By now, you've heard that the Tigers added seven players to their 40 man roster on Wednesday, bringing the total number to 39 players. Mostly, the players added are young prospects who have been in the organization for four or five years, and have to be placed on the roster in order to be protected in the rule 5 draft, which will take place at the end of the winter meetings on December 12.
You might say that five of the players were predictable, another was on the radar, but one of them comes out of nowhere. The five are shortstop Eugenio Suarez, outfieldersDaniel Fields and Steven Moya, pitchers Kyle Lobstein and Jose Valdez. Another, Jordan Lennerton was thought to be so completely blocked in the Detroit system at first base that he'd be left unprotected, but he was added. And then there's Justin Miller.
Who is Justin Miller? Jordan Gorosh put together a pretty comprehensive list of the players who might have been added to the 40 man roster on Wednesday. You can find a pretty good summary of the newest Tigers there. But the name of Justin Miller was not on that list, nor any other list of possibles that I've seen. So, curiosity got the best of me. I had to know more.
If you read the blurb on MLBTR.com and click on his name, it takes you to a Justin Miller profile on baseball_reference who spent parts of several seasons in the major leagues, and his minor league page says that he died at the age of 35 this past June. Obviously, they've got the wrong Justin Miller. Who is this guy?
Drafted as a right handed pitcher by the Colorado Rockies in the 47th round of the amateur player draft in 2006, Miller instead went to college at Cal State Fresno. He was again selected two years later by the Texas Rangers in the sixth round of the 2008 draft, and began his professional baseball career. Over parts of five seasons, he has thrown 195 innings, all in relief, with an ERA of 3.51 and a WHIP of 1.23.
Miller suffered a set back, missing the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery. He resumed his career in 2013, throwing 27 innings in the Ranger organization between double-A and triple-A with an ERA of 7.67 and a WHIP over 1.70, thanks to a BB rate of 5.3 per nine innings. Not too impressive. He was released by the Rangers on September 1st, and picked up by the Tigers.
Obviously, the Tigers saw something they liked with Miller. Not being too put off by the small sample data since his TJ surgery, the Tigers see a K/9 rate of 11.0 in his 27 innings, already. In his last full season, Miller posted an impressive 9- 1 record with an ERA of 1.81 and a WHIP of just 1.00 in 69.2 innings of work. He was good enough to be added to the Rangers' 40 man roster before being injured. If that is the real Justin Miller, then the Tigers might have something here.
No doubt, the Tigers have done their homework. You don't give away places on a major league roster unless you think there is a real chance that the player can help your team. Miller is the type of pitcher that plenty of teams would be willing to take a chance on, although that chance might often come in the form of an invitation to spring training on a minor league deal. The Tigers obviously believe that a team might be willing to pick him up if he were left unprotected. They also feel that he will be better than another player on the 40 man roster, who will now have to be let go to make room for a closer, or a second baseman, or another relief pitcher when they add major leaguers to the roster.
Miller is not your typical young prospect, at age 26. Yet it's not unusual for a player like this to be available in the rule 5 draft. The Tigers have just grabbed themselves a player a couple weeks early, without having to keep him on the major league roster or pay a waiver fee to claim him. It's a chance, but one that the Tigers were willing to take, considering they had eight open spots on the 40 man roster, and apparently a few other players on the list who could be taken off, if necessary.