By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Shelby Miller, Starting Pitcher, St. Louis Cardinals
2012 season: 6 G, 1 GS, 13.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 16 K, 4 BB
The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most well-managed teams in all of baseball. The club is competitive almost every season, blending veterans on reasonable contracts with prospects and unheralded role players. When the Cardinals lost Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa last year, many thought that might be the start of the end, but instead the team made its third playoff appearance in four years.
This year, more questions surround the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter is out for the season and probably done with his baseball career, Kyle Lohse is gone and other members of the rotation – like Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook – are question marks. Which is why it will be important for Shelby Miller to step up and make an impact in the rotation.
Currently leading the competition for the No. 5 starter job, Miller impressed during his brief stint in the Majors last year. Though he mostly appeared in relief, St. Louis relied on him to make a start down the stretch and he did not disappoint. In that outing, the 22-year-old right-hander held the Cincinnati Reds to one hit over six scoreless frames, striking out seven and walking two.
That’s just one game, but those are the types of outings that Miller could provide for the Cardinals this year. Selected out of high school in the first round of the 2009 draft, Miller immediately became the best pitching prospect in St. Louis’ system and still holds that title today. The Texas native looked like he was close to ready in 2011, when he posted a 2.77 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 139.2 innings between High-A and Double-A.
But Miller struggled for most of last season, putting together a 4.74 ERA in 136.2 Triple-A innings. It wasn’t until he made some mechanical adjustments that he started to find his old form – once he did, however, he was nearly unstoppable. In the second half of last season, he compiled 2.88 ERA with 70 strikeouts and just seven walks in 59.1 frames.
Miller combines a hard four-seam fastball – he averaged 92.9 mph in the Majors last year – with a two-seamer, curveball and changeup. His off-speed stuff can be inconsistent, but the curveball has the chance to be a legitimate out pitch and his changeup can generate swings-and-misses as well. This year, there will likely be some growing pains, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Miller emerge as the Cardinals’ second-best starter behind Adam Wainwright. Long term, he’s one of the few young pitchers in the game with true ace upside. If he reaches his potential, he’ll be just another superstar to come up through the Cardinals’ ranks.
Next up on March 26: Los Angeles Dodgers