Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at second-ranked Mariners prospect Bryce Miller. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.
Coming out of the 2021 Draft, most of the questions surrounding Bryce Miller pertained to his future role in Seattle.
While there was plenty of confidence in his talent on the mound, many were interested to see which path the club would choose for his development. It seemed that the 6-foot-2, 180-pound right-hander was destined to be either a reliever who moved quickly up the Minor League ladder or a starter who would need some patience to crack the big leagues.
As it turns out, Miller has marched through the ranks pretty fast, but as a starter.
MLB Pipeline’s No. 98 overall prospect mixed in a start at Single-A Modesto as he climbed from High-A Everett to Double-A Arkansas in his first full season in 2022. In 27 total outings, he finished with a 3.16 ERA and 163 punchouts over 133 ⅔ innings while holding opposing batters to a .195 average.
“You're looking at him, is this guy a starter? Is this guy a reliever?” Seattle manager Scott Servais told MLB.com after Miller had a particularly impressive live bullpen session at big league camp last week. “And you start projecting out; a lot of it plays into their personality, and how routine-orientated is he?”
The 10.98 strikeouts per nine innings might not be an accurate barometer of Miller’s ability to overpower hitters. His four-seam fastball has some ride to it and typically hovers in the mid-90s. But he managed to touch triple digits during a training session this offseason, and the early indications from Mariners camp are that 100 mph heat will be a more frequent sight this season, with one AL scout referring to Miller’s arm as a “Howitzer.”
“Since he’s been in our system, he’s got what we think is the highest impact fastball in the Minor Leagues, not just in the Mariners system,” general manager Jerry DiPoto told Wyman and Bob on 710 AM radio earlier this month. “He might get a crack sooner than that in our bullpen, much like we did with Matt Brash [last year]. Just give him an opportunity to make an impact on what we think is a good team, because if we feel like he is one of our best 13 arms, we’re going to keep our best 13 arms.”
While the club and Miller work to figure out a future role, bypassing Triple-A and taking the bullpen route to the big leagues wouldn’t be the only thing Miller learned from Brash. Miller actually worked to copy Brash’s sweeping slider to add to his own arsenal after seeing a closeup view of Brash’s grip of the pitch during the broadcast of his big-league debut in Chicago last season.
“I’ve gotten comps to Brash,” Miller told the Seattle Times earlier this month. “His slider is a little harder. But whenever I throw it right, it’s pretty good. I just have to keep pushing velo on it and keep it around 82-84 mph.”
By the end of last season, the 24-year-old ditched his slower curveball and was throwing the two distinct sliders. He described his original breaking pitch, which he developed during his college days at Texas A&M, as a gyro-style slider with hard-breaking downward action. He also has a sinking changeup.
Coming into the Draft in 2021, Miller did not have that type of starter’s repertoire, nor did he have much experience with a starter’s workload. Miller himself even wondered how he’d hold up as a starter over a full Minor League season entering 2022.
“I kind of had a weird path to here, and always kind of felt like I had more, that I could do more,” Miller told MLB.com. “And it's just finally starting to come together and starting to be more recognized. So I wouldn't say it's weird. It's just, for me, it's more like starting to get the spotlight more. I'm starting to put everything together and become more of a pitcher on the mound, and actually, like, pitch instead of just throw.”
The Mount Pleasant, Texas, native began his college career at Blinn, a junior college in Brenham, Texas, as both an outfielder and a pitcher. His days as a two-way player didn’t make it past the fall season, however. And he didn’t start to pitch until his senior year of high school. But it was evident that he had a future on the mound.
Miller was used exclusively as a reliever at Blinn, where he posted a 4.23 ERA over 27 ⅔ innings with 34 punchouts. He also made seven appearances in the Texas Collegiate League before getting selected by the Marlins in the 38th round of the 2018 Draft.
Rather than turning pro right away, Miller took the opportunity to pitch in the Southeastern Conference at Texas A&M. He worked exclusively out of the bullpen during his sophomore and pandemic-shortened junior seasons with the Aggies and in his lone Cape Cod League season in 2019.
He was an intriguing option for the five-round 2020 Draft, but he opted to return for his senior year. After the Draft, he returned to the Texas Collegiate League and got his first experience as a starter. Miller then made 13 appearances (10 starts) during a difficult season for the Aggies, but he showed off an impressive fastball-slider combination that helped him rack up 70 punchouts in 56 ⅔ innings.
Even with the impressive two-pitch combo, scouts had Miller ticketed for the third to fifth rounds due to some concerns over his control issues – he walked 37 and hit 13 batters his senior year – and questions over his future role. MLB Pipeline had him ranked as the No. 91 Draft prospect, and he was available to the Mariners in the fourth round, 113th overall.
After signing for a reported $400,000 bonus, more than $100,000 below slot value, the Mariners sent him right to full season ball in Modesto. He got knocked around a little bit over 9 ⅓ innings in the California League, pitching to a 6.75 ERA, but he maintained his strikeout prowess, fanning 15 batters while only issuing two walks in that short sample.
Braving the cold and difficult weather in the Pacific Northwest, Miller got off to a strong start in Everett. Over his first eight starts – the fifth of which came with Modesto – spanning 42 ⅓ innings, he surrendered five earned runs (1.06 ERA) and struck out 54 batters, holding the opposition to a .154 average and .430 OPS.
As the summer approached, Miller ran into a rough patch over his next eight starts. He lasted until the end of May before giving up his first homer. But then he was bitten by the long ball seven times in 34 ⅔ innings. He pitched to a 6.23 ERA and issued 15 walks over that span.
Miller put an end to that cold streak with style, punching out 10 batters over six scoreless innings, yielding three hits against Tri-City in his final start in the Northwest League. He spent the rest of the season with Arkansas, finishing with a 3.20 ERA with 61 strikeouts over 50 ⅔ innings while holding opposing batters to a .191 average in 10 starts.
“On the prospect lists and stuff, I think going into last season, it was a big question mark as to whether or not I can start and whether I can be durable through a season.... I put on a little bit of weight at last year's strength camp and then last year's offseason and ended up with [133 1/3] innings last year and felt good at the end,” Miller told MLB.com. “So I don't know if it's a direct correlation as to the weight or just to taking care of my arm more, but that, I'd say, helped.”
The direct proof that Miller could hold up well over a full season came during his final start of the year. He set career highs with 14 strikeouts over seven innings, allowing a pair of runs on two hits and a walk against Corpus Christi.
Miller has not yet appeared in Cactus League action but should make his debut soon. There’s obviously an opportunity for him to break camp with the big league club as a reliever, but that shouldn’t necessarily dictate his long-term future. The Mariners have the talent to contend in 2023, in part due to their loaded rotation. It may not be this year, but Miller seems to have the type of special talent to be able to one day contribute to that group.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.