Keep eye on Indians' Miller

Aaron A. from Columbus, Ohio, asks:
What do you think of Adam Miller, a young pitcher in the Indians farm system? I read a really positive scouting report on him last week, and his numbers look good. Is he really an elite prospect, or is this just a bunch of hype?

Miller is for real, he is not just hype. In fact, I think he's one of the top five pitching prospects in the game.

Cleveland drafted Miller in the supplemental first round (31st overall) in 2003 out of high school in McKinney, Texas. Listed at 6-foot-4, 175 pounds when drafted, he's grown to 6-5, 190 now, adding height and strength to his lanky frame.

If you like fastballs, Miller satisfies your liking with a 92-94 mph heater, with good sinking action. Some believe he'll hit 98-99 mph with additional physical growth, and he already touches 97 at times. His second pitch is a very good slider. His changeup is decent, but he needs to use it more. This is a common problem with young pitchers and not a big deal right now.

If you like your pitchers to be intelligent, Miller passes that test easily as well. His work ethic is excellent, and he has a feel for pitching more often found in a 30-year-old rotation veteran than a 20-year-old kid. He's emotionally mature for his age, confident, aggressive, yet willing to learn from his mistakes.

If you like your pitchers to have gaudy statistics, Miller has that too. He began 2004 with Lake County in the Sally League, going 7-4 with a 3.36 ERA in 19 starts. His K/BB ratio was outstanding at 106/28 in 91 innings, with only 79 hits allowed. His K/BB, K/IP, and H/IP were all much better than league average. Promoted to the Carolina League, he continued to dominate, going 3-2 but with a 2.08 ERA in eight starts, with a 46/12 K/BB and only 29 hits in 43 innings. The fact that his ratios remained steady despite the promotion is an excellent sign for his future.

Miller is likely headed to Double-A for 2005, and should see the Show sometime in '06. His stuff is nearly as good as Felix Hernandez (top Seattle pitching prospect), and his feel for pitching rivals that of Royals prodigy Zack Greinke. Miller has no major weaknesses and many strengths. If he stays healthy he has a good chance to be an excellent major league starter.

Dusten from Eugene, Ore., writes:
I think Russ Martin, a young catcher in the Dodgers system, is a sleeper. What do you think?

Well, basically I agree with you, Martin is a sleeper, one of the better catching prospects around although he hasn't received enough attention.

The Dodgers drafted Martin (a Canadian) in the 17th round in 2002 from Chipola Junior College in Florida. He was an infielder in college, but the Dodgers converted him to catcher in 2003, and he took to it well. He's athletic, has above-average arm strength, and move around well behind the plate, showing good leadership skills. He had some problems with his footwork in '03, but he fixed most of those in '04 and is now regarded as a very sound defensive catcher. If he hits, he has the skills to be a regular major league catcher.

Will he hit? I think so. Martin hit just .250 in the Florida State League this year, but he contributed 24 doubles, 15 homers, and 71 walks, while striking out only 54 times in 416 at-bats. The combination of a high walk rate with a low strikeout rate is a very good sign. As long as he maintains that sort of plate discipline, his power and on-base production should carry to higher levels. Even if he never hits for a great batting average, he should be a productive hitter. Combine that with strong defense, and you have a fine catching prospect.

He still must watch out for "Young Catcher Offensive Stagnation Syndrome," but his athleticism and non-catching background might actually help him with that, since he has less wear-and-tear on his body than many catchers. Overall I think he's a big-time sleeper. I've finished the Dodgers section in my 2005 book, and I gave him a Grade B, which is a really good grade in my system.

Joshua T. from St. Louis asks:
What is your view on 2004 Cardinals first-round pick Chris Lambert? How fast will he advance?

Lambert was the 19th-overall pick this year out of Boston College. His pro debut was a success: a 2.58 ERA in nine starts for the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest League. In 38 innings he struck out 46, while giving up just 31 hits and two homers. His control needs work: he walked 24, too many. Although it didn't hurt him much at Peoria, this will have to be corrected at higher levels.

Lambert has an effective fastball, although his velocity is a bit erratic. Sometimes he hits 95-96 mph, but more often he's in the 90-92 range, albeit with good movement. His curveball is very good, although somewhat erratic at times, like the fastball. His biggest problem (and this shows up in the statistics) is command. He's not afraid to throw inside, which is good, but he's not always able to get the ball where he wants it. This didn't hurt him in the Midwest League, but it will in Double-A/Triple-A and certainly in The Show.

Lambert is less polished than many college pitching products, but he has a very high ceiling if he can refine his control. Although used as a starter right now, it wouldn't surprise me to see him end up in relief down the road. His first exposure in Double-A, which should come sometime in '05, will tell us how quickly he will advance.

John Sickels is the author of The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book, which will ship on Feb. 1, 2005. You can pre-order this book at Johnsickels.com. His other book Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation can be ordered through online book retailors or your local bookstore. John lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas, and two happy cats.