05/12/06 11:45 AM ET
UNC's Miller carries high Draft status
Junior southpaw considered front-runner for No. 1 overall pick
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
Since the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference baseball action began in late March, left-hander Andrew Miller has been taking the mound for the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels to the tune of a 10-0 record and a 1.91 ERA.
The 20-year-old Miller, who will turn 21 on May 21, has been consistently kicking off the ACC weekend series for his team in fine fashion, as UNC has won all but one weekend series -- the club fell, 2-1, to Georgia Tech -- and has swept the last three for a 40-9 overall record through May 11.
"Andrew Miller has just had a terrific season for us," said Tar Heels coach Mike Fox. "Everyone knows how talented he is, but this year, he's really put it all together. Every start, he's given us a chance to win."
With one non-conference game remaining and two ACC weekend series still on the board -- at Virginia this weekend and home to close against Boston College -- the immediate future looks bright for the Tar Heels' hopes in the upcoming NCAA postseason.
But if Miller and company have their eyes on the College World Series prize, there are many other folks who think the prize is Miller himself.
Armed with command of a sinking fastball in the low-90s and a power curveball that could be his best pitch, the 6-foot-6 southpaw is expected to be one of the top picks in the upcoming First-Year Player Draft on June 6.
The Kansas City Royals have the first pick, followed by Colorado, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh. And while there is no clear-cut choice for the top selection, there are at least a few folks who feel that it should be "Miller Time" as soon as the draft begins.
"In my opinion, he's the guy who should be the consensus No. 1 pick among the pitchers," said one scouting director. "He's the guy they should pick. He's really separated himself from the other pitchers."
Miller pretty much has it all.
"He's a dominating talent, physically and mentally," the director said. "He loves to compete, loves to challenge hitters, and should be at the forefront of a Major League rotation in time."
Draft day will not be a new experience for Miller.
Miller spent the day of the 2003 Draft at home with friends and family in Gainesville, Fla., watching the draft via the Internet.
There had been some talk that he could go in the first round out of Buchholz High School, but clubs knew that they would have to pay dearly to lure him away from North Carolina, where he'd been accepted into the business school.
The Devil Rays took a chance on him in the third round, but when the first day of classes rolled around, Miller was the highest unsigned pick from that year's draft class.
"It was kind of exciting to go through the process, but by the time the draft was over, I pretty much knew I would be coming here," said Miller. "I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, so it wasn't a crushing blow."
Miller wasn't the only one with a vested interest in his own draft fate.
Tar Heels coach Mike Fox was also following the draft on his computer, waiting through those first few rounds for Miller's name to be called.
"Even when he dropped through the first couple of rounds, we still weren't sure," Fox recalled. "It's not like every time another name popped up we went, 'Yes!' We felt like we had a reasonable chance to get him to enroll here, but you just never know."
In fact, Fox didn't know for sure if he'd be able to pencil the big left-hander's name into his 2004 rotation until Aug. 28, when classes began.
"You're not 100 percent sure until they step foot in that first class," he said. "We didn't escort him to his first class -- I refused to do that. ... But I did call to make sure he was there. Then I was allowed to go, 'Yes!'"
Three years later, Fox and company still have a lot to smile about. In his first two seasons, Miller went 14-7 with a combined 2.96 ERA, striking out 192 batters in 185 2/3 innings while walking 100.
And while Miller admits to following the careers of some of the similar pitchers in his draft class -- such as Dodgers top prospect Chad Billingsley -- with a tinge of "that could have been me" -- he's also been happy to complete three years toward his college degree while raising his own draft stock considerably.
"I see where Billingsley is at, and I can't lie -- I'm a little envious because there's a good chance he'll be pitching in the Dodgers rotation sooner rather than later," Miller said. "But I certainly can't complain about the situation I'm in right now."
With flame-throwing right-hander Daniel Bard (6-2, 3.69 ERA), who is also expected to be taken in the first round this June, and right-hander Robert Woodard (5-1, 3.21 ERA), who is more of a deceptive soft-tosser, as their weekend starters, the Tar Heels are in good shape with the ACC tournament and NCAA Regionals approaching.
Working in tandem with the pair of Bard and Woodard has also helped Miller.
"I get to watch Bard throw the ball as hard as anyone you'll find in the country, and then I get to watch Woodard throw not as hard as most people in the country, but get more outs than most of them," Miller said. "So I learn from the two different approaches they have, what works and what doesn't."
Said Fox: "Pitching is the name of the game at any level, so we're very fortunate to have three top-notch starters. We can control our own destiny, while in the past we had to depend on someone else to beat someone else."
And right now, the name of the pitching game at North Carolina is Andrew Miller.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.