At one point in time, Adam Miller was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. A first round pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2003, Miller could get his fastball up to the upper 90s, and rated in the top 50 of Baseball America’s top 100 prospects from 2005-2008, highlighted by a #16 ranking in 2005. Miller was the 29th best prospect in the game heading in to the 2008 season, and set to return to AAA after 70 combined innings at the level the previous two seasons.
Miller got off to a good start at the AAA level, with a 1.88 ERA in 28.2 innings over six starts. In those starts he sported a 6.3 K/9, a 3.8 BB/9, and no homers allowed. Miller ended up missing the rest of the season after he underwent surgery on the middle finger of his pitching hand to re-attach the flexor tendon to the bone. Miller suffered an injury to the finger in 2007, both during the season, and in the Arizona Fall League during the off-season.
Miller suffered a set back during the Spring of 2009, as he was unable to bend the tip of his middle finger. He underwent another surgery, this time to rebuild the pulley system in his finger, giving him the ability to bend his finger again. Miller underwent a few more surgeries after some setbacks, and following the 2009 season had racked up four total surgeries on the finger.
Miller’s biggest issue following the surgeries to repair his finger, surgeries which included transplanting tendons from his leg and ring finger to repair his pulley system, was a patch of scar tissue on his palm, below his middle finger. He was able to return to throwing this off-season in the instructional leagues, and managed to top out at 93-94 MPH. However, the Indians chose not to protect him for the upcoming Rule 5 draft, making him a very interesting gamble.
Miller is far from a guarantee to even have a career in baseball from this point forward, much less a career that is in line with his former prospect status. He touched 93-94 in instructs, but that still raises a lot of questions. During the height of his injury issues, Miller could touch 93 MPH, but had trouble locating his pitches. Having the velocity is one thing, but having any sort of control is what is most important.
As far as a Rule 5 selection, Miller provides a chance to dream about a potentially big upside. He’s a guy who at one time touched 100 MPH with his fastball. His stuff was good enough that he was one of the top prospects in the game, and expected to front line the Cleveland rotation. It’s amazing that he can even throw a ball at this point, but he definitely can. That leaves open the possibility that he might even be able to pitch like his former self. He might not throw in the upper 90s, but even if he touches 93-94 MPH he would have some value.
Miller would also be somewhat of a risk free Rule 5 selection. Since he is still rehabbing, and hasn’t pitched since early in the 2008 season, he almost certainly will start the 2011 season on the disabled list. He might even need a trip to the 60-day disabled list, clearing a roster spot on the 40-man. The trip to the disabled list also comes with a month of rehab work at the AAA level, where Miller could get some work in before moving to the majors.
In order to retain Miller, a drafting team would have to keep him active for 90 days, so he couldn’t spend the entire year on the disabled list. He’s no guarantee to return from his injury, but his previous prospect status does provide some hope. The Rule 5 pool is full of guys with upsides of relief pitchers, bench players, and maybe back of the rotation starters. Miller might not top the back of the rotation or relief roles, but he at least has an outside shot if he can bounce back near his old skill level. That, plus the ability to stash him on the disabled list at the start of the 2011 season, makes him an easy favorite for the Pirates with the first pick in the draft.