It has been quite the 2016 already for California Baptist’s 20-year old righty Tyson Miller. First he earned the PacWest Preseason Pitcher of the Year honors. Baseball America then named him No. 63 on their College Top 100 Draft Prospects for this coming June's Major League Draft. This past Tuesday, he was one of the 50 players — and one of only eight players outside of Division I — named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list.
“It’s cool recognition and getting my name out there is pretty awesome, but for me it’s still preseason honors,” Miller said. “I’d like to get those awards at the end of the year. It’s great motivation, I’m honored to be nominated for the Golden Spikes Award.”
Miller is the latest in a long line of Lancers pitchers that have been on scouts' radars. Head coach Gary Adcock has had one of his pitchers drafted by a Major League Baseball team every year since 2010, with names like Trevor Oaks, Caleb Dirks and last year’s ace Adam Hofacket having very impressive 2015 campaigns in the minors.
“I like to say we do routine very well,” coach Adcock said. “In a day in age where I feel the game often gets too complex, I feel like we pride ourselves in our simplicity. We attack hitters — it is the core of our CBU Pitching Philosophy, a philosophy that focuses in on consistent preparation on a daily basis covering the five areas we believe are paramount for a pitchers success: Command, Stuff, Durability, Mental, and Fielding. What we have found is when the players stick with the routine we provide, prepare every day consistently, they begin to believe in themselves and expect a positive result.
“We have had a nice run of No. 1 starters for a few years. What I have seen is that I don’t need to say much to the “next man up” they have seen it displayed before them. They know what it entails and what is expected“
The pitching factory that Adcock has developed at CBU has certainly helped both on the recruiting trail for both future players and scouts. For Miller, who was a two-time Pitcher of the Year for nearby Shadow Hills High School, CBU was an easy choice.
“They have a lot of pitchers that have been drafted,” Miller said. “Coach Adcock is a great pitching developer. He emphasizes on getting guys that have a lot of potential, or guys that have great stuff and then perfecting it. He gives you a lot of opportunites early on because he wants people to develop. He thinks it’s easier to develop into good habits during games than just always being in practice.”
Last season — after an impressive freshman campaign — Miller slid into the Lancers rotation as their No. 2 pitcher, tossing behind then-ace Hofacket. They got out of the gates slowly, sitting at 8-12 early on, but turned their season around together as a solid unit atop the rotation.
“Me and Adam both kind of got off to a slow start,” Miller said of the 2015 season. “It was the fourth or fifth series of the season, and we both said we needed to turn something around. We needed to change something and it needed to change with us so we can get the first two wins of the series each time. After that change of mindset, I told him not to worry about the draft. Now this year he’s telling me the same thing. It’s about enjoying the year, don’t over think everything.”
Coming off a successful season in which he finished 7-3 with a 3.32 ERA, Miller headed off to the Cape Cod League, a summer league notorious for having some of the best collegiate — and often future Major League — talent squaring off against each other. He would finish the summer ranked in the top 25 prospects in the league, the only player not out of Division I to gain such an honor.
“Being able to go out there, hanging out with those other guys, it was a confidence booster,” Miller said. “DI guys are really good and have a big name on their jersey, so it was reassuring. If I could get this guy out from Mercer or LSU, I can get anyone out. I got to pitch on my birthday against Orleans, it was probably one of my better games so that was really cool.”
That start against Orleans on his birthday was his final start of the summer. He would hurl eight innings, allowing one unearned run and striking out 11 batters. Miller was now asked to become the next great Lancers’ ace, a role he was honored to take on, although he knew it would be no easy task.
“At first it was difficult getting used to it, trying to be ‘the guy’,” Miller said. “Being the ace is difficult because although we have scouting reports, the first game is when you actually see the hitters tendencies. You don’t have that experience as the two or three pitcher. But it’s also an honor to throw the first game of the series. You’re the ace, they look to you. I’m enjoying it so far.”
Miller wasn’t happy with his first two performances. After a wild exhibition game, Miller hurled the first game of the Lancers' season. He would go seven innings against Cal State LA as CBU fell 8-2.
“I finished that game well, but had a bad start to it,” Miller said. “I talked to my coach after and he asked me if I was alright, if was I putting too much pressure on myself. That’s when I just thought, I’m just going to go out there and throw, it’s not who’s in the stands, not that I have to be Pitcher of the Year, not that I have to go 11-0. It was more about blocking out the background stuff and just going out there and throwing.”
He also has the luxury of having some past aces to rely upon. Miller has maintained a close relationship with some of the pitchers who came before him, pitchers who were constantly in the spotlight being scouted as they prepared for their big days in June.
“[Adam Hofacket's] out here quite a bit at Cal Baptist, so I’ll just talk to him,” Miller said of his bond with Hofacket. “We still have a great friendship. A lot of the times I’ll turn to him, or some of the other guys from my freshman year like Trevor Oaks and Caleb Dirks.”
Miller indeed got his head clear, and his confidence quickly returned. He would bounce back in his second start, throwing a complete game shutout -- the first of his career -- striking out 12 while walking just one. His full repertoire was on display.
“Tyson has a solid 4-pitch mix: fastball, slider, curveball, change,” Adcock said of his ace. “Tyson has a huge upside. His velocity has increased, off-speed pitches have improved, and he has mentally sharpened. He has put on 25 pounds since high school and has the frame to put on even more.Velocity is only part of the equation for Tyson, his fastball command is equally as impressive averaging about 2.5 walks per nine innings while at CBU.”
“We just emphasize early contact,” Miller added. “Attacking hitters. I’m not one for a lot of strikeouts, but I throw a lot of strikes, sometimes too many, especially in an 0-2 count that I may leave over the plate. For me, it’s just early contact and trying to get a lot of ground balls to get my offense back in the dugout.
“I feel that my fastball is my best pitch. After that a strikeout pitch I can locate is my slider, and then my changeup is starting to develop as well. I’m trying to develop my secondary pitches. My goal is to try to get in a lot of innings and not a lot of walks.”
Heading into this weekend’s action, CBU had reeled off five straight wins. The Lancers jumped up to No. 28 in Collegiate Baseball Daily Poll as well as receiving votes in the NCBWA Poll. Thursday night, Miller took the mound to start a big weekend tilt with Colorado Mesa — the No. 4 team in the nation.
The young righty would go 6.1 innings and leave the game on the wrong side of a 5-1 box score. The numbers are deceiving however, as Miller would fall victim to three costly errors that accounted for three of Colorado Mesa’s runs, while the Lancers would leave nine runners stranded on the base paths over Miller's night. Though he wasn’t at his sharpest, he did allow just two earned runs and walked only one batter. They would fall 9-1, as four more unearned runs would cross the plate in the top of the ninth.
For Miller, the sky is the limit. Perhaps he can make a run at all of those preseason accolades and lift some hardware at season’s end. Perhaps come June, his name will be called by a Major League team. Right now, however, Miller is focused on being the best Lancer he can be and getting this team to do great things in the process.
“We have all the capabilities as long as we play how we can play,” Miller said. “Our starting pitching is great, our bullpen has been consistent and keeping us in the close games. Our lineup is probably one of the best on the West Coast and in DII. Once we start stringing along those hits and getting it all together, we’re going to be really good.”