For the second year in a row, the Tigers benefited from a highly-rated prospect who fell out of the top handful of spots. Unlike Cameron Maybin, however, Andrew Miller was expected to be the top overall pick.
With the sixth overall pick in Tuesday's First-Year Player Draft, the Tigers changed course and went with Miller, the University of North Carolina left-hander who as recently as Monday was predicted to go to the Royals at No. 1. In so doing, Detroit proved out scouting director David Chadd's prediction that what the Tigers would do with their selection depended on what happened with the five picks before theirs.
Chadd said he didn't know until this morning that Miller would slide that far. When he did, the best pitching staff in the Major Leagues so far this season drafted the young man who was almost universally regarded as the best pitcher available. Assuming they can sign him, and that's not a given, they could have the makings of an even nastier rotation for 2008 than they expected they would have -- maybe even sooner.
"I knew they're about the best young team in baseball," Miller said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon arranged by the university. "They're known for their young pitching. It'll be a tough place for me to find a spot down the road, but it'll be a good challenge."
Miller has been widely regarded as the best combination of ability and polish in what was regarded as a pitcher-heavy draft. Both MLB.com and Baseball America rated the 21-year-old left-hander as the top prospect available, a lofty status that had basically remained unchanged since the college season began. He's a power lefty in both stature -- he's listed at 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds -- and stuff.
With a mid-90s fastball that occasionally tops out higher, along with a quality slider, Miller was already on watch coming off two unbeaten seasons in the Cape Cod Summer League. He began his junior season by going 10-0 before finally taking a loss last month. He went 12-2 with a 2.26 ERA in 15 starts, striking out 108 batters over 103 2/3 innings and holding opponents to a .217 batting average.
His next step to becoming a Major Leaguer is to develop his changeup into an effective pitch. Chadd said he already shows the feel for one, and UNC coach Mike Fox said Miller hasn't honed it only because he hasn't had to throw it regularly in college.
The repertoire and the size made him a likely selection for the Royals with the first overall selection. However, contract demands reportedly helped turn Kansas City's attention elsewhere. Once it became clear Monday morning that the Royals wouldn't take Miller, with the next four teams pretty much set with their wish lists, Miller went on a relative free fall.
"It was shocking when we found out there was a chance he was going to get to our pick," Chadd said.
It wasn't necessarily a shock to Miller. Had the Tigers not plucked him, projections had him falling out of the top 10 and potentially into the second half of the first round, where teams in more competitive situations and with more financial room could take on the challenge of signing him. Potential asking prices, including a Major League contract and a hefty bonus, were circulating around teams.
"We certainly started to be able to list teams side by side as far as who was interested and who might not be interested," he said. "Detroit never really entered the conversation about it, and I think that might be because they knew what was going on and didn't feel they had to."
Chadd confirmed he has not talked with Miller's advisors, Mark Rodgers and Darek Braunecker, and he hadn't talked with Miller until after they drafted him. But he was certainly aware of the risk going in.
"My perspective of the draft for this organization," Chadd said, "is if you're in the position to pick that high, you have to pick the best player on the board. As a group, we felt that without a doubt he was the best player on the board."
Miller does not want to discuss or think about contract talks until he's finished with his college season. The Tar Heels travel to Alabama for an NCAA Super Regional meeting with the Crimson Tide this weekend. Until they're eliminated, he can't formally name an agent.
Once Miller's college career is over, the tough part of Chadd's job begins. Like Justin Verlander two years ago, it could take a big-league deal to sign Miller. However, the potential of adding Miller to Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman as part of Detroit's rotation of the future was enticing enough to be worth the risk.
"I'll take on those challenges," Chadd said. "Bottom line is I know Andrew Miller wants to play and wants to play for the Tigers, and it's up to me to get it done. I'm optimistic at some point we'll make this happen."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.