Hometown hero

I raised my bid on Bryce Miller Sunday night just an hour before the NFBC FAAB deadline. On one hand, it seemed absurd to bid $233 on a rookie pitcher who had just been called up by the Seattle Mariners earlier in the week. On the other hand, he had just pitched six shutout innings to pick up his first win against the World Champion Houston Astros.

Miller was dominant on Sunday, giving up only a pair of singles and a walk. No Astros even got into scoring position, and the Texas native retired the last 11 batters he faced. Five days earlier, he had set down the first 16 batters he faced at Oakland. That was the second-longest perfect game bid in a pitcher’s MLB debut dating back to 1961. But that was the A’s.

In his second MLB start and his home debut in front of 42,000 fans, Miller showed the same poise on the mound as he did in Oakland. He shut down the team he grew up watching as a kid in New Braunfels, Texas and at Texas A&M University. For the record, my $233 bid was not even close to landing Miller. He went for $317 of FAAB in my TGFBI league.

In his third start on Thursday, Miller earned his second win, tossing seven scoreless innings in which he allowed only three hits. He struck out three Tiger batters and didn’t issue a walk. This lowered Miller’s ERA to 0.47 and WHIP to 0.42. He has allowed just one run in 19 innings, while posting an 18:1 K:BB ratio. He’ll face his most difficult test to date on Friday when he pitches in Atlanta.

Before Miller’s quick ascent to baseball fame, the name may have not been known to many fantasy managers and analysts, but it was not unknown to me. After all, I live in New Braunfels – less than 10 miles from the high school Miller graduated from six years earlier. Anyone who follows baseball in New Braunfels, a small town, outside of San Antonio, knows who Miller is.

Miller was named an all-district first team pitcher as a senior at New Braunfels High School after earning all-district first team distinction as an outfielder the previous year. That’s right, folks. One of the most dominant young pitchers in the majors can also hit. He played one season at Blinn College before moving across town to attend Texas A&M.

Mike Thomas, a friend of mine, coached Miller on a select team shortly before he graduated from high school and went on to pitch for the junior college in Bryan, Texas. Thomas recalls that Miller was throwing in the low 90’s back then. When Miller started pitching at Blinn, he was soon on the radar of Texas A&M Head Coach Ron Childress in College Station.

Childress saw the potential in Miller and recruited him to come to Texas A&M. Childress went to work with Miller and helped him develop into a pitcher worthy of major league consideration. Miller contracted Covid his Senior year and was out about three weeks. But the star athlete battled back and had a couple of good outings before the end of the year.

Miller and already developed what had he called a “gyro” slider, which he’d thrown since his days at Texas A&M under Childress. That pitch, which is more “velocity driven,” has a harsh downward break and is thrown in the high 80s. But the “sweeper” slider would come later. That pitch offered hitters a different plane and pitch shape completely.

With a fastball close to 100 mph, Miller can work effectively up in the zone to hitters. The gyro slider down in the zone kept hitters off balance, and a nasty, sinking changeup completed the trifecta of pitches that has made Miller what he is today – a 24-year-old pitcher that fantasy managers will bid more than $300 to acquire at NFBC.

Those three-pitch offerings allowed Miller to climb three levels of the minors in 2022, with over half his innings coming at High-A and a 10-start run to close the year at Double-A. He had three double-digit strikeout games over his final 13 starts, compiling a 3.46 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 81:22 K:BB in 67.2 innings over that run to close the year.

The sky is the limit for new Mariners star pitcher, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots. Thomas says Miller still stays in touch with him and others who helped him develop his elite skills. But Thomas says there is more to the young man from New Braunfels than baseball talent. He remembers the positive attitude or Miller, who always encouraged his teammates.

“I remember Bryce would take the mound and always look to heaven and hold his cross necklace up just before his first pitch in every game,” Thomas said. “This is a clear representation of his devotion and commitment to Jesus Christ. He continually expressed his gratitude and appreciation to God and his parents. He is a devoted Christian.”

Thomas recalls Miller as quiet and humble, always putting his team first and not seeking personal glory on or off the field. “In my many years of coaching teenagers and youth, I have never met a more loyal teammate. It was witnessed by many here (in New Braunfels), at Blinn College, Texas A&M and in professional baseball,” Thomas said.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about baseball and football for CreativeSports. He’ll be taking a break from writing his weekly column but will return to pick up the pen in July. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasLSeltzer1.

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