A's top pitching prospect Miller likely headed to 'pen

December 5th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos' A's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The A’s believe that  has all the makings of a frontline starter. But for 2024, his impact may come in a different capacity.

While speaking to reporters on Monday at the Winter Meetings, general manager David Forst indicated that Miller, ranked as Oakland’s top pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, is likely going to enter next season as a reliever for the A’s.

The reasoning is simple. While Miller did flash electric stuff while overpowering hitters in his first taste of big league action last season, that brilliance on the mound was interrupted by a UCL sprain in his right elbow that sidelined him for four months. Miller did return in September, and though he finished the season healthy, the A’s were extremely cautious with his workload.

“We’ve talked about putting Mason in the bullpen,” Forst said. “He’s an incredible talent. I would love to see him go out there for 30 starts. But if he’s not out there at all, he’s not helping us. So far, we haven’t been able to keep him healthy as a starter, so we’ve talked to him about trying to stay healthy as a reliever.”

Forst referenced a similar situation the A’s faced a couple of years ago with A.J. Puk, who, like Miller, was a top pitching prospect of theirs who struggled to stay healthy as a starter. After moving to the bullpen in 2022 and getting through that season relatively healthy, the A’s planned to revert Puk into a starting role in ‘23 before ultimately trading him to the Marlins for outfielder JJ Bleday prior to Spring Training.

“It’s not exactly the same, but we did it with Puk where we said, ‘You’ve got to stay healthy for a year,’” Forst said. “He did, and we were going to bring him in as a starter last year before we made that trade. Again, [Miller] does us and himself no good if he’s not out there at all.”

With a fastball that routinely flashes triple digits, Miller could be an ideal candidate to close out games for the A’s. They will need to identify a new closer following the retirement of Trevor May, who led the club with 21 saves last season. Forst mentioned Miller and Lucas Erceg, another hard-throwing righty who struck out 68 batters across 55 innings in 2023, as potential closers.

“I think there’s a chance that Lucas Erceg and Mason Miller compete for the position,” Forst said. “[A’s manager] Mark [Kotsay] has talked to him about that possibility. Lucas showed the stuff to pitch at the back end, but also, I think there are some opportunities out there in the free-agent market.”