Shelby Miller Settles into Springfield Rotation


July 1st, 2011

That’s the day that the St. Louis Cardinals decided RHP, and 2009 1st round selection, Shelby Miller was ready for a promotion. On that day he made the trek from Palm Beach in the Florida State League to Springfield in the Texas League and based on his first two Double-A starts, he won’t be returning to the FSL.

As the Cardinals top prospect, and the 13th best prospect in all of baseball heading into the season, his promotion was certainly noteworthy, but for anyone who follows the minor leagues and prospects it was hardly a surprise.

In fact, when it comes to Miller, the last time I was surprised was on draft day back in 2009 when St Louis selected him 19th overall. By my estimation he was worthy of a top-10 pick, and when the Kansas City Royals opted for Aaron Crow over Miller with the 12th overall pick I admit I was a little heartbroken. The Cardinals landed themselves a future ace on that day and Shelby has done nothing to change my assessment of him in the last 2 years.

Signed at the deadline on August 17th, St Louis gave Miller a $2.875 million bonus to keep him from his commitment to Texas A&M. Despite signing late, he was still able to make his professional debut with the Quad City River Bandits in the Midwest League (A). His 2009 season amounted to just 3.0 innings of work in 2 September starts with 16 batters faced, an ERA of 6.00, 2 BB and 2 SO. But those 3.0 innings allowed him to get his feet wet and get a feel for pitching in the minors. It also set him up for a strong 2010.

With an idea of what to expect, Shelby Miller spent all of 2010 in the Midwest League. At 19 years of age, he was one of only two players younger than 20 on Quad City’s roster (the other was Venezuelan CF Frederick Parejo) but that didn’t stop him from showing he was up to the task. In 24 starts, he threw 104.1 innings, gave up less than a hit per inning and struck out 140 while walking just 33. Miller’s first start in the league resulted in 4.0 shutout innings with 7 strike outs and he took it from there. He finished 4th in the Midwest League in SO and his 12.1 SO/9 was 2nd best among Midwest League starters. Angels prospect Fabio Martinez Mesa finished just ahead of Miller in both categories with 141 SO and a 12.3 SO/9.

The ability to strike batters out and put them away is certainly part of Miller’s game but what really sets him apart from guys like Mesa is his ability as a power pitcher to command the baseball. While Mesa had an standout 12.3 SO/9, he also had a less than stellar 6.6 BB/9 which gave him a pedestrian at best 1.86 SO/BB. Miller on the other hand coupled his 12.1 SO/9 with a 2.8 BB/9 giving him a healthy 4.24 SO/BB.

Not only does Shelby have the talent, he’s got that necessary element of confidence – cockiness if you prefer – to go along with it. On September 8th of last season he started a Midwest League playoff game. In 7.0 scoreless innings, he gave up just 2 hits, walked 1 and struck out 13. What made that start more impressive is that before the game he guaranteed a shutout.

With all his success, and the bookend shutouts to start and finish his 2010 campaign, it was clear he was ready for a new level of competition.

The Cardinals obliged by bumping him up to the Florida State League to start this season. He threw 53.0 innings in 9 starts with the Palm Beach Cardinals. His walk rate increased a bit to 3.4 BB/9, but he more than made up for that blip by dropping his H/9 from 7.3 to 6.8 and by upping his SO/9 from 12.1 to 13.8. With a 2.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and a SO/BB still above 4 – at 4.05 – the 20-year old righty gave the Cardinals plenty of evidence that he was ready for the Texas League.

He’s made two starts since his July 1st promotion and he hasn’t disappointed:

June 3rd: 6.0 IP, 7 H, 1 ER, 5 SO, 2 BB
June 10th: 6.0 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 9 SO, 2 BB

It’s hard to imagine that 2011 would have started off in a much better fashion for Miller, but again we really shouldn’t be surprised with his success. Armed with an explosive mid-90s fastball that pushes triple-digits and two rapidly developing pitches –  in his 12-to-6 curveball and a promising changeup – he’s certainly got the stuff to hold down a spot at the front of a major league rotation. But as we all know, it’s never just about the stuff. With Miller you also get command, aggressiveness and poise. It’s the combination of the stuff, mechanics and intangibles that separates Shelby Miller from the rest of his peers and makes him a legit future ace.