Miller riding heater up Draft boards
Texas high school pitcher garnering plenty of attention
BROWNWOOD, Tex. -- Drafting high school pitchers is an inexact science at best. No group of players is more difficult to develop.
That doesn't stop scouts from placing high expectations on them, though, and Shelby Miller, a right-hander at Brownwood High School in Texas, certainly isn't immune to high praise.
"I don't notice them as much as I used to," said Miller, who attracts 30-40 scouts for every game he pitches and appears destined to be a first-round pick in the June 9 First-Year Player Draft. "There were over 200 scouts at one game I pitched, me against Tyler Matzek. Golf carts everywhere."
It's Miller's fastball that draws the scouts. His heat is hotter than the central Texas sun during a summer day game. Miller has been clocked at 98 mph, the fastest for a high school pitcher in the nation this season. It causes him to be mentioned in the same sentences as other fabled flamethrowers from Texas -- Nolan Ryan, Kerry Wood and Josh Beckett, to name a few.
"It's definitely exciting to hear my name with those pitchers, well-, well-respected athletes," Miller said. "Wood pitched back-to-back games in the state tournament. He's great. Nolan and Josh are unbelievable talents. That's who you think about when you think about pitchers."
Miller is 10-1 this season. In 73 innings, he has struck out 146 batters, and allowed just 17 runs. On Saturday, he struck out a season-high 17 in a complete-game three-hitter.
Brownwood catcher Dillon Ellis knows how painful Miller's fastball can be. During a game against Seminole High School, Ellis thought his coach was calling for a curveball. Miller thought fastball. Needless to say, the result wasn't pretty.
Ellis turned his glove around and Miller's fastball hit him on the top of his left middle finger. He finished the game, but his fingernail is still bruised and black -- nine days later.
"You know what happens to hands in cartoons when they get smashed by hammers?" said Mitch Miller, Shelby's stepfather. "It looked like that."
Ellis isn't afraid of catching Miller -- maybe it's because he gets to wear protective equipment -- but hitters are a little nervous stepping to the plate against him. During Brownwood's May 23 game against Cooper, the leadoff hitter stepped to the plate and after the first pitch asked Ellis how fast Miller was throwing.
"They seem nervous," Ellis said. "You can tell by their body language. They don't like hitting against him."
He says it's easier to catch Miller than to hit against him.
"It was [difficult] at first," Ellis said. "I didn't know what to expect. I'm used to it. He hits the glove consistently."
Ask Ellis to see that glove, and he is proud to show off the evidence of how hard Miller throws. Ellis started the season with a new glove, but in his first game catching Miller, he had to get the pocket re-laced. In another game in April, the leather of Ellis' glove ripped right below the pocket.
Parker Taylor, Brownwood's first baseman who is Miller's closest friend on the team, said the hitters who do manage to reach base strike up a conversation with him.
"They're always asking where's he going [in the Draft], what number, how much is he going to get paid," he said. "And they always ask how fast he throws. I tell them honestly, and people say they don't believe it."
Taylor and the rest of the defense get excited when Miller reaches back for his 98-mph fastball.
"You can tell when he hits the upper 90s," Taylor said. "You can see it, hear it and sense the batter's reaction. Ever since he was little, he's been better than normal, been able to get more break on his curveball. Every year he gets more velocity on his fastball."
Miller maxes out at 98 mph now. How much more velocity could he add?
"If he gets picked up by a good club, there's no doubt he could hit 100," Brownwood coach Scotty Nichols said. "There's no limit to what he can do. I expect a big career out of him."
Miller doesn't have an idea of his ceiling, but knows it's at least 100.
"If I stay healthy and do the workouts and get bigger and have the right guys working with me, some professional coaches, there's no doubt in my mind I'll get over 100," he said. "The bigger I get, the harder I'm going to throw. I don't think I'm done growing. Right now, I definitely could add a couple pounds. I'm tall and lanky.
"It's just getting with the right guys. I'm not working with too many guys right now. It's just me and my papaw and my dad working to the Draft. Once I get to the Draft, there's going to be people to help me out."
Miller grew an inch -- to 6-foot-4 -- during his senior year. He weighs 205 pounds.
Like many Texas high schoolers, Miller played for the Brownwood football team last season. He was an All-State tight end and punter. Rather than working out solely for baseball, Miller decided to do football workouts.
"It was a lot of bench press and things like that that aren't good for my arm," he said. "Right now, I'm not really lifting weights. Velocity is going to come when I'm lifting those weights. When I get to a higher level of baseball, they are going to put more weight on me and develop me more as a pitcher and physically."
While scouts love Miller's fastball, his other pitches boost his ceiling. He entered this season throwing a curveball, added a changeup during the year, and played around with a slider. Most high school pitchers rely on two pitches: a fastball and a breaking pitch.
"He's got a good curve," Nichols said. "I think that's his second-best pitch, but people will argue with me. He can throw any of them for a strike."
The reason for that comes from Miller's easy delivery. Lots of high school pitchers feature a herky-jerky delivery with wasted motion. He works on his mechanics with former Rangers No. 1 pick and 12-year Major League pitcher Jerry Don Gleaton, who was born in and lives in Brownwood. (Jim Morris, from the movie "The Rookie," also attended Brownwood High School.)
"When he's on, he's on," Nichols said. "When he's off, he's on. No doubt, he's been one of the best pitchers I've ever seen.
"I'll take Shelby head-to-head, one-on-one, against anyone."
Daniel Paulling is an associate reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.