TAMPA, Fla.—Kyle Muller has accomplished more than most people his age. More than most baseball players his age, even.
His 24 strikeouts in a row are a high school record. In his senior season, he helped pitch Dallas Jesuit Prep to its first state championship. He earned Gatorade’s national player of the year honors, an award presented to him by Rangers lefthander Cole Hamels, one of his baseball heroes.
His two-way prowess in his final season as an amateur also earned him the utility spot on this year’s High School All-America team.
But perhaps the best moment of his bejeweled prep career came on a trip to this year’s ESPY Awards, where he was just feet away from nine-time Grammy Award winner Justin Timberlake.
“When I went to the ESPYs for the national player of the year, he was on stage presenting an award,” he said. “I got to kind of see him, which was pretty cool. It was so awesome. I got to meet so many people. I took pictures with Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Bryce Harper, I was starstruck the whole night.”
Of course, the reason Muller got to attend the ESPYs is because of what he can do with his gifted left arm. The Braves drafted him 44th overall in June and gave him a $2.5 million bonus to forego a commitment to Texas.
Since signing and being assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, he’s continued to dominate. In 17 2/3 innings, he’s surrendered just three runs (two earned) on 11 hits and has struck out 24 against nine walks.
He’s also been working on a few mechanical changes since signing.
“I was trying to work on my timing a little bit, getting my hand up before I start moving down the mound just so I can get on top of the ball and keep it low in the zone,” he said. “The first two innings, I was just playing around with it but then the third inning I kind of got it, and that was my best inning, I thought.”
He’s armed with a lively fastball that on Monday sat between 89-91 mph, a downer curveball in the mid-70s and a developing changeup between 79-81. He throws all his pitches from a high three-quarters arm slot.
On Tuesday against the GCL Yankees he allowed two hits in three shutout innings, struck out five and walked one.
The fastball velocity represents a jump up from last summer, when he was in the upper-80s. To get there, he had to put in a ton of hard work and make some serious changes.
“I lifted six times a week. I changed my diet from just eating to everything I eat has a purpose,” he said. “I was eating clean and eating a lot of calories to try to put some strength on. Really, (I was) just trying to take the extra steps and really pay attention to the little things like how many calories I’m eating and not skipping meals and things that will really help my performance during the games.”
And even though he’s only in the GCL, he’s already gotten to face major league hitters. In his second outing, an intrasquad game that doesn’t count, he faced rehabbing big leaguer Gordon Beckham.
“I walked him,” he said. “It’s crazy how good these guys are. I felt like (I threw him) one of the best curveballs and best changeups I’ve thrown and he fouled both of them off. It just shows you how hard it is to get those guys out. It was a great experience.”
As mentioned before, Muller took BA’s top honors this season as the top two-way player on the high school circuit. He earned that designation by hitting .390 with 15 home runs and 52 RBIs in his senior season.
A few teams, he says, came to watch him on days he didn’t pitch, and he hit at a lot of his pre-draft workouts as well. Even so, it was clear his future was on the mound.
Because he was drafted by the Braves, however, he won’t have to completely forget about his bat.
“It was great news. I’ve already asked the coaches every day ‘Are pitchers hitting today?,” he said. “And they go ‘Not till Double-A’ but I’m just going to keep bugging them until that day happens.'”
If he keeps pitching like he has so far in his brief professional career, he won’t have to pick up a bat to be a hit in Atlanta.