At six-foot-seven, Jared Miller is decidedly big. And in 2018, the 2017 Jackson General may reach an even greater height: big-league reliever.
After completing a 2017 campaign that featured a 2.93 ERA in 70.2 innings between Jackson and Triple-A Reno, Arizona made the 24-year-old Miller the youngest pitcher on their 40-man roster in November. As a consequence of that early Christmas present, the former Vanderbilt Commodore will get the chance to prove himself worthy of a Major League look in 2018 Spring Training.
“I was at home [in Indianapolis], hanging out. I think the 40-man deadline was around seven o’clock that night,” Miller said of getting the news. “I was expecting to be added, but I didn’t get a call until pretty close to that deadline, so you kind of get anxious and start to wonder if they have different plans or what’s going on. But then I got the call from [Diamondbacks vice president of player development] Mike Bell, and the good news followed that.”
April, The Cruelest Month
Believe it or not, Miller’s 2017 season began at Jackson in choppy seas. His second outing of the year saw him give up three earned runs in one inning of work against Birmingham, as the Generals’ bullpen allowed the Barons to rally from a two-run deficit for the win.
Miller knuckled down for three straight scoreless appearances thereafter, but a nightmarish April 20 outing against Montgomery gave spectators some pause. Who was this imposter, the guy giving up seven earned runs in one third of an inning? Where was the real Jared Miller?
“I think being tested like that in April, mentally more so than anything, was really big for me in my development,” Miller acknowledges. “I think in this profession, you get caught up looking ahead and trying to be somewhere you’re not at the current moment. I think that can cause you to press a little bit.”
Miller finished April with as many earned runs allowed as innings pitched (12); his team-worst ERA (9.00) matched his walk total. The Generals’ offense had carried them to a league-best 15-8 record, but Miller wasn’t contributing like the guy who had who had impressed scouts and analysts at the Arizona Fall League.
“It’s an easy game for things to get out of control on you, so if you’re not focused in the moment and just focused on the day at hand, I think stuff like what happened to me in April could happen pretty easily,” Miller said in hindsight. “If there’s certain things you can fix mechanically, then you need to fix them. But things like [a bad game] are going to happen, and I think over time you learn to put them behind you.”
The Road to Reno
Two elements, one physical and one mental, helped steer Miller back on course. First, he put a greater emphasis on moving forward in his motion. That helped his walk rate, dropping it from 6.7 per nine innings in April to 2.9 through the rest of the year.
“The biggest thing for me—and DC, [Diamondbacks pitching coordinator] Dan Carlson, helped me with this—is making sure my whole body is going towards the plate,” Miller said. “I think in the last couple weeks of Spring Training and the first couple weeks of the Double-A season, I was kind of falling off a little bit and not really staying through on my pitches. So that explains the lackluster command.”
Pair a refreshed delivery with Miller’s own inborn confidence and buoyancy, and it’s not a shock that the towering southpaw got up quickly from the canvas.
“I think as soon as I hit the locker room after a game, [thoughts of a bad game] are pretty much over with,” Miller said. “I think just carrying yourself in a certain way does so much in this game. When hitters can smell blood in the water, it gives them an edge, and as a pitcher, you never want to give that edge up.”
The edge quickly became razor-sharp for Miller. His final 27.1 innings at Jackson featured 37 strikeouts, nine walks, and a 1.69 ERA. Miller’s promotion to Triple-A Reno in July felt a tad more comfortable than when he first arrived there for a five-game stint in 2016.
“The biggest difference for me was just knowing that I belonged,” Miller said. “I think when I got there in 2016, I had come all the way from Low-A, and I didn’t know any of the guys [at Triple-A]. I was in minor league camp [to start that year], and I got to Triple-A. I think for the first time in my career, I kind of second-guessed whether or not I belonged, and that showed.”
“This year, when I got called up, I just went there and tried to dominate. Obviously the main goal is to make it to the big leagues, so that was really all that was on my mind.”
The odds are good for Miller to crack The Show in 2018. Fortifying Arizona’s bullpen has been a priority for the team over the offseason, addressed with trade acquisition Brad Boxberger, Rule 5 draft selection Albert Suarez, and Japanese signee Yoshihisa Hirano. All those additions have been right-handed.
Miller, a lefty, isn’t concerned with others as he prepares to head to Arizona in early January.
“I just want to be myself. I think if I go out there and do what I do best, I’m going to like where I’m at, come the end of March,” Miller said. “So I’m just really focusing on me and not really worrying about the outside noise or necessarily the competition aspect of things, just taking care of what I do best. The rest will take care of itself.”
Follow Jared’s journey from afar on Twitter: @JaredMiller24.
*Miller was very aware of teammates Brad Keller and Victor Reyes being selected in December’s Rule 5 Draft. “Yeah, what a week,” he laughed. “I lost my Scottsdale [Arizona] roommate, so now I’ve got to wear all the rent or find someone else [to live with]. I was going to live with Keller, but Surprise [Arizona, where the Kansas City Royals train] is a little far. I told him, ‘Dude, you don’t want to make that drive every morning.’ I think [being with Kansas City] will be a good situation for him.”
*If he wants an opinion on his pitching from an outsider, Miller will reach out to his former college pitching coach or previous teammates. “Scott Brown, the pitching coach at Vandy [Vanderbilt], really has an understanding of me,” Miller says. “I can always send him a little shot [of what I’m doing], and he can tell me what he sees if I’m struggling…It was cool this year for the first time, after going to the [Arizona] Fall League, playing against guys that I had been teammates with for those six or seven weeks in Arizona. One of my catchers was with Biloxi in 2017, Jake Nottingham…Just seeing what they see [is important], because they are the ones that really see you best, because they’ve got the best view on the field.”
*Born in Columbus, Ohio, Miller recently turned down a chance to attend the Ohio State-USC matchup in the Cotton Bowl. “Very unlike me,” he said. “But I told my family I’d be home for New Year’s Eve, and that game wasn’t really conducive to the travel plans. I have not been to any Buckeye games. I got to go to my first Chicago Blackhawks game a couple weeks ago, and that was really cool.”
Tyler Springs does media relations and broadcasting for the Jackson Generals. Keep up with team news on Twitter by following @JacksonGenerals. Tyler tweets, too: @TyphoonSprings.