a batter's feet moving – a critical component of pitching.
"He's got the talent," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He's another guy that needs to learn how to pitch inside, command the fastball in and up and down in the zone and throw his breaking pitch, his curveball for strikes. Once he wasn't getting the curveball for strikes, they were looking for higher stuff in kind of the same area, and that's why he struggled. He's got an outstanding arm, and he just needs to work on that and get his confidence level a little higher."
With the focus on his delivery and throwing strikes, Miller largely ignores the runners on base. He does not offer different looks and his glances over to first do little to stop the running game. He and his catchers were success in catching 5-of-34 base runners attempting to steal in 2008.
Conclusion: Even with the injury, Miller has to realize that his time is now. He likely won't be ready for competitive action until the season is near its end, but his need for positive results is at hand. Time away from the game may help the talented righty, as he can see the successes of others and incorporate the tactics used into his game. Throwing inside is one part of that. Keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate will be the other. With command the last thing to return, it will give him the chance to experiment and not worry about the consequences – this is the time to learn how to pitch to both corners effectively so when the command does return it is simply natural.