Rays Select Deceptive Vandy RHP Brian Miller in 15th

By Robbie Knopf

Vanderbilt has become known as one of the best schools in the nation at developing pitching. The Tampa Bay Rays have certainly reaped the benefits of that, with David Price heading their rotation and Grayson Garvin working his way through the minor leagues. But it is a testament to just how impressive the Vandy staff is that a reliever who wasn’t even their primary closer this year is good enough to be a 15th round pick. If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, Brian Miller is a 15th round pick with a higher chance of making the big leagues than the other pitchers in his round.

Miller, a  6’4″, 200 right-hander out of Vandy, followed up setting the school saves record in 2013 with a strong junior season for the Commodores this year. Miller went 1-1 with a 1.82 ERA, striking out 29 while walking just 5 in 34.2 innings pitched, all in relief. How he got there, is the interesting part. Miller doesn’t throw hard at all, topping out at 87-88 MPH and usually sitting in the mid-80’s. Yet that pitch fools hitters times after time thanks to how he delivers it and how he complements it.

Miller’s delivery changes dramatically from pitch to pitch. One offering, he will have a conventional three-quarters arm slot, and the next, he will be submarining the ball to the plate. He gets excellent movement on the pitch, and he somehow manages to throw it for strikes no matter what angle from which he delivers it. Then there are his secondary pitches: a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The slider in the high-70’s is the best of the bunch, featuring huge break (and varying in how much horizontal and vertical movement depending on what arm slot it comes out of), but all of them move and he can spot them all for strikes.

Another cool thing about Brian Miller is that he doesn’t have to just be a righty specialist. Some of his release angles are tough on same-side hitters, but the way he varies his delivery can be just as effective against lefties and he also spots his slider well against them. Miller may not be anything close to a normal pitcher, but he has what it takes to succeed at upper levels if he can continue refining his arsenal. If his funk performs as expected, he will be a big league pitcher and he could move extremely quickly. In fact, he could be the first player from this Rays draft ti make the major leagues- although Casey Gillaspie will have something to say about that. We can’t be sure how pro ball will treat Miller, but the Rays found themselves a pitcher with a legitimate chance of contributing to their major league roster, and that is a great value in the 15th round.