One of the great mysteries of the 2013 postseason was the absence of Shelby Miller for the St. Louis Cardinals. After 31 starts during the regular season, posting a 15-9 record and a 3.06 ERA, Miller appeared in just one frame in the playoffs in relief. The curious move creates some doubt for how the Cardinals view Miller moving forward.
From my seat, he’s a borderline No. 1 with a couple of top tier pitches and the right attitude. His ERA was good for 10th in the NL, he tossed a shutout and his strikeout percentage (23.4 percent) was good for eighth in the league, better than teammate Adam Wainwright and the Philadelphia Phillies‘ Cole Hamels.
Yet, despite the numbers and physical tools all being there, St. Louis appears non-committal to the right-hander.
The Cardinals are in the envious position of having plenty of talented starters ready to jump in, but Miller has proven to be one of their better options. Miller was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft and is described as a competitor who fights for every pitch. His fastball sits in the 93-95 range with a “plus” curve ball to go with the heat.
Although Miller will get wild at times, evidenced by his 3.0 walks per nine innings last season, many feel he will improve with some maturity. Overall, Miller is the type of pitcher any team would love to have at only 23 years old, having pitched well in his first full season in MLB, and a guy with good stuff, makeup and athleticism.
There was concern about his shoulder last season and some wondered if that was the reason for the lack of use in October. Miller says he’s fine, so he’ll essentially be in a competition with guys like Lance Lynn and Joe Kelly for a spot in the rotation. Miller easily has the greatest upside and pure stuff among these hurlers, yet we’re left to wonder where he stands in the organization.
Miller’s skill set and competitive nature are terrific fits for a front line starter, something he showed the opposition in 2013. Through his first 11 starts a year ago, Miller went 6-3 with a 1.82 ERA while limiting batters to a .203 average, as he struck out 72 batters compared to just 17 walks. It was that kind of dominance, such as holding opponents to an OPS under .600 in those starts, that got the fan base terribly excited.
You can never be sure what is happening behind the scenes, but Miller’s performance with the big league club was nothing short of stellar, particularly for a kid his age. It’s hard to see him not starting the year in the rotation as the Cardinals rarely make mistakes with their young hurlers.
Assuming he’s healthy and the Cardinals don’t have something against him, Miller should be a force in 2014. As a pitcher and a ball player, Miller profiles as a top-of-the-rotation arm with a couple of peak years that could net him a Cy Young award.
If St. Louis decides he’s better suited for the bullpen or even a stint in the minors, the entire NL Central will rejoice. Miller is an x-factor that tilts the field in the Cardinals’ favor every fifth day.