As we head towards the start of the 2012 season it would appear that the Cardinals have more than enough starting pitching, despite the impending departure of Edwin Jackson via free agency. We would all anticipate the defending World Series champions to leave Spring Training with the following five-man staff:
- Adam Wainwright
- Chris Carpenter
- Kyle Lohse
- Jamie Garcia
- Jake Westbrook
However, that may not exactly be the case. The Cardinals have one of the top minor league pitchers at their disposal in Shelby Miller, who split time between Single & Double-A in 2011. Over 139.2 IP he posted a 2.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 10.99 K/9. Those numbers came courtesy of a .327 BABIP, so there is actually a chance that the 21-year old righty could get even better.
Before you ask if it was a lucky strand rate, his marks were 70.5% at Single-A and 76.3% at Double-A. So far these are numbers that have to excite us, though that’s not to say that he doesn’t carry his own risk.
Over the entire season he posted a BB/9 of 3.43, though it was at 4.05 at Single-A (after posting a 4.24 BB/9 at Low Single-A in ’10). When you are walking that many batters in the lower levels it is a major red flag, something that all the experts are echoing.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball, who ranked him as the team’s top prospect, recently said that:
“Has everything needed to be a number one, rotation-anchor starter. Just needs to stay healthy and sharpen up his command a bit more.”
However, some feel that the control will come in time. Baseball America, who also ranked him as the team’s best prospect heading into 2012, said:
“True to the organization’s preference, Miller has pitches that invite meek contact, and he has proven economical even when he gets fastball-happy. Throughout the 2011 season, he showed improved stamina and sustained velocity. As his brawny frame continues to fill out, he’ll be able to maintain his power and his command later into games.”
If that does come to fruition the sky would appear to be the limit for Miller. According to Baseball America Miller is armed with a repertoire that includes a fastball that sits in the 90s (and touches 97), curveball and changeup. The secondary pitches are still developing, like most young pitchers, but they describe them as, “His high-70s curveball has tight drop and his mid-80s changeup has nice fade that allows it to slide in on lefthanders.”
Obviously, having thrown around 140 innings last season he is likely to face an innings limit of around 170 in ’12. That could affect his potential value this season, but it certainly won’t eliminate it.
Given the five men that they already have for the Major League rotation, opening the year in Triple-A seems to be a realistic notion. Why rush him to the Majors, especially given the questions regarding his command. Let him get his feet wet against the upper levels of the minors before pushing him up to the Majors.
However, if there is an injury or Miller dominates early do not be surprised if the Cardinals push him up early. Now that Albert Pujols is in Los Angeles the team is going to have to win more with their pitching than ever before. With Adam Wainwright returning and Chris Carpenter in place the team is solid at the top of the rotation. Jamie Garcia is fine for the middle of the rotation, but the backend is far from a lock to produce.
Any struggles will open the door for Miller. Those in keeper leagues should stash him if he happens to still be available. If you are in a yearly format he is someone that you have to have on your radar because once he arrives he is going to be a must own pitcher. There is just too much upside, especially in the strikeout department, to ignore.
Do you think Miller will make an impact in 2012? If so, how big of one? How high of a ceiling do you think he has?
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