PHOENIX–Over 70 scouts headed over to Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Tuesday afternoon, expecting to get a look at Indians' lefthander David Huff.
But they were greeted with a pleasant surprise.
Not only did they get to see the Tribe's 2006 supplemental first-rounder, but they also were treated to a start by the Indians' No. 1 prospect Adam Miller.
The Arizona Fall League was missing a true premiere pitching prospect this season–the league is filled with back-of-the-rotation starters and middle relievers–but it now can truly boast having a starter with the potential to be a No. 1 guy.
If the 2003 supplemental first-rounder can stay healthy.
Miller, who missed time during the regular season with finger and elbow troubles, finished up the year at Double-A Akron in the postseason after spending much of 2007 with Triple-A Buffalo.
"I guess it was kind of a big secret," Miller said. "Nobody really knew I was coming."
Miller last threw in an instructional league game last Monday, then went home to Texas for a few days before reporting to the Surprise Rafters a week later.
And while his velocity wasn't fully back to the mid-to-upper 90s he's capable of, Miller certainly was impressive over his three innings of work against the Phoenix Desert Dogs. His four-seam fastball sat at 92 mph and touched 94, his slider showed plus late life at times, he threw his changeup for strikes and used his two-seamer effectively against lefthanded hitters.
"I felt pretty good," Miller said. "I'm not 100 percent right now. I'm really just trying to get a lot of my physical strength back from being shut down and not really getting to lift and working on my upper body very much.
"As far as today, I thought the slider has been better than it's been when I was throwing it in instructs and stuff like that. It wasn't great, but it was decent. And then with the changeup I felt like I had a good feel for it, but sometimes I tried to place it in there instead of just trusting my arm speed with it. The biggest thing is always keeping everything down, and I felt like I did a good job at that and locating with the fastball."
Miller threw three scoreless innings in the Rafters' 2-1 win, allowing just one hit. He sent down eight in a row, tossing two perfect innings.
He last pitched in the AFL in 2005, when he was also coming off a strained ligament in his elbow.
"Yeah, it was pretty much the same thing," Miller said. "Here I am, back in the Fall League again. It might have been a surprise to all the evaluators out there, but it wasn't a surprise to me. I just want to keep getting things going and improve heading into spring training on a roll."
And the evaluators were impressed.
"He's going to be better than fine," a scout from an American League club said. "His velocity was pretty much what you'd expect it to be, but we know what he can do. "Really, the most impressive thing to me was his ability with his two-seamer. That gives him a much better weapon to deal with lefthanded hitters than just running that slider in there. He can still do that, but it was impressive to see how much he's kind of grown up as a pitcher from even a year ago.
"He'll just run that two-seam down against lefties and get ground balls all day. And he located his fastball to both sides of the plate. He did basically anything you ask out of a guy."
Huff Also Rolls
Following Miller's performance Tuesday was no easy task, but David Huff cruised through two scoreless innings, whiffing three to keep Phoenix off the board.
The 23-year-old UCLA product was shut down at the end of May with elbow soreness, and got rocked around in his last AFL start when he allowed five runs on seven hits in three innings against the Peoria Saguaros.
Huff's fastball sat in the 87-89 mph range, showing two quality breaking balls and a changeup he located in the zone.
"He's not going to blow you away, but he's a strike-thrower who commands the zone with four pitches," another AL scout said. "He moves the fastball in and out, up and down very well. And then he's got a pretty good slider and a softer breaking ball to go along with that changeup."
Blue Jays outfielder Ryan Patterson was expected to miss at least half of 2007 after he sustained a broken forearm after he was hit by a pitch during his time in big league camp in the spring.
"You know, it was such a bad situation," Patterson said. "It was a long at-bat, ninth inning, two outs in a spring training game. It was kind of my fault because I was leaning over the plate a little bit. There was a good pitch away and then the next one ran in on me and got me. I knew it was broken right away because it hurt like hell."
Patterson, a 2005 fourth-rounder, needed surgery to insert a plate in his arm and plenty of people expected him to miss a huge part of the year rehabbing.
Instead, he returned to the lineup at high Class A Dunedin at the end of April, and was back at Double-A New Hampshire–where he finished up the 2006 season.
"The first thing I started thinking when they were taking X-Rays of the thing was how I needed to get back quickly–that I wanted to miss as little time as possible. I didn't want to push it only to get hurt again and have to go back to extended or anything, but I was driven to get back and get to Double-A as quickly as possible.
"I don't think a lot of people thought I was back playing when I got back. The earliest they told me was six to eight weeks before I could start swinging a bat. I'm very hard-headed, but I wanted to be smart about it."
And so Patterson is in the AFL making up for a lost month. So far, the 24-year-old outfielder is hitting .226 in 31 at-bats for Scottsdale.
"This is a good time for me out here to work on a lot of different things," Patterson said. "I need to work on my range and my first step in the outfield. At the plate I want to try to combine patience with aggressiveness and find some kind of common ground. I need to not be so aggressive out of the zone. I'm hanging in there and doing better at the stuff I want to do better at. It's all about getting better and getting ready for spring training because I know that's going to be huge for me this year."
• The Rangers were concerned about lefthander Matt Harrison's shoulder when he was included in the Mark Teixeira deal at the trade deadline, but he's back completely healthy in the AFL. Harrison's shoulder soreness at the time of the trade began with a case of turf toe as he overcompensated in his delivery to take stress off his plant foot . . . Several scouts aren't sold on Mets' first baseman Mike Carp, a ninth-rounder out of high school in 2004. "I don't believe in the power at all," said a scout from a National League club. "He doesn't make good, hard contact, he's inconsistent in his approach and swings and misses too much. And he's not going to play anywhere else but first base. His performance here defines what he is for me." In 43 at-bats, Carp is hitting .256/.333/.349 with 10 strikeouts . . . The bad news for Rays' fans is Carp's numbers are better than Scottsdale shortstop Reid Brignac, who has really been struggling this fall. In 42 at-bats, Brignac is hitting just .119/.159/.190. "I'm not sure if he's just worn out, but he's playing that way," another NL scout said. "There is very little energy to his actions and he's been brutal against lefthanders." . . . Finally, after playing all of 2007 at shortstop in Double-A, Blue Jays infielder Sergio Santos is getting reps at third base, and will continue working there at Scottsdale for the remainder of the fall. "His body is changing to where that's where he's best suited," said a scout from an AL club. "He's gotten much thicker through the lower half and there isn't enough explosion in his first step or overall range to play short."