Former Vanderbilt ace learning to toe the line in minor leagues

The Hillsboro Hops vs Salem Keizer Volcanoes play at Ron Tonkin Field in Hillsboro, OR. (Kevin N. Hume/Hillsboro Hops)

There’s a fine line in professional baseball between being a fierce competitor and trusting the process. How much do you push to climb the ladder in the minor leagues while leaving all decision-making to the organizational brass?

SUNDAY ON ASNClass AA Eastern League: Akron RubberDucks (Indians) at Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants), 6 p.m. ET (Click logo to find local listings)


Class A Northwest League: Spokane Indians (Rangers) at Hillsboro Hops (Diamondbacks), 7 p.m. ET (Click logo to find local listings)

For Jared Miller, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 2014 11th-round draft selection, it took a demotion this season to understand where that line is drawn.

After helping lead Vanderbilt to a College World Series title last year, the ideals of winning, competing and advancement surpassed Miller’s desire to simply enjoy the game, focus on himself and trust the process. In baseball at any level, trying too hard often leads to overthrowing. And overthrowing from any pitcher, let alone a 6-7, 240-pounder with such long, moving parts, can be an utter disaster.

But it’s easy to forget. Especially after coming off a College World Series title, then joining his new short-season team and pitching the Hillsboro Hops to a Game 1 victory of the Northwest League title series en route to the NWL championship.

“It’s hard not to get caught up in it when things are going so well,” Miller, 21, said. “Those are the times when it all seems so easy. But it can change just like that.”

Coming into his first full professional season in April, Miller’s confidence was at an all-time high. Looking ahead, he could see a clear, quick path to the major leagues as the left-hander opened with the Low-Class A Kane County (Ill.) Cougars in the Midwest League.

But even after all the promise of the previous year, Miller struggled to find his groove with the Cougars. The result was a 2-3 record and gaudy 6.91 ERA in 28 2/3 innings. As in life in general, when a lesson is not learned, it will undoubtedly come around again. So the Avon, Ind., native was sent back to Hillsboro to find himself.

It didn’t take long. Since rejoining the Hops, Miller is 4-0 with a league-leading 1.04 ERA in four starts. Over 26 innings, he’s limited opponents to three earned runs while striking out 21 to six walks.

“I got caught up in the professional game,” said Miller, who was 7-2 at Vanderbilt with a career 4.35 ERA. “It will swallow you up and make you think of moving up to the next level, getting closer and closer to the big leagues. But once I was sent down, I was able to tinker with a few small things, adjust my mindset and even take my mind off baseball a bit by getting up earlier and going out to explore. Playing baseball allows you the ability to travel around the country and see things many people don’t easily get to see.”

In addition to adjusting his mental approach to the game, Miller has benefitted from the expertise of former major-leaguer Doug Drabeck, the Hops pitching coach. “I had him last year and saw in him in spring training and I could tell his delivery had a lot going on. In addition to trying to do too much (mentally) at times, we worked on calming down his delivery and focusing on having a straighter path to the plate. He also added a two-seamer he didn’t have before and started using his change up more.”

During times of uncertainty at Hillsboro, Miller has a teammate who he can turn to in Stephen Dezzi, who  understands his challenges. The Hops outfielder was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 25th round in April, fresh off an NCAA Division II title at the University of Tampa.

“It’s nice to have someone near who understands exactly what you’re going through,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter where you play, a championship is a championship at any level.”

Above: At 6-7, former Vanderbilt ace Jared Miller is an imposing figure on the mound. (Courtesy Kevin N. Hume/Hillsboro Hops)


Stephanie Storm Lariccia

Stephanie Storm Lariccia is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.