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Prospect of the Day: Tom Milone, LHP, Washington Nationals

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Washington Nationals pitching prospect Tom Milone (Photo by Jim McGregor, courtesy of Syracuse Chiefs)
Washington Nationals pitching prospect Tom Milone (Photo by Jim McGregor, courtesy of Syracuse Chiefs)

Prospect of the Day: Tom Milone, LHP, Washington Nationals

The Washington Nationals have an interesting pitcher at Triple-A Syracuse: left-hander Tom Milone. He doesn't show up on top prospect lists, but he has exceptional command and has ridden this skill to the cusp of the major leagues.

Milone had a fine junior year for the University of Southern California in 2008, with a 3.51 ERA in 14 starts and a 98/20 K/BB in 97 innings. He was drafted in the 10th round, then proceeded to have strong minor league seasons in 2009 (12-5, 2.91 ERA, 106/36 K/BB in 151 IP for High-A Potomac) and 2010 (12-5, 2.85 ERA, 155/23 K/BB in 158 IP for Double-A Harrisburg). Note the strong spike in his strikeout rate as he moved to Double-A.

Promoted to Triple-A this year, he has a 3.81 ERA with a stunning 82/5 K/BB in 76 innings with 77 hits allowed. His ERA is actually misleading; his FIP is much better at 2.25. He now has a career 3.12 ERA with a 392/73 K/BB in 444 innings in the minors. His component ratios are actually improving as he moves up: his K/9 has increased from 6.3 in '09, to 8.8 in '10, to 9.8 this year. His BB/9 has dropped from 2.1 to a miniscule 0.6 in that time.

Milone doesn't show up on hot prospect lists because he doesn't throw hard: his fastball is just in the 85-87 range, hitting 88-89 on his very best days. Despite the lack of velocity, the fastball is an effective pitch for him due to the contrast with his plus-quality changeup, a good cutter, and a solid-to-above-average curve. His command is obviously terrific, he has mound presence, and a consistent habit of exceeding the expectations of scouts.

Although his margin for error will never be great, Milone is a very intriguing prospect with an excellent statistical resume. The fact that he keeps improving when exposed to better competition is a good sign for his future.