06/06/06 7:14 PM ET
UNC aces ready for next step
Miller heads to Detroit while Bard is bound for Boston
By Lisa Winston / MLB.com
The pair of aces from the University of North Carolina were both selected in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, with Miller going sixth overall to the Detroit Tigers, and Bard 28th to the Boston Red Sox.
The draft allowed the two a brief break from working out with their Tar Heels teammates as the squad prepares for the coming weekend's trip to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where they will face Alabama in an NCAA Super Regional series, with the winner moving on to the College World Series.
So yes, it's been a good few days for the two juniors.
And if anyone tried to argue that there might have been some letdown for Miller, who had been in the mix for the first pick overall until the waning days before the draft, or Bard, who had been predicted to go as high as No 10, they would have a hard time convincing the duo that they had anything to be disappointed about.
"I don't think I could be any happier," said Miller, who was drafted in the third round of 2003 by Tampa Bay but opted instead to head to North Carolina partly in hopes of improving his draft status. "This is what I hoped for, that everything would work out like it has. It's like a fairy tale."
For Miller, it's hard to feel bad about being passed on by Kansas City, Colorado, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Seattle, when he had his name called by the team with the best record in baseball at 37-20.
Once he signs, he'll join an up-and-coming team that has been unquestionably the Majors' most pleasant surprise this year, a club that has proven its commitment to young pitchers, such as 2004 first-rounder Justin Verlander, who made his pro debut and Major League debut in the same 2005 campaign.
"They have a rich heritage, but have had a few down years," said Miller, who did a little homework about his new team before heading out with his parents to the local mall to buy matching Detroit Tigers caps for himself and his dad. "But they are really turning things around."
The young man who hopes to be a part of that turnaround soon was just named ACC Pitcher of the Year and one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes award, given to the country's top amateur player, Miller heads into Super Regional action with a 12-2 record and 2.26 ERA on the season, having struck out 108 batters in 103 2/3 innings this year and had allowed four extra base hits all year.
Miller, who holds the school career record with 300 strikeouts in three seasons, throws a variety of fastballs and a slider and possesses a changeup which he flashes occasionally.
A 6-foot-7 left-hander, Miller was widely regarded as the best college pitcher in the draft. Rumors of his wanting a signing bonus on a par with last year's top college pitcher, Mike Pelfrey out of Wichita State (who was taken in the ninth spot by the Mets and signed during the offseason for more than $5 million) is the likely reason for Miller's mini-slide to No. 6.
Bard, one of Boston's back-to-back picks at the 27-28 spot, was also ecstatic about the draft results.
Despite growing up in Charlotte and speaking with a slow Southern drawl, he's the son of a pair of transplanted Massachusetts natives and is a lifelong Red Sox fanatic (although that's not the reason he opted not to sign with the New York Yankees, who drafted him in the 20th round of 2003).
The 6-foot-4 right-hander throws a blazing fastball that regularly touches 97 mph and is working on his secondary pitches. He's currently 8-3 with a 3.47 ERA, having fanned 90 batters in 85 2/3 innings, and earned the victory in the Tarheels' 14-2 win against Winthrop on Sunday that advanced them to the next round of postseason play.
Bard admitted that it was slightly nerve-wracking to wait out that first round, but that he was nowhere near as nervous as his mom.
"She was the most nervous person in the room -- her drink was shaking," he joked. "I'm not disappointed, because I think the Red Sox are a good fit for me."
Both Bard and Miller combined for a huge sigh of relief, as the drama and unpredictability of the draft was finally over and they were both free to focus now on the big series this weekend.
This year marks the first time that Carolina (48-13) has qualified for this penultimate round since 2003 and it's especially gratifying after a rough ACC tournament in which it lost both games. Four ACC teams are still alive for the College World Series, including ACC tournament champion Clemson. Carolina has not made it to the College World Series since 1989, and that has been the goal paramount on all of the players' minds this season.
And their likely multi-million dollar paydays notwithstanding, it is still the primary focus for both Miller and Bard.
"I'm excited, relieved and glad it's over, because now I can breathe a sigh of relief and focus on just one team: Alabama," said Miller. "I want to get [the negotiations with Detroit] done as soon as possible, but first things first, I have some college baseball to take care of."
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.