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Prospect Smackdown: Shelby Miller vs. Jacob Turner

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Per Reader Request, here is a Prospect Smackdown between two right-handed high school pitchers from the 2009 draft: Shelby Miller of the St. Louis Cardinals and Jacob Turner of the Detroit Tigers.

Background and Intangibles
Miller: Shelby Miller had one of the best arms available in the 2009 draft. The high-schooler from Brownwood, Texas, was a key recruit for Texas A&M, but he couldn't turn down the Cardinals and their $2.875 million bonus offer last summer. This made him the first right-handed prep arm drafted by St. Louis in the first round since 1991. Miller's work ethic is considered excellent, and he has a strong, aggressive presence on the mound.

Like Miller, Jacob Turner was considered one of the elite prep arms in the '09 draft. From high school in St. Louis, he was well-known on the showcase circuit and considered more experienced and polished than the average non-Sun Belt high school arm. Drafted ninth overall, he signed for a $4.7 million bonus (part of a major league contract worth $5.5 million overall), passing up North Carolina. His work ethic and mound presence are considered excellent.

Turner got more press as an amateur but Miller was certainly well-known, and both were premium draft picks. Both work hard and present good mound maturity for their age. I rate the intangibles as even.

Physicality, Health, and Tools
Miller: Miller is a 6-3, 195 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 10th, 1990. He has a classic power pitcher body and is physically mature; he probably won't throw much harder in the future than he currently does. But that's not a problem, since he already throws 92-97 MPH, averaging 94 in most starts according to Midwest League sources, but able to bump up to 96-97 when he needs it. His fastball isn't straight and has movement, but he also works it in the strike zone well, hitting his spots. His delivery is relatively low-stress, with no significant red flags. Miller's second pitch is a solid, if inconsistent, curveball. It is very effective when thrown properly and will be a plus major league pitch with another year of development or so. He uses a changeup but it needs more work, but he's definitely got the aptitude to improve it. Miller's fastball/curveball/occasional changeup repertoire is overpowering when everything is working right. He's had no significant injury issues, and the Cardinals were very careful with his workload this year, giving him much of June away from active pitching in order to work on his mechanics on the sidelines. He pitched outstanding baseball after returning to full action in July (see below).

Turner is a 6-5, 210 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born May 21st, 1991. He's two inches taller than Miller and probably has more physical projectability left. He threw 90-94 MPH most of the season, averaging 92 MPH according to Midwest League sources. He hit 96-98 MPH in high school but didn't seem to be throwing as consistently hard this year. He has a very strong curveball; some observers indicate this is already a plus major league pitch, and will certainly be excellent with another year of development. He has a very good changeup, and that can also be a plus pitch if he starts using it more. His mechanics and delivery are clean and have no significant flaws. His control is very sharp for a young power pitcher. He missed some time early in the season with tightness in his forearm, but he was healthy and extremely effective down the stretch (see below).

At this point, it looks like Miller has a better fastball, but Turner has a more refined curveball and changeup. Turner might pick up a bit more velocity as he matures, getting their fastballs to even, but then Miller's curveball is very promising, his changeup is decent, and both of those pitches are likely to improve just as Turner's fastball is. Both of them have good command for their age. Turner's control is sharper right now, but Miller dominates a game a bit more often. Their strengths and weaknesses balance each other, and this looks even to me.

Current Performance
Miller: Miller posted a 3.62 ERA in 104.1 innings for Low-A Quad Cities in the Midwest League this year, with a 140/33 K/BB and 97 hits allowed. He gave up just seven homers while posting a 0.94 GO/AO. The K/IP is outstanding and his control was good for a young power pitcher. Note the following splits: he had a 4.79 ERA with a 56/15 K/BB and 44 hits in his first 41.1 innings, but in the second half (after resting most of June) he was devastating, with a 2.86 ERA and an 84/18 K/BB in 63 innings, with 53 hits allowed.

Turner began the season with West Michigan in the Midwest League, posting a 3.67 ERA with a 51/9 K/BB in 54 innings, with 53 hits allowed. Promoted to High-A Lakeland at mid-season, he remained very effective against older competition, with a 2.93 ERA and a 51/14 K/BB in 61 innings, 53 hits. Turner was extremely sharp in the last half of the season, posting a 1.28 ERA with a 41/10 K/BB in 49.1 innings in his last 10 starts, allowing 32 hits. Overall, he posted a 3.28 ERA with a 102/23 K/BB in 115 innings combined, 106 hits, seven homers and a 0.99 GO/AO.

Miller had a better K/IP ratio and was more consistently dominant in terms of striking people out, but Turner had a better K/BB ratio and continued to perform well against older competition. Both of them are slight fly ball types at this point, though neither has been overly vulnerable to home runs. Both pitched great in the second half, though Turner's numbers were against older players. All told, I would probably give Turner a very slight edge here, due to half his numbers coming against tougher competition. But it is very close, and I love Miller's Ks.

I don't think that Miller is likely to pick up much additional velocity, but what he already has is plenty, and additional refinements of his secondary pitches (which I expect) would make him a future number two starter, and possibly a number one ace-type if all goes well.

Turner threw harder in high school, and if he gets that back as he matures, he would be a number one or two starter, a rotation anchor type. Even with his current profile, his command of three strong pitches would make him at least a potential number two.

Assuming they stay healthy, both of these guys can be number one or two starters.

Can this be closer? I rate their intangibles, physicality, and projection as even. The only edge is in performance, where the fact that Turner performed well against older competition gives him a narrow margin over Miller. But it isn't exactly Miller's fault that the Cardinals are more cautious about promotions than the Tigers; indeed, I prefer the approach that St. Louis adopted to Detroit's historical propensity for rushing people.
Overall, on paper I think Turner ranks just a tiny bit ahead of Miller. But I love Miller's K/IP ratio, and Detroit's willingness to jump young pitching too quickly (in my opinion) worries me enough that Miller may end up being a better bet in the long run.