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Cardinals' first round pick compared to Nolan Ryan

Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 7:53 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals' first-round pick is a hard-throwing righthander from rural Texas who has been compared to Nolan Ryan and Josh Beckett.

These might be unfair parallels, but they're ones that 18-year-old high school pitcher Shelby Miller embraces.

"Hopefully, one day I'm going to have the Hall of Fame talent and exposure that Nolan Ryan has today, and hopefully I'm as respected as Nolan Ryan and Josh Beckett," Miller said Tuesday night. "They're awesome pitchers. I see myself playing for the Cardinals and being just as good as them."

Miller had 153 strikeouts in 77 2-3 innings as a senior and has a fastball that's been timed at 97 mph. He's so eager to get his career started that he refused to use his commitment to Texas A&M as leverage in negotiations.

"St. Louis is an awesome team and college is awesome, too, but college can come later," Miller said. "Right now I'm definitely going to sign a contract.

"Money really has nothing to do with it right now. My career and my future ahead of me right now is professional baseball."

The second- and third-round picks, catcher/pitcher Robert Stock of Southern California and right-handed pitcher Joe Kelly of California-Riverside, were taken more on the Cardinals' long-term projections than last season.

Stock is a dual threat who'll be tried first at catcher despite more impressive statistics on the mound where he's thrown 96 mph. Kelly can throw 98 mph and had 12 saves but with a lofty 5.65 ERA.

Miller, the 19th overall selection, is the first high school player taken by the Cardinals with their top pick since Brian Barber in 1991. Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development, said Miller reminded him of Ryan and had the mechanics to produce a long career.

"He looks like maybe Nolan Ryan would have looked like back in his day," Luhnow said. "I know that's a comparison that's been made out there, but he's a big, physical guy, strong guy, and looks like he's going to last a long time."

Not long before Miller spoke to reporters on a conference call, Luhnow had hedged a bit about their chances of signing him.

"It's no slam dunk we're going to sign him quickly, or sign him at all, because these kids have options," Luhnow said. "We've had quick signs the last couple of years and this is probably not one of them."

The Cardinals have been considering going for young players this year due to organizational depth. But Luhnow said it wasn't just the 18-year-old Miller's age that attracted them to him, but the fact that he was the best player on the board.

Besides the fastball, Miller has a curve that Cardinals scouts described as a "hammer." Luhnow said his changeup need only be average to have a productive career and the Cardinals project he could be in the major leagues in four to five years.

He was 10-2 with a 1.90 ERA as a senior, allowing only 38 hits and walking 36. Miller's hometown is in rural Texas, about 160 miles southwest of Fort Worth, but Luhnow said the quality of play was high.

"Shelby's a guy we've had our eye on for the last couple of years," Luhnow said. "He's got a ways to go before he makes it to the big leagues, but he does look like a big league pitcher already and has the stuff that should play up here.

"To be honest, he's a guy I really wanted in this draft."

Miller sees a faster timetable, hoping to be in the major leagues in two to three years. As for that complementary changeup, he added: "With my arm angle, my arm slot is perfect for a ridiculously nice changeup."

The Cardinals have taken high school players in the first round three of the last six years, including shortstop Peter Kozma in 2007. They took position players the previous two years, with 2008 first-rounder Brett Wallace at Triple-A Memphis and Kozma at Double-A Springfield.

Miller likely would start his career at the rookie league level in Johnson City, Tenn.

"We've got some time to develop him," Luhnow said. "We don't need somebody to go right to Double-A and be in the big leagues next year.

"We've got a lot of players in Double-A and Triple-A that have a chance to help up here someday and we need to give those guys time to develop."

Luhnow said the Cardinals know Stock can catch and are hoping his bat develops. If not, he'll come to spring training as a pitcher, and the team is confident they can sign him quickly.

Kelly throws even harder, which helped the Cardinals overlook his poor statistics this season. Kelly was the Big West Conference pitcher of the year as a freshman in 2007. And Luhnow said when he watched Kelly throw two innings against Cal-Berkeley, "I thought we might be looking at our first pick of the draft. He was electric."

 


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