Cards draft hard-throwing high schooler
Committed to Texas A&M, Miller happy to fall to St. Louis
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals went against type on Tuesday, taking high-school right-hander Shelby Miller with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. They may be willing to defy history even more when it comes to signing Miller to a contract.
Miller, who will turn 19 in October, is a hard-throwing Texan listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds. He has a fastball that has been clocked as high as 98 mph, and he also throws a curveball, with a relatively underdeveloped changeup. The Cardinals are prepared for a tough negotiation, though Miller told reporters on Tuesday night that he's eager to start playing professional baseball.
"St. Louis is an awesome team, and college is awesome, too," Miller said. "But college can come later. Right now, I'm definitely looking to sign a contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. It feels good. That's just something we're going to have to sit down and do with the Cardinals' staff and work the contract out. Ultimately, my goal is to play professional ball and to play for the Cardinals as soon as I possibly can."
Miller is the first high school pitcher selected by the Cardinals in the first round since Brian Barber, whom they took with the 22nd overall pick in 1991. He also represents not just a change in the source of talent, but a philosophical change in this year's Draft. The Cardinals are pleased with the amount of safe talent in their upper Minors, players who are likely to play in the Major Leagues even if they are unlikely to be stars. In Miller, they selected a player who comes with no guarantees, but who could make an enormous impact in St. Louis once he arrives.
"He's got a ways to go before he makes it to the big leagues, but he does look like a big league pitcher already and has the stuff that should play up here," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development. "So we're excited about the opportunity to actually sign a guy like that and bring a guy like that into our organization. It's been a while since we had someone like that come in in the first round. This guy meets a lot of the criteria we have for a young pitcher that we would invest in to develop to be a big league pitcher someday."
Miller is committed to Texas A&M University. Luhnow acknowledged that Miller could be a difficult player to sign, and he also hinted that it's possible the Cardinals would be willing to go above "slot" in order to do so. Miller was projected in some mock drafts to go as high as eighth overall.
"I think we're going to negotiate and we're going to try and get the deal that makes sense for both sides," Luhnow said. "We have a budget for the Draft, which we will try to adhere to. But I know that [general manager] John Mozeliak and [principal owner] Bill DeWitt Jr. and [team president] Bill DeWitt III are committed to improving this organization. And I'm sure that we will do everything we can to sign the player, even if that means breaking with the tradition from the last couple years as far as where we ended up relative to other picks next to us in the Draft."
Miller attends Brownwood High School, approximately 160 miles southwest of Fort Worth. He was the Gatorade Texas High School Player of the Year for 2009. He was 10-2 with a 153 strikeouts in 77 2/3 innings and had a 2.00 ERA. He allowed 38 hits and walked 38.
"I had no idea I was going to fall to the Cardinals, but that's perfectly fine with me," Miller said. "I really had no idea where I was going to go. I heard I was going to fall from two to 21, anywhere in between there. Falling to the Cardinals is awesome. I was really excited when I heard my name go to them. I had a lot of people over, and they were excited for me also. I really didn't have a feel for where I was going to go, but falling to the Cardinals is a good fit for me and my family, and it's going to work out great."
The Cards had a stated desire to add left-handed pitching in the Draft, but they found Miller to be too compelling a talent to pass on. He's the first pitcher St. Louis has taken with its first pick since Adam Ottavino in 2006. The club has faced criticism for a dearth of high-end, potential ace-type pitchers in its organization recently, and Miller seems to address that need.
"You've got a guy who's physical, who looks like he's going to be durable," Luhnow said. "We've analyzed the videotape on him and looked as his mechanics and we think he's got a chance to survive the grind of pitching every fifth day in pro ball and make it to the big leagues and sustain a long career. That's really what we're looking for."
Now he just needs to sign. And to listen to Miller, that may not be a problem.
"The only thing that really concerns me is where I'm going to be going and how long it's going to take me and where I end up," he said. "Money really has nothing to do with it right now. I think that my career and my future ahead of me right now is professional baseball. Nothing against A&M, nothing against that coaching staff or anything over there, but college I just don't see in my future right now. I think the Cardinals have a lot to offer."
Major League teams have until Aug. 17 to sign their 2009 Draft picks.
The Cardinals selected two other players on Tuesday:
Round 2: Robert Stock, C, University of Southern California: Stock pitched and caught for the Trojans, but the Cardinals will play him as a catcher first. They're sold on his defensive skills, and want to give him the chance to stick as a professional hitter before moving him back to the mound. He hit for a low average, but drew walks and showed extra-base power as a 19-year-old junior in 2009.
Round 3: Joe Kelly, RHP, Cal-Riverside: The Cards fell in love with Kelly's high-90s fastball and hard slider, and took him in the third round despite stats that didn't look like a third-rounder's. They'll use him as a starter at first, though he relieved at Riverside.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.