Just 20 years old, Shelby Miller, the St. Louis Cardinals first-round draft pick in 2009, had it all – a seven-digit signing bonus and eye-catching results at every stop to date as a professional. The latter solidified his status as not only the top prospect in the Cardinals system, but also one of the top players in all of the minor leagues.
To begin the 2011 season, the right-hander excelled in the Florida State League, despite having just two wins to show for nine starts. Through May, Miller led all of minor league baseball with 81 strikeouts in just 53 innings-pitched, a strikeout-per-nine innings ratio of 13.75. He posted a 2.89 ERA as the A-Advanced Cardinals’ ace, allowing 40 hits and 20 walks while holding opposing batters to a .204 average.
Miller recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts while allowing just three hits and one earned run in his final outing with Palm Beach. He was named The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Pitcher of the Month for May. The Texan was a first-team selection to the FSL All-Star Game, but did not participate in the festivities due to his promotion to Double-A Springfield.
Miller participated in his second consecutive MLB All-Star Futures Game in 2011 and pitched a shutout inning in the contest, held just a few days after he was named the Cardinals organization’s Pitcher of the Month for June. He had logged a 3-1 record and a 1.69 ERA in five quality starts during the month. Miller averaged over a strikeout per inning with 33 in 32 innings pitched. Not bad for his first month in the Texas League.
Springfield manager Pop Warner saw Miller pitch all summer long. He explains why his starter was so successful.
“He can locate his fastball,” Warner said. “That is one thing that really stuck out when he got to Double-A was that he could throw his fastball for strikes. He can keep it on the corners; he can keep it down; he can elevate it when he wants to.”
Of course, there has never been much doubt about Miller’s fastball. But what about his secondary offerings, crucial as he moves up in level of competition, yet the refinement of which has not always been Miller’s top priority?
Warner sees more than just progress. “His breaking ball was not a polished pitch yet, but it got a lot better,” the manager observed. “I think it is going to be a plus pitch for him in the major leagues.”
Then, in mid-August, a crack in Miller’s façade was exposed. He was suspended by the Cardinals. The reason given was a violation of team policy. Other reports suggested it involved an incident at Miller’s apartment.
It was a crucial juncture in his season and perhaps in his career.
Following his return eight days later, Miller passed the tests with flying colors. He finished the season with his best pitching of the year, going 2-0 while yielding just two earned runs and logging 18 strikeouts in 17 innings of work.
“He missed a few weeks because of his little incident, but he bounced back nicely and became a post-season All-Star,” Warner noted. “There is a lot to be said for that. I think every one in the league recognizes the kind of stuff he has.”
As his successful 2011 season drew to its close, once that included all-star berths at two levels of play, there is no reason to believe Miller did anything but strengthen his hold on his number one prospect ranking in the Cardinals system.
Congratulations to Shelby Miller, The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year for 2011. Earlier, he was named our Springfield Starting Pitcher of the Year and was the Cardinals organization’s top pitcher in 2010.
Recent TCN/Scout.com Starting Pitchers of the Year
2010: Brandon Dickson, Memphis
2009: Lance Lynn, Springfield
2008: Jess Todd, Palm Beach/Springfield/Memphis
2007: P.J. Walters, Springfield
Special for The Cardinal Nation subscribers: Read much more from Warner about Miller in this subscriber-only article. In a question and answer session, the manager discusses his star pitcher’s offerings, how he was asked to deploy them, his prospects for 2012 and much more.
Note: Link to article with links to all articles about previous award winners across the system club by club, schedule for upcoming announcements as well as 2011 team recaps, much of it exclusively for The Cardinal Nation subscribers. Not yet a subscriber? Join now!
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Look for his weekly minor league column on Thursdays at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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