Brewers' Miller Tries To Put It All Together

MILWAUKEE—With a last name synonymous with Milwaukee, low Class A Wisconsin prospect Matt Miller felt right at home as he took in the moment and soaked up all the sights and sounds at Miller Park before his team took on Peoria at the big league park on June 29.

Miller was, indeed, living the high life.

But it wasn't his name as much as his 6-foot-6 frame and hard, boring fastball that helped Miller become a fifth-round pick of the Brewers in the 2010 draft. The former Michigan righthander recently reached the midway point of his first full pro season as a member of the Timber Rattlers, still searching for the consistency that has seemingly always been lacking.

"Ultimately, it comes down to going out there and getting the job done," Miller said before the start of the annual Border Battle between Wisconsin and Peoria. "As a team, we've been pretty good at doing that. Personally, I need to set the bar higher."

Miller returned from the disabled list after missing a month with a strained oblique muscle and turned in one of his worst starts as a professional in the opening game of the series against visiting Peoria. The lanky pitcher lasted just 1 2/3 innings and allowed seven hits and eight runs (three earned) in a 16-7 defeat.

Miller dropped to 2-4, 4.99 in his ninth start of the season.

"What I was excited about was he showed the things we've been working on," Wisconsin pitching coach Chris Hook said. "He was staying on line with his target and throwing his fastball with good, downward plane. Unfortunately, the offspeed stuff wasn't quite there and it was up in the zone and (Peoria) was able to capitalize on it. The good news was he came out healthy and threw his fastball the way we've wanted him to throw it all year."

It's A Funny Game

Miller turned in perhaps his finest professional start with a seven-inning, three-hit shutout against Clinton on April 29. Working primarily with a low-90s fastball and circle changeup, Miller commanded both sides of the plate. He finished with one walk and six strikeouts.

The Indiana native works in the 89-93 mph range with a lively fastball and reportedly touched the mid-90s as a reliever at Michigan.

"My last start I thought I had my best fastball command of the season and obviously it didn't go too well," Miller said. "Baseball is a funny game. Hopefully, one of these nights it will all come together."

The Brewers want Miller to remain in the starting rotation despite serving mostly a reliever in college. Miller emerged as a prospect the summer following his sophomore year at Michigan while closing for Alexandria of the collegiate, wood-bat Northwoods League.

"We've been given a task to develop starters," Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "For us, he has to command three pitches to be a starter. Right now, it's all about consistency just like it is for every other player."

Whether he's a starter or a power arm in the bullpen, Nichols said Miller has the stuff to pitch in the big leagues.

"He has a big, powerful arm and should be durable," Nichols said. "He has good movement on his fastball. As a hitter, it really backs up into you. You don't see it very often where the ball moves that much on just a normal fastball. He just has that natural ability to do it."

Miller, a postseason Pioneer League all-star with Rookie-level Helena last season, has an average to slightly above-average fastball and an adequate changeup. His breaking ball, however, is still a major work in progress. Miller throws a curveball and slider, but neither has been an effective pitch.

Hook knows what Miller is going through. The former Giants reliever walked 62 batters his first full professional season with low Class A Charleston in 1990.

"With us big guys, sometimes the pieces don't work so well together," said Hook, who stands nearly eye-to-eye with Miller. "He's all arms and legs, but his arm action is a wonderful thing. I think he gets frustrated because he wants it to come quicker than it has been. I'm waiting for the day it all comes together."

Out Of The Shadows

Miller is a late bloomer that spent two years on the junior varsity squad in high school and nearly attended Purdue to focus on a business degree with the possibility of walking on the baseball team. It wasn't until late in his senior year at Zionsville High when colleges began taking notice.

Miller played three non-eventful seasons at Michigan, finishing his college career 4-6, 4.56 in 49 appearances (12 starts).

"I wasn't really scouted in high school and had an inconsistent role at Michigan," Miller said. "When I played in the Northwoods League before the start of my junior year, that's where I really gained my confidence and built my arm up. Looking back, that was one of the more fun summers I've ever had."

Miller comes from an athletic family. His father Joe played Division III football and his brother Jason was a two-time all-Ivy League tight end at Harvard.

"Jason was the big football star in our town," Miller said. "He was a big kid and the captain of the football and basketball teams."

Miller was always in the shadow of others.

"We had two other guys sign with Division 1 schools on my team in high school," Miller said. "They were always the ones to look at. I was a late bloomer. I went from 6-foot as a freshman (in high school) to just about 6-6 my senior year."

Miller, who grew up an Indians fan, was making his third visit to Miller Park. He attended a workout before the 2010 draft and returned in April to compete in the Brewers' Rising Stars Game.

The next time he takes the mound at Miller Park could be as a big leaguer. In the meantime, Brewers' fans can get their homemade signs ready:

It's Miller Time.

Jeffrey Zampanti covers baseball for the Kenosha (Wis.) News