The Bucs unveiled their new draft strategy in 2008, when instead of going after college guys that they knew would sign at slot or less, they began taking shots at high school kids that would demand the ranch to give up their scholarships but infuse the organization with young, upside talent.
Robert Quinton Miller, 20 as of Saturday, is the textbook example.
Born and raised in Medford, New Jersey, the righty was the ace of Shawnee High's staff. He lost much of his junior year due to either tendonitis or a shoulder impingement (both were cited in his reports), but still finished 5-1 with an ERA of 1.90. In 43 innings, he struck out 72 and walked eight.
Miller's senior year was just as impressive. He posted a 6-3 slate with a 2.13 ERA in 52-2/3 frames, with 85 whiffs and 14 free passes. It earned him the No. 52 schoolboy prospect ranking in the nation by Perfect Game USA and the Numero Uno player in the state of New Jersey. Baseball America rated Miller as the 158th best prospect in the 2008 draft.
North Carolina, a college baseball juggernaut, gave him a scholarship, and that scared away a lot of the MLB draftniks. He did let it be known that he could be had, though - for first or second round money.
The Pirates selected him in the 20th round, and the waiting game began. Miller spent the summer pitching for the wooden bat Cal Ripken Summer Collegian League. In mid-August, as the clock was ticking loudly, the Pirates freed up $900K for him after determining that Tanner Scheppers and Drew Gagnon weren't going to sign.
It was too late to assign him to a team, but the suits kept him busy, working him in the fall instructional league, followed by spring training, and then extended spring training. Pirate City became his new home away from home.
Miller made his pro debut in late June of 2009 with short-season State College, becoming the youngest player in the Spikes’ brief four-year history. He didn't stay there long; they jumped him to Class A West Virginia after two appearances.
As to be expected from a 19 year-old, his Power start was turbulent. But from the end of July on, Miller began to show his stuff. He surrendered two runs or fewer in five of his last six starts, and had a 2.70 ERA over that span. Overall, he finished 2-4 with a 4.47 ERA. In 56-1/3 innings, he struck out 40 and walked 25, and his opponent batting average was .245.
Miller had his issues, though. His control was poor, especially against lefties, and his splits were heavily tilted in their favor, too. His delivery also needed tuned - he has a bit of a cross-body release and he lands hard on his follow-through. But the rest of it is OK, and he needs some tinkering more than a major rebuild.
He's 6' 1" and 185 pounds, and not too surprisingly, the heater is his best pitch. It can touch 95, but he's maddeningly inconsistent with it, sometimes struggling to hit the high eighties. It's hoped that a more repeated straight-line release will cure that, and in fact, some scouts feel that he can add a couple more miles to it as he matures.
Miller's slider is already considered a plus pitch, and like every other young Pirate pitcher, his change-up is lagging. That's a pitch he'll eventually need to keep the lefties honest.
For a kid that's going to be 20 years old, he's in pretty good shape. Most Pirate prospect listings already rate him in the organization's Top Fifteen, and Miller is potentially a mid-to-top rotation guy down the road.
We expect, with his age and delivery issues, that he'll begin 2010 at West Virginia again. But we don't expect him to be there long.
(Next #11 - Ron Uviedo)