WTNYSeptember 21, 2004
Deep In The Heart of the Minors
By Bryan Smith

You dont need me to tell you the pedigree of Texan pitchers. From Nolan, to Rocket, to the Kerry Wood and Josh Beckett, weve heard the same story for years. Scott Kazmir is next on the carousel, already outdueling the likes of Pedro Martinez. But after Kazmir?

2003s draft had three high school Texan pitchers chosen in the first round, two of which played full-season ball this season. Unlike Hermida and Francoeur in Georgia, their high schools are more than three hours away from each other. But both programs are competitive, and one of the two reached the state finals. John Danks was more touted out of high school, the first high school pitcher chosen. Miller was still highly regarded, and was the third player the Indians drafted, chosen 31st overall.

It was a bit of surprise when the Rangers used their ninth overall choice on Danks, considering most assumed Texas assistant GM Grady Fuson was not interested in high school pitchers. Danks was compared to Kazmir often out of high school, a smaller southpaw that could light up radar guns. I havent heard any comparisons for Miller, who will probably start garnering comparisons with his recent sensational play. While their profiles arent as long as the likes of Nick Swisher or Jeff Francoeur, today I will look at whats in store for these two Texans.

After signing (Danks got $2.1, Miller $1.025), both pitchers got ten appearances by the end of the 2003 season. Teams seldom use heavily-ridden college arms late in the season, but high school pitchers are normally OK for such a stretch. Danks was on Fusons tandem-starter system, one that is thought to have prevented injuries to many of the Oakland As pitchers. Miller, while not on such a system, is with the Indians, who have a very good General Manager running things behind the scenes. While its always hard to ignore TINSTAPP, I really believe these two will stay healthy in the long run.

Danks spent his ten appearances split between the Arizona and Northwest leagues. Danks showed brilliance in the AZL, allowing just six hits and four walks in his first thirteen professional innings. His ERA was 0.69 during the stretch, that also included 22 strikeouts and 0 home runs. But, as often happens, Danks struggled after the promotion, with an ERA of 9.00 in the NWL. He still displayed good peripherals, allowing no homers and striking out thirteen in 12 innings. There was undoubtedly greatness around the corner, and Danks was an undisputed top 5 Rangers prospect.

As for Miller, he was sent straight to the Appalachian League, where he had some mediocre ten starts. While things werent so up and down as Danks, Miller had a 4.96 ERA in his 32.2 Appy innings. There were concerns after the right-hander struck out only 23, but good things were seen in his nine walks, two HR allowed and 30 hits. Remember that Danks ERA was still high at 4.68 for the year, though his peripherals definitely indicated a better prospect.

When a player reaches full-season ball for the first time, its all about put up or shut up. This same mentality comes in AA, but that article will be saved for another time. Both players were sent to low-A, though Danks pitched in the Midwest League, with Miller in the Sally League. Both players pitched fantastically out of the gate, and were considered early for the Baseball America Player of the Year award.

Danks debut was a little more notable, as the southpaw stormed through the Midwest League, en route to a promotion. He made eight starts there, though the tandem system also permitted six relief appearances. Overall, Danks pitched 49.2 innings, and allowed 12 ER for a sparkling 2.17 ERA. During that time he only allowed 38 hits, 14 walks, and four home runs. Furthermore, he struck out 64 batters, and showed enough stuff to be named on the Futures Game roster.

Danks was promoted to the Carolina League just before the game, though I was able to give this tiny scouting report from his performance in Houston:

I had high hopes for John Danks, a 19-year-old Rangers prospect, who would need 33 pitches to escape a bases loaded jam. Danks surely wasnt helped by three questionable plays by David Wright, who I had heard was a dependable fielder. After a rather unimpressive at-bat by Joel Guzman ended in a single, Wright made an error, and ten two plays later tagged out Guzman running to third rather than turning a 5-4-3 double play. Last years ninth overall selection, Danks pitched slower than some reports had him, throwing between 89-92, and showcasing a curveball he left up quite often. Its hard to blame the kid, hes only weeks away from the Midwest League, which hasnt exactly been a prospects paradise this year.

And then, still kicking in the Sally League was Adam Miller. I dont have month-by-month splits available (Ill get them), but its safe to say Miller cooled off in the middle, after a red-hot start to the season. He got hot again at the end, something well touch on later. But while in the Sally League, Miller pitched 91 innings in nineteen appearances. His ERA was a modest 3.36, and his K/9 rate jumped to 10.48. Also, he only allowed 78 hits and 28 walks, which is fantastic. Few people have the control of Miller, who has shown uncanny maturity for his age.

Next we have the promotions, which will clearly separate the two prospects. Danks was moved to the California League, where he faced considerable struggles. The 19-year-old was overmatched, posting an ERA of 5.24 in 55 innings. His H/9 was over 10.00, with his K/9 a career-low 7.85. He was still allowing a home run every 11 innings, which Ive said is a very good indicator. Danks has faced struggles before, and bounced back considerably the next season, so I wouldnt worry.

Cleveland didnt face the concerns Texas did, watching their teenager blossom upon a promotion to the Carolina League. In 8 appearances, Miller had a 2.08 ERA, the best of his career. He also saw career bests in H/9, WHIP and HR/9. He closed out the season amazingly, where including the playoffs, he allowed just 3 runs in his last 29.1 innings. His stats remind me some of Jeff Francis, a player I loved last season.

Unfortunately, I cant give all of you genuine scouting reports on the two. Millers ERA is now lower, though Danks has a better K/9 and HR/9. And after all, hes left-handed. But to me, there are few things more important than how you close the season, and Miller did so splendidly. I think hell bust out next year, possibly finishing the season pitching in the Major Leagues. Danks will take it slow, but eventually could be a force with the Texas Rangers. The problem with Kazmir always was his third pitch, an issue with Danks as well, I believe.

So, the verdict rules in favor of Miller. Both will me top 50, but expect Adam Miller to finish narrowly ahead of his Texas companion, southpaw John Danks.