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Andrew Miller to TB? In '03, it was not to be

Devil Rays drafted but were unable to sign standout lefty
MLB.com @wwchastain

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andrew Miller is the one who got away from Tampa Bay.

Cleveland's 6-foot-7, 205-pound left-hander has been a weapon against the Rays out of opposing bullpens for more than a decade. But he could have been in Tampa Bay's 'pen if the Devil Rays had their way after selecting him in the 2003 Draft.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Andrew Miller is the one who got away from Tampa Bay.

Cleveland's 6-foot-7, 205-pound left-hander has been a weapon against the Rays out of opposing bullpens for more than a decade. But he could have been in Tampa Bay's 'pen if the Devil Rays had their way after selecting him in the 2003 Draft.

The Devil Rays used the first pick of the 2003 Draft to select Delmon Young. When the third round arrived, Tampa Bay was surprised that Miller, a native of Gainesville, Fla., had not yet been selected.

"We liked him," said R.J. Harrison, the Rays' former scouting director. "If I remember correctly, I would say that we had him evaluated higher than the third round, but there were probably some signability question marks. I have a pretty good recollection that the third round rolled around, and [general manager] Chuck [LaMar] was in the room and said, 'That's the best guy on the board. Let's just take the best guy on the board and see if we can sign him.'"

Video: CLE@BAL: Miller strikes out three over two scoreless

LaMar, who served as general manager from the franchise's beginning until after the 2005 season, is now a Blue Jays professional scout. He remembered that Devil Rays scouts who saw Miller pitch for Buccholz High School in Gainesville liked his ability "a lot." Signability issues were part of the risk of selecting him.

"We knew there was a large asking price," LaMar said. "I truthfully don't know what that was, but it was a pretty high number. First-round money. He wanted a substantial signing bonus."

LaMar did remember that those in the room thought they could make a run at Miller: "We thought we had a chance."

"[Miller] was smart," LaMar added. "He comes from an outstanding family. We couldn't have been more impressed with the kid or the family. We were impressed, not only with his ability, but also with the outstanding confidence he showed in himself.

"Some teams don't want to deal with a young man like that who's willing to tell a Major League team, 'Hey, I think I'm worth this much money or I'm going to school.' A lot of teams take that as, 'He doesn't want to play our sport.' We never took it that way. He was willing to sign with the Rays, but we were going to have to meet his price."

Video: ALCS Gm1: Miller dominates Blue Jays in relief

Miller said what the Rays were offering "was not what I was looking for."

"I think I was a backup plan for the Rays," Miller said. "My hope was not to go to them, to be completely honest with you. And the Draft worked a lot differently then -- but I was hoping the Yankees or Red Sox would draft me and then decide to pay me what I was asking for all along, which there was some history of guys getting.

"Once I got past kind of the first-round stuff, that was my hope, that I would fall to somebody that was a big-market team, not the Rays. But, I think I was a backup plan in case Delmon didn't sign. That was my understanding. They really didn't negotiate with me."

Miller said he didn't care what round he was drafted in, he cared only about the money and if he would be getting what he thought he was worth.

"I think I had a little bit of a chip on my shoulder," Miller said. "I thought I pitched reasonably well, but for whatever reason, I kind of fell down the draft board the closer we got to it. The concern was always, 'He throws across his body. He's going to get hurt. His elbow's not going to hold up.' That kind of stuff. I thought that was kind of unfair and, it's at least interesting looking back on it, that I had a pretty good senior year.

"I think I was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Florida, but every time I pitched, it seemed like there was something against me."

Miller acknowledged that he was raw, and especially so for a high school player.

"But, as somebody who was supposed to be projectable and throwing hard and whatever, I felt like I checked those boxes and was getting better, and it just seemed like the more teams saw me, the more they found fault in it," Miller said. "And I kind of felt like I was going to go to college and prove them wrong. I'm lucky in a lot of ways that I was able to go do it. I took a lot of risk, but at the same time, it wasn't that big of a risk."

Video: CLE@SEA: Miller fans Heredia to leave bases full

Ultimately, the Devil Rays didn't come up with the money Miller wanted and Miller went on to the University of North Carolina.

"Worst-case scenario, I'd walk away from North Carolina with a college degree and in a pretty good place," Miller said. "It was kind of a decision my parents left completely up to me. I think they probably hoped I'd handle it the way I ended up doing it, but for whatever reason, between my advisor and my family, we kind of came up with a number of what we thought, if somebody's going to pay me that, I can't turn it down."

The Tigers drafted Miller in the first round (sixth pick) of the 2006 Draft. Had he signed with the Rays and gone through their farm system, he might have been the arm the Rays' bullpen needed to win the 2008 World Series, which they lost in five to the Phillies.

"I don't think [Miller not signing with the Rays] was a case of him getting cold feet," LaMar said. "I just think at the end of the day, we couldn't come to terms with him. Obviously, we wish we would have signed him. It would have been a heckuva pick."

Bill Chastain has covered the Rays for MLB.com since 2005.

Tampa Bay Rays