With starting pitching stated as his team’s number one priority this winter, David Stearns has said he’s “casting a wide net” in his search for competent arms to bring to Milwaukee. That not only includes the top of the market and the names like Darvish and Arrieta that everyone knows, but also no doubt encompasses several under-the-radar depth targets that the casual fan may not be familiar with. Right-hander Miles Mikolas would fall into that category, and could be a fit with the Brewers this offseason.
Mikolas, 29, began his professional career after being selected by the Padres in the 7th round of the 2009 MLB Draft. He pitched collegiately at Nova Southeastern, where he was a teammate of old friend Mike Fiers. Mikolas pitched almost exclusively as a reliever coming up through the minor leagues, posting some stellar results while climbing the ladder through San Diego’s farm system before making his MLB debut in 2012. Mikolas pitched in 25 games during his rookie season, tossing 32.1 innings with a nifty 3.62 ERA. His 23:15 K/BB ratio was much less impressive, however, and neither FIP- (128) nor DRA- (116) viewed his work as very competent.
Mikolas spent most of 2013 in AAA, appearing in only 2 big league games with San Diego and working just 1.2 innings. During the following offseason, he was traded twice - first from San Diego to Pittsburgh in November after being designated for assignment by the Padres, then from Pittsburgh to Texas a month later in December. It was the Rangers that decided to try converting Mikolas into a starter, and he wound up making 10 MLB starts for Texas that summer. They did not go well, as Miles logged 57.1 innings with a 6.44 ERA, 132 DRA-, 38:18 K/BB ratio, and 8 home runs allowed.
Following that 2014 season Mikolas was offered the chance to go overseas, where he would have the opportunity to earn more money and get a consistent role as a starter. He signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and joined the team’s starting rotation for the 2015 season. That decision changed the trajectory of his career.
Mikolas was sensational during his three seasons with the Giants, becoming one of the top pitchers in NPB. From 2015-2017, Miles made 62 starts, throwing five complete games (two shutouts). He compiled a minuscule 2.18 ERA across 424.2 innings, registering 378 strikeouts against only 69 walks. Just this past season, Mikolas logged a league-leading 188.0 innings and finished 3rd on the circuit with a sparkling 2.25 ERA (min 100 IP). He lead the league with 187 strikeouts and an 8.13 K/BB ratio, was 2nd among qualifiers with 1.1 BB/9 and a 0.984 WHIP, and finished 3rd in strikeout rate with 9.0 K/9.
A recent scouting report from his time in Japan has Mikolas’ fastball sitting in the 92-93 MPH range, along with positive reviews of each of his secondary offerings - a curveball, cutter, and slider. His command has come a long way from his days in the states, and he now pounds the strike zone effectively while issuing very few free passes.
Mikolas’ wildly successful run in Japan has him hoping to make the jump back stateside this offseason in free agency. He wouldn’t be the first pitcher to parlay a strong stint overseas into a nice MLB payday, following in the footsteps of others like Colby Lewis and Tony Barnette. By today’s standards, however, his expected contract ought to be far from prohibitive. MLB Trade Rumors believes he’ll land a 2-year, $10 mil guarantee, while Jon Heyman predicts a 2-year pact worth between $7-8 mil in total.
That type of contract is something that the Milwaukee Brewers would have no trouble fitting into their budget for 2018, especially after running a league-low payroll for the last two seasons. An average annual value of $5 mil or less over a short-term deal mitigates nearly all major risk involved in a free agent expenditure; in the context of today’s financial environment, Mikolas would need only to produce about 1 total Win Above Replacement over two seasons to justify a $10 mil investment. Given his recent track record in Japan, there’s obviously plenty of room for surplus value even if he’s only a back-end starter at the big league level. There’s reason to believe he could be even better than that, too.
Slingin’ Stearns and the Brewers have already succeeded once in bringing on a former big leaguer on his way back from the Far East. First baseman Eric Thames clubbed 31 homers with a 124 wRC+ in 2017 after signing a relatively minimal 3-year deal last winter on the heels of tremendous run in Korea. Perhaps that positive experience will motivate Stearns to get involved in the bidding for the man known as “The Lizard King” (which stems from this Youtube video of him eating a lizard). Miles Mikolas would be a welcome addition and offer tantalizing upside to a 2018 starting rotation that’s currently in flux. Given the meager deal that he is projected to receive, what is there to lose?
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus