Miller was once one of the most promising pitching prospects in the game as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, peaking as Baseball America’s #6 overall prospect before the 2013 season. He ended up making 31 starts for the Cards that year, putting up a 3.06 ERA and finishing 3rd in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Jose Fernandez and Yasiel Puig.
After a solid 2014, he was the key piece going to Atlanta in the Cardinals’ big deal for Jason Heyward. He ended up losing 17 games on a very bad Braves team, but was an All-Star while putting up a 3.02 ERA as a 24-year-old. Then he was traded again — this time in a universally-panned trade to Arizona for top prospect Dansby Swanson and Ender Inciarte, who went on to win multiple Gold Gloves. Miller’s career derailed in the desert, with 20 starts’ worth of 6.15-ERA pitching in 2016 preceding years of injury problems that have limited him to 82 innings over 28 games total in the last three years.
This isn’t the Brewers’ first go-around with the former top prospect — they also signed him to a minor league contract last season, and he made 5 starts at Triple-A San Antonio while also doing some work at the organization’s training facility in Phoenix. The results continued to be not great, to put it nicely, but it appears there’s something about him that their data finds intriguing, so they’re bringing him back for another round.
The Brewers had Miller work quite a bit in their pitching lab down in Arizona during his time in the org. Perhaps saw some things to build on there. https://t.co/msGFQyDuXW— Toby H (@YouKnowAndThat) January 27, 2020
The fact that Miller pitched a bit in the majors last year means we have some recent Statcast data on him, and it shows while the results weren’t good, he still possesses a good fastball — one that is considered both above average in velocity (69th percentile) and spin rate (65th percentile). For whatever reason, that fastball hasn’t been able to miss many bats. The hope is more time in the Brewers’ pitching lab would be able to find some of those answers and get Miller back to pitching effectively.
Like the Brett Lawrie signing last winter, it’s one that very likely will amount to nothing, but it’s also one the organization feels it can take a flier on due to the resources ($50 million of them, to be exact) they’ve recently poured into the Arizona training facility, with all of the bells and whistles designed to unlock those kinds of mysteries.
If the Brewers eventually get anything of value out of Miller at the Major League level, it would be a win (and a rather unlikely one, considering how things have fallen apart in the last half decade for him). He’s still only 29, though, so it seems like a worthwhile gamble, especially considering his previous big league success and the fact they can move on quickly if there’s nothing there.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant