LOS ANGELES — In a draft year unlike any other, with limited information and after three months without games to watch, the Dodgers relied on one of their longest-tenured scouts in picking Louisville pitcher Bobby Miller with their first-round pick.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Marty Lamb, he does a great job,” Dodgers vice president of amateur scouting, Billy Gasparino, said. “He’s very trustworthy, he’s very thorough. Everything he says, we take as gospel. It makes a big difference in the confidence with these picks, especially this year in not seeing as many players as we usually do in person.”
Marty Lamb has been scouting for the Dodgers since 1999, and currently covers four states — Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee. Of the Dodgers’ 10 first-round picks since 2015, Lamb was the area scout for six of them, and also signed Matt Beaty and Luke Raley, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.
Lamb was in attendance for Miller’s first start this season for Louisville, against Ole Miss.
Miller only pitched four innings, and allowed three runs in that Feb. 15 start, striking out five and walking one. Despite the relatively ordinary outing, Gasparino said Lamb “identified that he made this jump we thought was possible.”
The jump for Miller included improved mechanics and better command. Gasparino said Miller’s fastball jumped three miles per hour over 2019, over 95 mph. He added a pitch, too, sort of a mix between a cutter and slider.
“It’s been more of a slider right now,” Miller said. “I can add a lot more velocity on that, and it really started playing off my fastball well.”
Miller had a 2.31 ERA in his four starts this season, with 34 strikeouts in 23⅓ innings. His strikeout rate jumped from 25.3 percent in 2019 to 36.6 percent this year, albeit in a small sample size. But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, that’s all we really have to go on. There haven’t been any games since March.
“He was off to a great start, facing good teams. He pitched well,” Gasparino said. “I think if he would have gotten to ACC play, it only would have helped his stock.”
Gasparino said he didn’t get a chance to watch Miller in person this year but has in the past. He and his staff have watched videos of all four starts this year and several from his junior year to prepare.
“When you have a good staff and a lot of people you can trust, we really rely heavily on them,” Gasparino said.
Miller said his favorite pitcher was Walker Buehler (also scouted and signed by Lamb, by the way), and joked that he’d be able to match Buehler’s profanity on the mound.
“He’s so electric on the mound, that’s how I try to be,” Miller said. “His competitiveness, it’s something I take pride in, being the biggest competitor on the field, and there’s absolutely no doubt he’s the biggest competitor on the field when he’s on the mound. He’s not a big guy but the way he makes himself look so intimidating when he’s on the mound is something I really love to watch too.”
The size disparity between the two makes comparison between them difficult. Buehler is listed at 6’2, 185 pounds, while Miller is 6’5, 220. Gasparino praised Miller’s size and athleticism, and his 95-plus fastball as a solid foundation.
“We viewed him as an intriguing option coming into the year. We knew he was a great athlete, we knew he had great arm strength,” Gasparino said. “We were a little concerned with strike throwing and command, secondary pitches. Give the kid credit, he made big adjustments in his delivery and big adjustments in his slider.
“It was a good trend up in his delivery. If you go back and look at 2019, then look at 2020 he made significant adjustments for the better. We thought that was a very positive side of his attitude and athleticism. Our pitching group on the player development side love the direction he was going and what he was doing. They’re ready to take it to the next level.”
Miller started 25 games in his three years in Louisville, but also relieved 16 times.
“I like to truly think I am a starter, and I’ve been really proving that this year,” he said. “I worked so much this offseason on my endurance and my mechanics … I thought I really started to show I could hold that velocity late into innings, and added a new pitch.”
“He better want to start, we’re planning on it,” Gasparino said with a smile.
Miller said he was a little surprised when the Dodgers picked him. He remembered two Zoom calls with the Dodgers since the season was shut down — in-person contact was forbidden — but also talked to Lamb earlier this week.
“It wasn’t anything serious,” Miller said. “He was just checking in, seeing how things were going.”
As for what’s next for Miller, that’s up in the air. The signing deadline for draft picks is August 1, but on-field plans are still to be determined.
The minor league season hasn’t officially been canceled even though that seems inevitable. Miller might end up at the Dodgers’ facility in Glendale, Ariz. at some point, but that to date there isn’t even a plan for a major league season in 2020, let alone a minor league one.
“We’re going to try our best to get him some kind of development time over the next three or four months, depending on what they allow us to do,” Gasparino said.