At the age of 21, in his 6th major league game, Andrew Miller got the final out in a win that clinched the Detroit Tigers’ first playoff berth in 19 years. It was three months to the day after Miller made his final start for the University of North Carolina.
“That was pretty cool – to be on the mound and then walk into the clubhouse in Kansas City for the champagne celebration and all,” Miller told me. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
After selecting Miller with the 6th overall pick in the 2006 draft, Detroit promoted him to the big leagues at the end of August so that he would be eligible for their post-season roster – even thought he had only made three minor league appearances at the Single-A level. As it turned out, Andrew was not on the active roster in October, but he was in the Tigers’ dugout during the playoffs and World Series.
“I was on that team for the last month of the season,” Miller said. “Unfortunately for me, they ended up playing the Cardinals in the World Series who had only one lefty on their roster and that was Jim Edmonds. It was such a great experience at the time and I had a blast. Unfortunately, the series didn’t go our way, but how many people get to sit in the dugout in a World Series and take part in all the festivities? It’s something that I’ll never forget.”
At that point, it appeared that the hard-throwing lefty was on the fast track to major league stardom, but Miller is still looking to reach his outstanding potential.
After two years in the Tigers’ organization, Miller was traded to the Marlins in the deal that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. After three years with Florida, Andrew was traded to the Red Sox last November for relief pitcher Dustin Richardson.
“I was excited,” Miller said. “I didn’t know too much about the Red Sox organization, but I knew that they had a good reputation and the more that I found out, it just got me really excited. It was a new opportunity for me and seemed like such a great fit coming in. So far it has been great. It’s met my expectations if not exceeded them.”
But Miller almost didn’t wind up with the Red Sox.
As WEEI’s Alex Speier described in this story about Miller, Boston allowed Andrew to become a free agent with the goal of signing him to a minor league contract.
“Because Miller has now exhausted his options, a team cannot send him from the majors to the minors without exposing him to waivers,” writes Speier. “The Sox didn’t feel that keeping Miller on the big league roster just for fear of losing him was productive, either for the team (those 25 roster spots are, after all, precious) or for the pitcher’s development.
And so, the Sox allowed him to become a free agent, with the idea that they wanted to sign the left-hander to a minor league deal that was based primarily on his long-term development.”
Miller could have taken a major league deal with other organizations, but elected to sign a minor league contract with Boston.
“I understood where they were coming from,” Miller told me. “I liked it because they were being honest with me and they had a plan for me. I had options to go other places that aren’t as deep as Boston– there probably aren’t any organizations as deep as Boston– but it just seemed like such a good fit for me. I was willing to come here on a minor league deal and work my way up and I don’t regret it so far.”
Miller is off to an excellent start with Pawtucket with a 1.32 ERA after three starts and an opponent batting average of .167. He’s scheduled to make his fourth start on Monday night at Rochester.
“I think right now that things are going my way and you certainly want to feed off that and keep it going as long as possible,” Miller said. “I feel good and I’m just trying to keep it going right now.”
Miller has walked 10 batters in 13.2 IP, but 4 of those walks came in a in a game at Syracuse where the umpire’s strike zone was the size of a postage stamp (Pawtucket batters walked 11 times in the same game). In Andrew’s last start, he only walked 2 batters in 6 innings while allowing 1 run on 4 hits. His fastball velocity sat in the 91-93 range and topped out at 95 mph.
The Red Sox have worked with the 6’7” southpaw on maintaining a compact delivery, but they also don’t want his mind cluttered with thoughts about his mechanics.
“I think it’s a fine line,” Miller said. “There’s certainly a place for mechanical work, but it’s hard to pitch in a game situation when that’s your focus. I feel like that’s what I’ve done the last couple of years and I think that it’s held me back a little bit. At this point, I’m just trying to go out there and be athletic and do what comes naturally. So far the results have been pretty good. The organization has just done a great job of handling me and working with me and letting me go out there and compete the way that I want to.”
Miller is in Pawtucket’s starting rotation, but could eventually be moved to the bullpen like his former college teammate Daniel Bard.
“I would prefer to start in the long run – it’s what I know and it’s what I’ve done,” Miller said. “But if there’s an opportunity to be in the big leagues and do anything, I’ll do it. I’ll play second base, I’ll be the bullpen catcher – I just want to be in the big leagues.”
But Andrew says he has no problem being in Triple-A for now.
“I’m definitely patient,” Miller said. “Coming here, I could look at the roster and tell what the odds were of being up there. It’s a big picture thing for me. My goal is to pitch well here. Being around this game, if things are going well, things will happen and you will get opportunities. Ideally, I’ll keep pitching my butt off here and things will happen.”
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Since the Red Sox have Monday off, you can get your baseball fix and listen to Miller in action as the PawSox conclude their series in Rochester at 7:05. I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.
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