2007 Draft Spotlight: Adam Mills
"He's barely six feet tall, sits in the high 80's and only commands two pitches at an elite level." "He has funny arm action." "He played his college ball against weak competition." "We're taking you in this round or that round."
Adam Mills of UNC Charlotte (or just Charlotte as the athletic department chooses to go by) has heard it all from the scouts. But now, at this point, after Mills has so dominated in his senior season, it sounds like they're grasping at straws. Mills, who is a candidate for several player and pitcher of the year awards, set the career record for wins at Charlotte (a school that also produced John Maine) while leading the nation in ERA. Here are his final stats in 2007:
W-L ERA GS CG IP H R ER BB SO
Adam Mills 14-2 1.01 18 8 142.2 93 27 16 27 141
I am sensitive to the fact that Mills did not compete against elite lineups all season, but what would you like the kid to have done? What performance level would you like him to have achieved in order to convince you he might be able to play at the next level? A 0.25 ERA? Two K's per inning? When the big boys don't come knocking with scholarship offers, all you can do is go to the school that gives you an offer and then pitch your butt off. And besides, as we will get into in a little bit, Mills has shown that he can get it done against better competition.
As far as how his 49ers team fared, they cruised to an Atlantic 10 championship and advanced all the way to the Columbia, South Carolina regional final before falling to the host Gamecocks to end their season on Monday night. Charlotte easily led the nation in ERA with an incredible 2.31 figure. It was one of the most memorable baseball seasons in the school's history.
I had an opportunity to chat with Adam yesterday to recap his season and talk about his future. The interview follows.
Patrick: Even though your season ended disappointingly yesterday, you must be happy with it. You led your team to the regional championship and led the nation in ERA. Talk about this season a little bit and what it has meant for you.
Adam: It meant a lot. I knew we would have a good team but I thought we would be more of a hitting club. We lost good pitchers off of last year's team so to lead the nation in team ERA was quite an accomplishment. (Spencer) Steadley and (Zach) Rosenbaum were excellent too. Personally, yeah, to lead the country in ERA and to set the team wins record and to go as far as we did, I will never forget it.
PS: Your performance has been phenomenal this season and yet most predict you will not be going until the 4th or 5th round at the earliest. Why the discrepancy between your performance, which would suggest you are at least a first 100-pick, and the perception that you are not a top tier talent?
AM: People are going to say what they want. I am not going to knock teams I played against, nor am I going to say I would have pitched just as well had I pitched in the ACC or PAC-10. I will say that I have been consistent against all levels of competition. I pitch multiple styles, and given my relationship with my catcher Kris Rochelle, we have been able to attack weaknesses in other teams' hitters. If teams are aggressive early in a count, we'll pitch backwards and start them off with off-speed. Pitching is not about being 6'5" and throwing 98. It's about getting outs.
PS: Is your stock being excessively punished for playing in a weaker conference?
AM: The way I look at it is this. I have four pitches and hit spots. If you spot two pitches on a given day, you'll get outs. If you spot three or four, you'll have a lot of fun getting outs. I can't do anything about who is in the batters box.
PS: Fair enough. Given the "competition" criticism, how satisfying was it to beat NC State in the first game of the regionals?
AM: Oh it felt real good. There had been a lot of talk of weak competition and it was like "well you guys dog me because of the level of competition, well here is what I can do against an ACC team." So it felt great but then, that's how I pitch; in a way that translates to tougher competition.
PS: Here is what Wolfpack Manager Elliot Avent had to say about you after the outing:
"Adam Mills was everything he was billed to be. He is what the word 'pitcher' means. He commands both sides of the plate and keeps the ball down...He didn't give us anything to hit. I thought Mills was pretty much everything he's cracked up to be. He took care of things and got it done today."
If the scouts don’t, it sure sounds to me like the manager of a power conference program certainly thinks you are one of the best.
AM: To hear that means a lot. Anytime you hear that from a guy like him means a lot. I may not be 6'5' and I may not throw 98 but I can pitch and it means a lot to hear someone like Coach Avent recognize that.
PS: Sounds like you really enjoyed your time in the Northwoods League. How is the competition there? Does it stack up to the Cape League ?
AM: Erik Walker (who tragically died last fall) was my Charlotte teammate and he started in the Cape one summer before coming out to the Northwoods League and he said that the Northwoods League was a better all-around experience. You play in nice stadiums in front of a big crowd every game. As far as competition, I understand the hitting is comparable but the pitching is deeper in the Cape League.
PS: How many pitches do you throw and which is your most effective?
AM: I throw four pitches. A fastball (four and two seam) that I can really spot. I also throw a knuckle-curve, a 12-6 pitch that I throw in any count. My slider is my out pitch, which I use to punch hitters out. And then I have a change-up that is good as well.
PS: Scouts I have spoken with indicate you are a two-pitch guy (fastball and slider) in pro ball. Do you think you have a broad enough repertoire to succeed at the highest levels of professional baseball?
AM: Yes, I would like to think I do. I was throwing four pitches early on this year and striking a lot of batters out. But then as the year went on, Coach emphasized pitching to contact more and so I would go with whatever I knew I could get guys out with. I was able to get guys out with just two pitches and so quite often, I did.
PS: So limiting your repertoire later in the year was a conscious choice?
AM: For the most part. If I can get guys out throwing fewer pitches, I will.
PS: Have you ever competed against fellow Maryland native and Angels farmhand Nick Adenhart? Rich Lederer is a Southern California native (and something of an Angels fan though he would not admit it) and needs to know such things.
AM: We played on the same legion team and competed against one another in high school.
PS: Whom do you pattern your delivery and approach after? Is there a pro pitcher that readers could think of as being a good comp for you in terms of style?
AM: I have always liked the way the following three guys pitch, but would never compare myself to them.
Pedro Martinez: Pedro always commanded what was happening in the batters box. You had to respect the way he took control of a game and I have always tried to emulate that.
Mike Mussina and Greg Maddux: These guys do not overpower you but know their stuff and are confident in going with what they have that day. They both also rely on command like I do. My mistakes might get hit hard at the next level, but I won't make many of them.
PS: I don't doubt you, Adam. Thanks for taking some time and best of luck on Thursday.
AM: Thank you.
Adam Mills had an ERA barely over 1 this year, has pitched consistently against all levels of competition, has no signability issues whatsoever and fantastic makeup. He commands multiple pitches, knows how to pitch and maintains his poise in tough situations. Given the low success rate of MLB draft picks anyway, I just don't see how there is much risk in taking Mills well before the experts have him slotted to go.
You go ahead and reach on the tall guy with the ultra-live arm and not much else. I'll reach on the kid that can pitch.