Express Tracks Scouting Report: Shelby Miller

Author’s Note: This is the first installment of a new segment Express Tracks is running. We will do this once or twice a series to highlight some of the star players or top prospects on the opposing team. This will not be like the Express Player-to-Watch because it will be more focused on highlighting the players’ overall abilities rather than a projection of their performance that night. Since we will be evaluating opposing teams’ players, it will cover their weaknesses as well as their strengths.

Express Tracks Scouting Report: Shelby Miller

Photo by Alex Stocksdale/TAGsgf.com

By Andrew Brown

Today we highlight Shelby Miller- right-handed pitcher for the Memphis Redbirds, Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Miller has been a top MLB prospect since he was drafted by the Cardinals 19th overall in the 2009 draft. In ESPN MLB analyst Keith Law’s most recent list of the top 50 MLB prospects Miller is ranked number 17, and has been ranked as highly as number five. Miller dominated the Texas high school competition with his elite combination of velocity and movement. His fastball, which is consistently in the mid-90s with late sinking action, explodes out of his hand in large part because of his easy arm action and smooth delivery.

Miller has continued this success through the each level of the minors, striking out 402 hitters in only 68 games (an amazing average of 11.2 strike outs per nine innings). Despite only playing four seasons in the minors, many scouts feel that Miller is ready for big league service, especially because of the injuries that Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright have had to deal with for St. Louis lately.

The Scouts will get their wish soon enough, but for now Miller stays in the minors to try to gain consistency with his off-speed pitches. His curveball has a tight, 12-6 drop and his changeup sits in the mid-80s with a nice fade to the right side of the plate. Both pitches he throws with good arm action, and will become plus-strikeout pitches when he figures out how to throw them with more command.

The main knock against Miller is that he is too reliant on his fastball. He throws it in the zone, and he throws it a lot. This works for Miller because his fastball is so dominant, but he can get in trouble at times, and will face even more trouble at the next level when hitters begin to catch up to it. The key to attacking Miller is to gear up for good old-fashioned Texas heat. Hitters know that they will be challenged early and often by Miller’s fastball, as he makes a habit of coming after hitters with it. If a hitter can meet Miller early in the count and jump on an early fastball then he will have a chance for success against the right-hander. Even so, the challenge is on the hitter to handle Miller’s explosive fastball. Miller has proven through every level of the minors that he can dominate hitters, and do so efficiently, even when he gets fastball-happy.

Until Miller can develop his off-speed pitches to the point that he is comfortable throwing them in any count though, he will not live up to the number one starter projections that most scouts have for him. But he will. Miller is on a fast track to stardom in the show, and when he finally gets his chance (which will likely be in the later part of this 2012 season) Miller should blow everyone away with just how dynamic his stuff can be.

Strengths: Plus-Plus Fastball, attacking mentality and pitching style, two solid strikeout pitches.

Weaknesses: Tendency to get fastball-happy, needs to gain consistency with off-speed pitches, needs learn to pitch in and out of the zone.

Player Comparison: Matt Cain- Miller is like Cain in a lot of ways, aside from just his plus-fastball. Once Miller is comfortable with his off-speed pitches and can throw them in any count, he will have three plus-pitches to attack hitters with. He also, at this point in his career, has demonstrated the same attacking mentality and mental toughness that Cain has thrived on in the Majors. To say that he will post the same résumé of Cain is a massive stretch, but not implausible as long as he continues to improve each season, as he has so far.

Estimated MLB Arrival: By our estimation, Miller could see time in with the Cardinals as early as August. If St. Louis wants to make a big playoff push this year in order to catch the Reds and the Pirates (in my life, I never thought I would say that statement) then they will need to make a big splash. Miller seems to be the guy, especially with the inconsistencies and injuries that the St. Louis starting rotation has faced so far this year.

Postgame EvaluationMiller was pretty wild tonight, walking several batters and throwing a lot of pitches. He pitched himself into more than his fair share of jams early in the game, but consistently pitched his way out of them. The most notable of these instances was in the bottom of the second inning with Miller gave up a hit and two walks to load the bases with only one out, but then geared back and struck out the next two hitters on straight heat, throwing as high as 95 on the gun. Miller had trouble controlling his breaking ball in particular, which he bounced a few times. The Express hitters got a few good rips at his fastball because of this, but the only solid contact they managed was when Matt Kata flew out to the warning track in the first inning, and Brad Nelson’s single to the left field fence.

Here is Miller’s final line from July 14, 2012: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 4 K, 19 Batters Faced, 11 First Pitch Strikes, 86 Total Pitches, 54 Strikes

Final Thoughts: Miller did not have his best stuff tonight, and yet he still managed to dominate. That is the mark of a great pitcher: figuring out how to be great even when your stuff isn’t. Miller, if called up right now, could definitely get people out at the big league level. He has over powering stuff, and showed the ability to pitch with his back against the wall. That being said though, he is not quite ready for his debut, as he still needs to work out some control issues, particularly with his off-speed pitches. Once he does, his ceiling is that of a consistent Cy Young candidate.

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