Things are, uh, not looking good for the 2023 Oakland Athletics right now. The team is bad, the property is MIA and the fans are understandably fed up. It’s hard to know if the team has hit rock bottom yet, but there was definitely a low point on Friday night, when the A pitchers walked 17 in an embarrassing 17-6 loss to the Put. It was a historic poor performance.
THE @Mets are the only MLB team in the modern era to draw more than 17 walks and score more than 17 runs in a road game (of any length).
— OptaSTATS (@OptaSTATS) April 15, 2023
But while it was happening at the Colosseum, a small ray of sunlight broke through the clouds about 560 miles southeast of Summerlin, Nevada. Right-hander Mason Miller — the electric triple-digit fastballer — was doing what seemed almost impossible for the past four seasons: making pitching at the Las Vegas Ballpark seem easy. Miller, who started the season at Double-A Midland but was called up to Las Vegas after a start, faced 16 Salt Lake Bees in his five-inning outing. Only one made it to base, on a third-strike wild pitch. Miller K’d 11 and needed just 64 pitches to complete his five frames. After watching it on MiLB.tv, I made the following statement:
Miller’s day ends after 5 almost perfect runs. 11 strikeouts, no walks, no hits and 43 strikes on 64 pitches. If he throws another pitch in the minor leagues before he makes his A debut, I’ll eat my shoe.
— Melissa Lockard (@melissalockard) April 15, 2023
Fortunately, no shoe consumption will be necessary, as Miller is expected to be called up Wednesday to make his major league debut against the Cubs, a move first reported by Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle. Those who follow my coverage are probably familiar with Miller, whom I ranked as the team’s eighth-best prospect in the spring. (If I had done my ranking after spring training, it would have been higher, because his work this spring was even better than it was in the fall, when he was impressing scouts left and back. right in the Arizona Fall League.) For those unfamiliar with Miller, or wanting an encore, here’s what we can expect from the most anticipated rookie A debut since the arrival of Jesús Luzardo end of 2019.
Miller is primarily a three-pitch (four-seam fastball, cut fastball, slider) pitcher, though he has one change that he’s starting to incorporate into the action of the game. The four-seam fastball is his the most used ground, and for good reason. Miller gets elite speed on the court. On Friday, he threw 42 fastballs (on his 64 pitches) and on average 100 mph with the terrain. His final throw of the outing was a 101 mph paint job to the outside corner.
Mason Miller. Dominant. 🔥
The third @Athletics the prospect felt 11 out of 5 frames with no hits and no steps and hit 100 mph 23 times for @AviatorsLV: pic.twitter.com/OsB0p6APi2
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) April 15, 2023
Miller’s fastball is very firm and has a natural rise. He typically works with the fastball, but is able to change the batter’s eye level with his cutter and slider, as you can see in this nifty Statcast visual of Miller’s pitch movement during his Friday outing.
The cut-fastball, which averaged 95 mph on Friday, is relatively new ground for Miller but has quickly become his best secondary offering, as Sam Haggerty found out this spring when he called it “demon ground”. With a slider that averages 86 mph, Miller is the definition of a power thrower, but he can still shift enough speed (ranging from 84 to 102 mph) to keep hitters off balance. His pitches are also pressed on hitters, as he has a high exit point (six feet).
Miller is yet to walk a batter in his 8 2/3 innings between Midland and Las Vegas this season and he’s allowed just two hits — two solo homers in the Double-A outing. He’s walked just six in 28 career minor league 2/3 innings, though he does get a fair amount of swing-and-miss on pitches outside the strike zone, so it remains to be seen. how his command will withstand more. MLB patient batters. Of the 29 minor league hitters he faced this season, he struck out 19. Historically, when hitters made contact with Miller, it was mostly on the ground, but this season so far he’s theoretically been a fly ball pitcher. His mistakes can be hit far given the speed behind his throws.
Just five years ago, Miller was a struggling 150-pound right-hander in a Division III program. That year, he found out he had type 1 diabetes. From the time of his diagnosis, Miller was able to revise his nutrition plan and gain weight. It has also steadily increased in speed every year since then. Miller is now listed at 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, although he likely weighs 20 pounds more than that. He has broad, muscular shoulders and a solid base, the kind of build that should lend itself to working deep in games.
However, Miller has yet to prove he can be a workaholic. He pitched 98 2/3 innings between college and his pro debut in 2021, but missed much of last season with a strained right subscapularis. He returned in time to pitch 14 innings across three minor league levels (Rookie ball, High A, and Triple A) and he pitched an additional 16 2/3 innings in the Arizona Fall League. His Friday outing was his first official pro outing of at least five full runs. In college, the 2021 season was the only time he exceeded 90 innings. That past doesn’t mean he won’t be a workaholic going forward, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see the A’s keep Miller on a 70-80 boundary, at least early in the season. A’s Managing Director, David Forst confirmed to journalists Tuesday that Miller will be in the rotation for the foreseeable future.
The A’s are in the midst of a rebuild and are looking for someone who can provide a spark to their beleaguered pitching team. In a competitive year, Miller probably wouldn’t make his debut again given the lack of top-level (or really any minor league) experience. But on a bad team, there’s no reason not to bring Miller up now. He’s already 24 due to a longer college career and it’s clear that minor league hitters won’t present a big challenge for him, no matter how many others he faces. The only way for him to know if his command will hold up in a big league environment is against big league hitters, so it makes sense to go ahead and bring him to Oakland. Nerves might be an issue on his first start (he struggled with his command on his first AFL outing, for example), but his coaches were delighted with his work ethic and mature demeanor .
Miller, a third-round pick, is the first member of the A’s 2021 Draft class to advance to the major leagues. He could be just the start of a much-needed youth movement for a struggling franchise.
(Top photo: Jerry Kime/MLB Photos via Getty Images)