It seems like when starting pitching prospects get called up to the big leagues, they are expected to be successful almost immediately upon their arrival no matter how young they are. If they don’t figure it out within two or three years, organizations often lock them in their farm system until they figure it out or look to trade them. Not every pitching prospect has the make up to be a starter in the big leagues, whether it is repeating mechanics for 7 innings, or the ability to navigate through the opponent’s lineup more than twice without becoming predictable. Relievers Andrew Miller and Wade Davis are prime examples of being top starting pitching prospects but taking more than a couple of years to figure things out at the big league level.
Andrew Miller has figured it out as a reliever for the Boston red sox but it has not been an easy road for the former 6th overall pick in the 2006 draft. The Tigers drafted the former North Carolina Tar Heel with the hope of finding a dominant starter for years in the big leagues and it didn’t work out and was traded to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera deal. Unfortunately for Miller, he did not see any success in Florida as his lowest era in his 3 years in Florida was 4.84. The Red Sox acquired Miller in 2010 for pitcher Dustin Richardson, turning out to be a great deal. In 2011, Miller was starting with the Sox and went 6-3 with 5.54 ERA and a 5.68 walk rate. I remember Miller would have innings where he could dominate and then innings where he couldn’t find the strike zone. For Miller, it all came down to the ability to repeat a herky jerky motion, something that if you watch miller pitch is difficult for him to do. 2012 was Miller’s first time relieving and made 53 appearances with a 3.35 ERA and a walk rate of 4.46. The results were starting to show and now Miller is one of the best left handed relievers in baseball. Not only do lefties struggle against him (.161 avg.) but righties struggle just as much (.181 avg.). In 45 appearances this season, Miller has a 2.13 ERA and has a 14.45 strikeout percentage but only a 2.84 walk percentage. Miller isn’t that front end starter that many believed he could have been but the Red Sox took a gamble on him and the gamble has paid off.
Wade Davis is another pitcher who took a few extra years and a change of scenery to figure it out at the big league level. Davis was selected to his first all-star team this season and has become one of baseball’s best setup men. Davis broke into the big leagues with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004 as a 3rd round draft pick. He made his debut 5 years later and made 6 starts in 2009. In those 6 starts, he had a 3.72 ERA to put him in 4th place in the ROY voting. Davis saw his ERA jump each of the next 3 years as a starter and in 2013, he had a 5.32 Earned Run Average. Davis was a part of the Will Myers and James Shields trade and the Royals tried him as a starter in 2013 but saw him really struggle over the course of the season. This season the Royals moved him to the pen and the move helped his velocity jump up to 97-99 and his strikeout percentage went from 7.58 in 2013 to 13.72 this season to go along with his 1.11 ERA. Davis is 7th in the big leagues in holds with 17, which sometimes those setup men have tougher tasks than the closers depending on who they face in the order. The move to Kansas City played an important role in the transformation of Wade Davis but moving to the bullpen has made him a valuable pitcher.
There will always be those top pitching prospects that don’t turn out to be the pitchers that everyone predicted they would be but there are also a handful of young pitchers that may take more time to learn how to be successful in the big leagues. Not every pitcher has the makeup to be successful as a starter but sometime it takes a few rough years to figure out where they are most valuable. Andrew Miller and Wade Davis are two recent examples of pitchers who took a few extra years to discover themselves and have turned out to be outstanding relievers. Teams may want to look at these 2 pitchers as examples of what young prospects can become even if they do not succeed as starter.