Dodgers '20 1st-rounder bringing heat in AFL

October 29th, 2021

has worked just 56 1/3 innings in the Minors since the Dodgers made him a first-round pick in 2020. But they may need him in the big leagues next year, and he has the talent to meet that challenge.

Los Angeles handled him carefully in his pro debut, never letting him go longer than five innings or 74 pitches in 17 outings, all but three of which came with at least five days of rest. They also shut him down for five weeks when he strained an oblique in late July. He needs more innings, so sending him to the Arizona Fall League was an obvious move.

"I'm feeling great now," Miller said. "I'm excited to be here with all this great competition here. There's obviously a lot of good bats at the plate and it's nice to be pitching against them."

Ranked No. 78 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, Miller has the pure stuff to dominate. He sports a fastball that can register in the upper 90s deep into games, a mid-80s slider that can be a wipeout pitch at times and also turn into a harder cutter, a lively changeup that shows signs of becoming a plus offering and a developing curveball. That combination enabled him to record a 2.40 ERA, .192 opponents' average and 70/13 K/BB ratio between High-A and Double-A.

With that kind of arsenal, Miller has a pretty focused to-do list for his time with the Glendale Desert Dogs.

"Just hitting spots, to be honest," said Miller, who starred in college in a Louisville rotation that included fellow first-rounder Reid Detmers (Angels). "Hitting spots with each and every one of my pitches, throwing all of my pitches for strikes, generate some more chase for the hitters. I could use a little bit better game planning as well...

"I'm focusing a lot on my curveball right now. The curveball was a little iffy in college, not as good as a shape as it has now. I changed my grip back to generic with my fingers together rather than spiking it, and it got a lot better."

Miller's command was off a bit when he eased into the AFL with a pair of two-inning relief appearances in the first two weeks. He was much sharper in his first start on Thursday, when he faced off against Padres left-hander MacKenzie Gore in one of the better AFL pitching matchups in recent years. Miller allowed one run while striking out three in as many innings, sitting at 97-98 mph with his fastball and using the curveball to both get ahead in counts and finish hitters off.

Dodgers hitters in the Fall League

Kody Hoese, 3B (No. 13): One of the best power prospects in the 2019 Draft, Hoese went 25th overall out of Tulane. He struggled in his first full pro season while battling an intercostal strain, hitting just .188/.241/.245 with two homers in 59 Double-A games.

Jacob Amaya, SS (No. 14): An over-slot 11th-round signee as a California high schooler in 2017, Amaya is the best infield defender among Dodgers farmhands and also has one of the best batting eyes. But he scuffled in Double-A, hitting .216/.303/.343 with 12 homers in 113 games.

James Outman, OF (No. 27): Outman hit just .249 in three seasons at Sacramento State, yet his plus raw power, speed and arm strength made him a seventh-round pick in 2018. He batted .266/.379/.490 with 18 homers and 23 steals in 104 games between High-A and Double-A.

Carson Taylor, C (No. 30): The offensive-minded Taylor parlayed one of the best offensive performances of the shortened 2020 college season (.431/.541/.690 at Virginia Tech) into getting drafted in the fourth round. A switch-hitter, he batted .278/.371/.433 with nine homers in his 79-game pro debut in High-A and may have some untapped power.

Dodgers pitchers in the Fall League

Landon Knack, RHP (No. 8): Knack led NCAA Division I in strikeouts (51 in 25 innings) and K/BB ratio (51.0) during the truncated 2020 college season at East Tennessee State, then went in the second round and landed a record bonus ($712,500) for a fifth-year senior. He continued to fill the zone and miss bats despite dealing with a hamstring strain in his pro debut, recording a 3.18 ERA, .217 opponents' average and 82/8 K/BB ratio in 62 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A. He has precision command of his 93- to 95-mph fastball, which tops out at 98, and backs it up with a solid slider and changeup as well as an average curveball.

Jeff Belge, LHP: Belge gets good extension in his delivery, making it hard for lefties and righties to pick up a 90- to 94-mph fastball he backs up with a low-80s slider with depth. An 18th-rounder from St. John's in 2019, he posted a 5.61 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings in High-A.

Kyle Hurt, RHP: Acquired from the Marlins along with Alex Vesia in exchange for Dylan Floro in February, Hurt pitched just 21 innings this summer because of a wrist injury. While he was inconsistent in college at Southern California, the Dodgers are intrigued by his pure stuff (upper-90s fastball, upper-80s slider, low-80s downer curveball, flashes of a plus changeup) and pitch metrics.