The St. Louis Cardinals selected pitcher Shelby Miller from Brownwood, Texas High School in the first round (19th overall) of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. That August, the teenager who threw four no-hitters as a prep star received a team-record $2.875 million signing bonus.
Just over three years later, the then-21-year-old who had been the organization’s top prospect pretty much from the minute he signed, was added to the 40-man roster and called up to St. Louis. The hard-throwing right-hander made his major league debut on September 5, posting two scoreless innings in support of Adam Wainwright in a home loss to the Mets.
After four shutout outings in five appearances out of the bullpen, Miller was given the start in game number 162 of the regular season. The contest had no impact on the standings as the Cardinals had already clinched and wanted to keep their healthy pitchers ready for the post-season.
Still, Miller fired six one-hit innings at the division-champion Cincinnati Reds in a most impressive performance on October 3.
Miller finished his first month as an MLB pitcher with a 1.32 ERA. In 13 2/3 innings, he allowed just nine hits, walked four and fanned 16. In other words, he showed the world that he deserved the notice given him.
It looked to be the end of Miller’s season, as he was left off the NL Division Series roster. However, when Jaime Garcia was injured in Game 2, Miller was added in his place. Pitching in relief, Miller was charged with two earned runs in 3 2/3 innings against San Francisco in the NL Championship Series.
A few months before, his career was heading in the opposite direction.
Miller had come through an embarrassing suspension for off-field behavior in Springfield in the summer of 2011, and had rubbed some the wrong way with his confident manner.
In his initial assignment to Triple-A Memphis, Miller was knocked around often – for most of the first half of the 2012 season. In mid-June, with his ERA sitting at an even 6.00, Miller once again received a public rebuke. This time, it had everything to do with his approach on the mound.
Miller was unwilling to execute the pitches called by his catcher and coaches from the bench. As a result, organization officials instituted a “no-shake” rule. It was intended to make him use and improve his off-speed pitches because he was not allowed to override the initial pitch selection and be overly-dependent upon his fastball.
As the July 31 trade deadline approached, there were whispers that the Cardinals may have removed “untouchable” status from Miller.
Whatever the spark, he responded.
Miller fired off five wins with a 2.89 ERA in six August starts for Memphis, striking out 53 batters in 37 1/3 innings, a rate of 12.8 strikeouts/9 IP. The wins tied for the most among all Minor League Baseball pitchers, while his strikeout total was the most among minor leaguers, and his 0.86 WHIP was the lowest in Triple-A that month. While getting deeper into games had become an issue earlier, Miller improved his efficiency, working into the sixth inning in each of his final seven Memphis outings.
In a three-week span, he was twice named Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Week and received the August Pitcher of the Month awards from both the Cardinals organization and The Cardinal Nation.
A few days later, he was in the bigs. That late-season performance turned around enough of those who had been against Miller’s promotion.
His stay in the majors may not quite yet be for good, but it is also not far away, seemingly being only a matter of time and opportunity to start.