The Rays should leave no stone unturned when it comes to finding bullpen arms for the 2011 season and beyond. This, in my opinion, would include selecting oft-injured Adam Miller in the Rule 5 draft if he should fall to them. (For those who are not aware, Miller was a top prospect in the Cleveland Indians system until sufferring one of the freakiest finger injuries in baseball history). It would be near impossible to give a statistical basis for signing Adam Miller as he hasn't pitched in a meaningful game since 2008. The current scouting report on the 26 year old Adam Miller has him as a two pitch pitcher with a consistent fastball that sits around 90-94 mph and an 83-85 mph slider.
Adam Miller was drafted out of high school by the Cleveland Indians with the 31st pick (supplemental pick for the loss of Jim Thome) in the 2003 draft. Miller's stock rose quickly as he plowed his way through the minor leagues, debuting at #18 on Baseball Americas Top 100 list pre-2005. Miller was such a highly regarded prospect that he would remain on the Baseball America Top 100 list for a total of five years.
Miller would battle an elbow strain through the 2005 season and had an elbow strain and a tendon problem develop on his middle finger in 2007. Miller would reinjure the finger in the Arizona Fall League in 2008 which caused him to miss the entire 2008 spring training. In May of 2008, Miller was pitching for the Tribe's AAA affiliate Buffalo Bisons where he was 0-1 with a 1.88 ERA through 6 starts but was fighting a callous problem. The unattached tendon on his middle finger had caused a fistula, a hole in the skin, which could lead to infection and would not close as long as the tendon was not attached to the bone. The initial setback was thought to be 8 weeks, but Miller would resume pitching at the end of the 2008 season and pitch in the Dominican League. In January of 2009, Miller's star appeared on the rise once again as reported by Kara Booher of Baseball America:
The oft-injured righthander, the top pitching prospect in the Indians' chain the past four seasons and again this year, sizzled with a fastball that an NL scout said roamed in the 96-98 mph range.
"I mean, he was carving these guys up," the scout said. "A nasty slider, too. Attacked hitters. Threw strikes. If he stays healthy, he's going to be something to reckon with down the road."
Miller strained his elbow in 2005 and has suffered elbow and finger injuries in 2007, then missed most of 2008. But he was 3-1, 4.34 in 29 innings in the Dominican. Even better, the separation in his strikeout-to-walk ratio ought to be music to the Indians' ears - 27 to 6, suggesting his command came back in a hurry despite missing so much time. He also held batters to a .268 average and yielded only one home run.
Those good vibes didn't last for long.
The glow of the winter league performance was dimmed when reports came down that Miller had to shut down his rehab program in February due to stiffness in the surgically repaired finger. The dim light was completely extinguished in April of 2009 when the Indians announced that the 24 year old Miller would undergo career threatening finger reconstruction surgery. The surgery would require reconstructing the tendon pulley system in the finger by transplanting a tendon from his leg. The first part of the procedure was completed in April of 2009 and it involved inserting a silicone rod into the base of the middle finger in order to prevent excess scar tissue from forming.
The transplant part of the procedure would be completed in August of 2009, with Miller beginning the grueling rehab process at the Indians Spring Training Complex in Goodyear, Arizona. The news coming out of Goodyear was positive and there were thoughts that Miller may be ready to compete for a bullpen spot in Spring Training. Unfortunately, Miller's finger would not cooperate and in November of that year Miller would undergo the fourth surgery on the middle finger. This surgery would require grafting a tendon from his ring finger to the tendon which had been transplanted from his leg.
After the fourth surgery in November of 2010, Adam Miller began yet another rehab program in Goodyear, Arizona. The pace of the rehab program was much slower than any of the previous rehab programs. The general idea was to allow the scar tissue to build up and break it down through hand exercises. This strategy seems to have works as Miller has not had a setback and pitched pain free bullpen sessions and simulated games through the summer of 2010. Miller would end his improbable 2010 season by reporting to the Arizona Parallel League. On October 8th, Miller would pitch a scoreless inning, throwing 12 pitches, allowing 1 hit, and striking out one. Miller would hit 96 on the radar gun and average 90 mph on his pitches.
As a result of those 12 pitches, the Adam Miller hope balloon has once again set sail on the shores of Lake Erie. I am sure this balloon will soon sail over several front offices between now and the Rule 5 draft. It is very easy to dismiss the notion of the Rays drafting Adam Miller in the Rule 5 Draft solely on the basis of medical history, but Andrew Friedman and the Rays have showed that they are big believers in trading for, drafting, and signing guys who have high upside, and Miller fits that category. The initial risk for drafting Adam Miller is only a $50,000 investment which could be cut in half if the Rays decide to return Miller to the Indians.
Other than the obvious medical issues with Adam Miller (insert bionic man finger comments here) there are other risks that the Rays would have to balance in their decision on whether to select Adam Miller in the Rule 5 Draft. The first risk is if the Rays were to draft Miller and also sign some additional free agents; the Rays currently only have five open spots on their 40-man roster, so would the Rays risk dropping someone from their 40-man and exposing them to waivers?
Next, the second risk would be the taking of a roster spot on the 25-man roster for someone who may not be able to pitch on back to back days, may not have effective command of his pitches, and has never pitched in the major leagues. (Of course, this risk could be minimized if Miller shows that he is able to pitch effectively during spring training.) The third risk involves the pro-rated cost of putting Miller on the disabled list if he were to suffer a setback to the finger or just have a fatigue issue due to lack of baseball conditioning. It is my opinion that the upside of Adam Miller overcoming his finger issues and establishing himself as a member of the back end of the Rays bullpen outweighs any of the inhibiting factors involved with drafting him. He would be a low risk, low cost option with tremendous upside - why not give it a shot?