Baseball

McHenry's Bobby Miller, family prepare for potential 1st-round selection in MLB draft

Bob Miller tries not to wrap himself up in the mock drafts and predictions. He sees where the media pundits predict his son Bobby Miller might be selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which begins at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“When he was little, we always watched the draft,” Bob Miller said. “They always had this guy going here, that guy going there, and a lot of times it just doesn’t happen.”

A recent mock draft included Bobby’s selection by a team, which shall remain nameless, that had father and son laughing about it.

“Dad, I haven’t even talked to them,” Bobby Miller said.

Bobby Miller, a McHenry West graduate and right-handed starting pitcher at Louisville, will likely hear his name in the 2020 draft. The question is when. The general consensus indicates Miller will be a late first-round selection Wednesday or early second-round pick Thursday.

The Athletic and ESPN both recently predicted he’ll go 28th to the New York Yankees. MLB.com has him going 29th to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Fangraphs ranks him as the No. 28 overall player on its draft board.

At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Miller can consistently throw his fastball in the upper-90s, and said he touched 99 miles per hour earlier this year. He threw a one-hitter last year in a victory that clinched Louisville’s trip to the College World Series. His junior season at Louisville was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic, which also shortened the draft – five rounds instead of the usual 40.

When baseball stopped, traditional scouting did too. Zoom video conferencing has replaced one-on-one meetings with scouts. Miller said he has talked to nearly every team.

“It’s just been a really exciting time and a really exciting process,” Miller told the Northwest Herald. “I wish I would have had more of my focus on the field right now, playing against other teams, but right now it’s just focusing on getting better and getting ready for the draft.”

A year ago, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Cary-Grove’s Quinn Priester with the 18th overall selection in the MLB draft. Now, McHenry County has a chance to have a local ballplayer selected in the first round in back-to-back years.

Miller, who by all accounts is highly competitive, said a first-round selection would mean a lot to him. It would be a culmination of all his hard work.

Whether that’s in the cards, he'll will find out Wednesday. The Louisville baseball team – which also includes a consensus first-round pick in Chatham Glenwood grad Reid Detmers – will watch the draft together on its home field with a limited number of family and friends in attendance.

Miller’s parents Bob and Tracy Miller plan on attending.

“Maybe it’s the first day, maybe it’s early the second day, but I think he has an attitude like he’s overlooked a lot,” Bob Miller said. “He plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. Whoever gets him, he’s going to work his ass off.”

‘You have to watch this kid’

When he was 9 or 10 years old, Bobby Miller’s youth coaches asked him where he wanted to play.

“He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I don’t know, I just don’t want to pitch,’” Tracy Miller said.

Tracy Miller gets a kick out of the story now, as her son prepares to embark on a career as a professional pitcher. Growing up in McHenry, Bobby played soccer and baseball until one day when he was 11, while changing uniforms in the car between soccer and baseball practice, he said he didn’t want to play soccer anymore.

“We’re like, ‘What?’ We didn’t even think you really liked baseball that much,” Tracy Miller said.

What followed were stints with the McHenry County Outlaws travel team, and later Elite Baseball Training. When Bobby was a teenager, during a group training session with one of his teams, Dan Durst, an Orioles scout, told Bob Miller that his son was going to pitch in the major leagues one day.

Bob Miller said he was “floored” by the conversation. A few months later, Bobby attended Area Code tryouts and held his own with boys a few years older than him.

Freshman year of high school in 2014, Bobby Miller walked into an open gym and caught the eye of McHenry baseball coach Brian Rockweiler. His bat stood out first.

Current McHenry pitching coach Zach Badgley was the freshman coach back then. Badgley remembered Rockweiler coming over to him and saying, “You have to watch this kid hit the ball.” They saw potential in his arm, too.

After the final day of tryouts, Rockweiler asked Miller’s parents to stick around. Rockweiler wanted to pull Miller up to the varsity team, and he needed to make sure it was OK with Bob and Tracy Miller.

Rockweiler envisioned his big freshman playing third base. The Millers agreed to let Bobby play up. During the course of the conversation, Bob Miller asked Rockweiler, “So is he going to pitch at all?”

Rockweiler didn’t make any promises, but said Bobby would probably pitch a few innings here or there.

“About halfway through the year, he was our No. 2 pitcher,” Rockweiler recalled.

‘I’m going another inning’

It didn’t take long for Miller to set himself apart. He committed to Louisville in November of his sophomore year. The school was always No. 1 on his list, and when the Cardinals coaches showed interest in him, too, it was a perfect match.

As a sophomore in 2015, Miller pitched the Warriors to a regional semifinal win over Crystal Lake South, 5-1, on a Thursday. That set up a Saturday matchup against host Prairie Ridge, with the regional title on the line.

Rain postponed the game until Monday, which presented McHenry with an opportunity to throw Miller again.

“I remember we were being real careful,” Badgley said. “Working with him every day like: ‘Are you ready? Do you want to do this? I’m not pushing you to do it.’”

Nowadays, the move would be impossible with the IHSA’s pitch count limitations. Miller pitched on three days rest and the coaches planned to limit him to 40 or 50 pitches. Facing a Prairie Ridge team that had won 31 games to that point, the Warriors needed their ace to give them a few innings.

“He got to the third inning and got to that 40-pitch mark,” Rockweiler said. “I remember his dad was standing next to the dugout saying, ‘You’re not taking him out.’ Bobby came off the mound and was like, ‘I’m going another inning.’”

Miller pitched 4 1/3 innings and earned the win in a 5-3 Warriors victory. It was McHenry’s first regional title since 2007.

It was the first time Badgley, who still keeps in close contact with Miller, realized just how special Miller might be.

“Against a team like that, on short rest, just the drive and the attitude and the edge,” Badgley said.

A childhood dream

A 38th-round selection in the 2017 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles couldn’t deter Miller from pitching at Louisville.

“Absolutely no regrets coming to college,” Miller said. “That’s something I knew I was going to do coming out of high school. I knew Louisville’s going to get me prepared more than anywhere else.”

The Cardinals churn out draft picks as well as any college program in the country. Miller has dedicated himself to his body, packing on muscle. His friends call him a “beast” in the weight room and his name is still on the hang clean record board in the McHenry weight room.

As a freshman and sophomore at Louisville, he split time between starting games and coming out of the bullpen. He threw 80 innings as a sophomore in 2019 with a 3.83 ERA. In four starts before this season was canceled, Miller had a 2-0 record with a 2.31 ERA for the No. 2-ranked Cardinals.

Miller spent a week or two in McHenry after the 2020 season was canceled, but returned to Louisville and has remained on campus since. Tracy and Bob Miller sent him back with whatever weights and workout equipment they could find at home.

“He had to do like Rocky,” Tracy Miller said. “All the old-school stuff, just to try to keep himself in shape, because he didn’t know what was going to happen.”

His throwing regimen consisted mostly of long toss in his apartment complex courtyard with his roommates, fellow Louisville pitchers Gavin Sullivan and Glenn Albanese.

“Right now, I’m just kind of doing some video stuff, just making any adjustments I can to improve anything that I’m doing wrong mechanically,” Bobby Miller said.

The pandemic has changed the draft process, but it’s not all bad. Zoom chats have given teams the opportunity to have more people questioning prospects, rather than just one area scout. Bob Miller said some teams have included GMs and even well-known former players.

“It’s really just, they’re trying to get to know me more as a person, so they know which type of a player they’d be drafting,” Bobby Miller said. “That’s really important for those teams because when you pick that guy, you want to know exactly who they are and if he’s a good fit.”

The 2020 draft will be unique. It will take place over video conference. The MLB’s assigned draft value for each pick typically goes up from year to year, but remained stagnant this year because of the financial uncertainties the game is facing.

Still, a first round selection is worth at least an estimated $2.4 million. A selection anywhere in the top 66 picks is worth at least $1 million. The 21-year-old Bobby Miller is likely in for a big payday.

The McHenry community will be watching. The Warriors coaches plan to watch the draft together Wednesday night.

“It’s awesome for [McHenry] kids to see,” Rockweiler said. “A lot of these kids have dreams of playing in college, playing in the major leagues or whatever. You see somebody from your high school, it’s kind of like, it could happen.”

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