Jan
05

Rolling the dice with Adam Miller

By

(AP Photo | John Raoux)

Now that the calendar has flipped over to January, teams will start to load up on players via minor league contracts. Most of the big free agents are off the board and most of the big trades have already taken place, so depth becomes the focus. The Yankees have signed a number of players to minor league pacts already, including former big leaguers Dewayne Wise, Hideki Okajima, Matt Daley, and Jayson Nix, but the most intriguing addition came yesterday: 27-year-old right-hander Adam Miller.

Miller, the 31st overall pick in the 2003 draft, is a classic Texas fireballer standing 6-foot-4, 200 lbs., and he’s ridden the career roller coaster over the last eight years. He dominated in 2004 — 10.2 K/9 (28.0 K%) and 2.7 BB/9 (7.4 BB%) in 134.1 IP split between the two Single-A levels — and was ranked as the fourth best pitching prospect in the game by Baseball America after the season. That’s when the injuries started to set in. Miller missed the first half of 2005 with an elbow strain, then dominated again in 2006 — 9.2 K/9 (24.5 K%) and  2.6 BB/9 (7.1 BB%) in 158.1 IP at mostly Double-A — before elbow and finger problems hampered him in 2007.

Click to embiggen. (Photo via TheClevelandFan.com)

Those finger problems almost ended Miller’s career. Damage to the pulley system and ligaments in his right middle finger required four surgeries and limited him to just 94 innings from 2007-2010, zero from 2009-2010. Replacement ligaments from his calf and wrist now hold together a finger with a tip that is bent at a 45-degree angle and slightly to the right (see right). The digit conveniently wraps right around a baseball now.

Miller returned to the mound this past April, pitching exclusively in relief and rarely more than two innings at a time. He did strike out 39 in 44 IP (8.0 K/9 and 19.5 K%), but he also walked 21 (4.3 BB/9 and 10.5 BB%) and plunked six batters. Rust probably accounts for some of the control problems, but he also had trouble taming his once lethal slider with the rebuilt finger. His fastball was still pushing 95-96 after sitting 95-97 with some 100′s back in the day, encouraging but not super surprising since he hasn’t had any shoulder problems. He also has a solid changeup, but the high-octane fastball and knockout slider were what gave him that top of the rotation potential.

The injuries have basically ended any chance Miller had of remaining a starter, but obviously the Yankees feel he still might have something to offer in relief, where he can go to town with his two best pitches. He has a lower arm slot than most (here’s video of him from camp last year), which when combined with his fastball-slider combo leads me to believe he might wind up having a platoon split. Sure enough, he handled righties better than lefties both last year and throughout his career. That doesn’t mean he’s destined to become a righty specialist, lots of great relievers have platoon splits. It’s just something to be aware of.

Chances are Miller won’t ever help the Yankees just because that’s usually how these minor league contract fliers on former top prospects tend to go. We know the Yankees have emphasized strong makeup in recent years, and I think Miller’s prolonged battle with his health shows that he’s a tough, resilient guy. I don’t think spending a few months in Triple-A and traveling all over the place will discourage him all that much. Think of him as this season’s Mark Prior, just younger and with a sound shoulder. If he stays healthy in the first half and shows some effectiveness, he’s got a chance to help the big league team at some point during the season.

Categories : Minors, Pitching
  • AC

    Did we let prior walk? Do we still have him signed or what ?

  • http://twitter.com/thewhite_dragon Drew

    What happened to Mark Prior anyway? Minor league free agent?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      Yep.

      • Plank

        I picture Mark Prior pitching like he did in his prime on a cornfield in Iowa somewhere striking out Shoeless Joe Jackson. A kind of mystical, non-scary, sorrowful zombie.

  • Gonzo

    Maybe he can learn a sweet new pitch because that finger. Something that only he can throw.

    • JU

      Having that middle finger bent like that may hinder his ability to throw 2-seamers, if it is constantly putting pressure on the ball. On the other hand, if the finger is basically dead weight at this point, it may help.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Tough break with that finger issue….but I bet he’s a hit with the ladies!

    • http://twitter.com/thewhite_dragon Drew

      +1

    • JU

      I laughed…more than once

  • Guns of Navarone

    Why do those finger issues limit him to a relief role? No doubt the hand looks nasty… but if he can pitch effectively in relief, and there are no lingering arm/shoulder issues, what’s stopping him?

    • Bo Knows

      Exactly right, its how the Curveball was invented. A man with three fingers, and his thumb (some kind of accident cost him one finger)

      Who knows maybe that finger could lead to some kind breaking pitch where the ball has the velocity of a 90+ mph cutter (since he still has the gas), and the break/movement of a slider or other big time breaking ball.

      • Cris Pengiucci

        I was also wondering why he’s seen as a reliever only. Can’t be because of the finger (and I also wondered if it “allowed” him to develop or refine some kind of pitch). Must be the elbow issue he experienced prior to the finger problem. But that was a long time ago. If he stays healthy, who knows?

        • Don W

          Ditto.

          If 3-Finger Brown could excel as a starter why couldn’t Miller?

  • viridiana

    Yanks once had a pretty good reliever with a finger issue: Bob Wickman.

    • Foghorn Leghorn

      I read that one reason for Mo’s success is the freakish “suppleness” of his wrist and length of his fingers. It allows him to get additional leverage on the ball.

      Sometimes a so called issue is really an advantage.

  • ChooChoo

    Mordecai Brown also had a finger issue, or two. He’s on a plaque in Cooperstown.

  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    When I saw the video of Miller, I thought it was the second coming of Bob Welch. Same lean,tall figure, with much the same type of delivery and as you said a good fastball to boot. Welch, asweall know, was a reliever for the Dodgers and a starter for Oakland. He is remembered for striking Reggie out with the bases loaded I believe in the 77 WS.

    • Foghorn Leghorn

      78 series…and I think Reggie hit a HR off him later.

      Welch had a good career. I think he won 27 with the A’s.

      • Jose M. Vazquez..

        Thanks for the correction Foghorn.

        • Foghorn Leghorn

          No problem Jose…Reggie was my favorite player growing up…I remember Welch’s big K. He was a rookie.

  • mike_h

    AJ will probably end up as the long man/emergency starter in the bullpen in 2013

  • tbord

    Mordecai Brown lost parts of his fingers when he was a kid. His disability allowed him to throw a natural sinker, sans any pain. He did not have all these surgeries like Miller. It’s more than dead digits, it is probably very painful at times. Miller is a big time long shot.

  • G

    Love the signing. Worst case scenario he can’t recover and we lose Steinbrenner pocket change. Best case, he makes a freakish recovery and becomes either a power reliever or a pretty good starter. I know that’s how they all pretty much are, but the ceiling here is higher than any in recent memory.

  • Chris

    I have the same thing with my left ring finger. I play guitar, and it’s not too bad but I do need to change some things. Mainly I get it snagged in my pocket when reaching for my phone. Is not rock hard stuck like that either. You can fles it to about 12 degrees so I can imagine that it would effect pitches. Great to see him pitch tho, it’s a weird thing to have and you never realize how important one finger is until you can’t move it!!

  • dan gen

    rangers get darvish,we get this guy,hand me another ten dollar beer.