Beloit, WI -- On April 21, 2010, I had a chance to get a firsthand look at Shelby Miller, who was ranked as the Cardinals top prospect entering 2009 by just about every major publication. The 19th overall pick of 2009, Miller is a 6-foot-3 righty with an athletic, projectable frame. It was cold and damp in Beloit, but the night was well worth braving to see the progress made by the high-upside prospect.
Miller worked all three of his pitches, mostly going fastball/changeup. I assume the high usage of changeups is by plan, as it's the pitch in his arsenal that needs the most development. I wasn't able to get velocities for every pitch but for the most part this is where he sat:
Fastball: 91-93 MPH (with a good tail and sink into right-handed hitters)
Changeup: 82-83 MPH (with good tail into right-handed hitters)
Curveball: 75-76 MPH (used sparingly)
The fastball velocity above may seem down from his scouting reports, but it was a very cold and damp night in Beloit, with the game having been delayed one hour from the regular starting time. Still, the opposing hitters were late on his fastballs quite often, resulting in a bunch of foul balls and broken bats.
His changeup was actually the most impressive pitch I saw that night. Not that it was a great pitch -- was hit hard when he left it up in the zone -- but more for the fact that it showed good movement and was extremely effective when located properly. The development of that changeup should make a huge difference in Miller's ceiling as a Major League starter.
While all three of Miller's pitches flashed signs of brilliance, his command was not great, if even borderline good. There were times where he would lose his release point. Given his three-quarters arm slot, this is something I'd expect from someone his age. When he did lose his arm slot, the ball would tail into the right-handed batters box and appear as if he was slinging rather than throwing. This is something to keep an eye on as he continues to develop.Miller got into deep counts regularly. This was due to a mix of strikeouts (7), foul balls and the aforementioned control issues. It seemed like every batter went to at least a 2-2 count.
Overall there were more encouraging signs than anything else. Miller stuck out seven in only four innings (he now has 33 strikeouts in 19.1 innings) and it was obvious that he had been working hard on both his delivery and changeup.
Differences From 2009 to 2010
Miller's lack of command has been a constant source of concern. It seems his first major adjustment as a professional was to change his motion to try and make it easier to repeat his delivery consistently, thus potentially helping his command.
Back in high school, Miller had a very high leg kick. He would almost touch his glove with his knee before starting his momentum home. But that kick is noticeably lower and shorter now, as he barely brings his leg above his waist. This has allowed him to improve his balance without sacrificing velocity. Miller is also throwing his changeup much more often, a pitch he didn't use much in high school.
Looking to the Future
This was my first time seeing Miller pitch in person, so I don't want to come to any concrete conclusions just yet. But I must say that it was impressive to see such good movement from his changeup, a key pitch in his development. His delivery is now short and compact, which could lead to better command in the long run but could create problems if he tries to rush when he wants a little more zip on his fastball. At least he has a lot of time to work on that part of his game.
The fastball was a solid pitch in all four innings and should see better velocity as spring becomes summer.
Hopefully he gets used to the changes in his delivery and can find a consistent release point.
One small note, which may be insignificant but caught my attention, was that Miller stood beside the bleachers of the third base dugout after his outing was over and he had hit the clubhouse showers. He came back out to see if his team could work out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning. There was no one else in the stands except for myself -- waiting to get some video of Aaron Hicks at the plate. It was cold and windy and there he was standing in that inconvenient weather watching his teammates.
It would have been so easy to just stay in the heated clubhouse.
Given the way Miller has already adjusted to professional life, I don't think he expects things to come easy. The funny thing is, if he continues to make adjustments and approaches the game with passion, they just might.
Charlie Saponara is a former college baseball player who has since spent time as a high school and college coach. He also worked for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. He can be reached by email at email@example.com and @fb365 on Twitter.