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Boston Red Sox: Will Sox Strike Gold in the Andrew Miller Reclamation Project?

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Boston Red Sox: Will Sox Strike Gold in the Andrew Miller Reclamation Project?
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Andrew Miller took a big step in the right direction in his performance against San Diego last night at Fenway

Andrew Miller.

Collegiate standout at UNC-Chapel Hill.

6'7". 99 mph fastball.

Sixth-overall pick in 2006 MLB Draft by Detroit Tigers.  

Career 15-26 record and 5.84 ERA. 

Hidden gem for the 2011 Boston Red Sox?

 

Under Theo Epstein, the Red Sox have traditionally sought after low-risk, high-reward players--reclamation projects who have fallen on hard times after starting their careers with boundless potential.

Often times, these projects have failed to pan out.

In 2009, the Sox took a chance on Rocco Baldelli. The Rhode Island native and hometown hero's young and promising career with Tampa Bay was derailed with an unfortunate and mysterious mitochondrial disorder that left him fatigued. Baldelli performed admirably for the Sox, but couldn't consistently stay on the field, and was left off the postseason roster.  

In 2010, Boston traded for Marlins outfielder Jeremy Hermida, a former first-round draft pick, at a low cost. Hermida had all the upside to become a left-handed slugger, but was designated for assignment at the trade deadline.

Where will Miller find himself at the end of the 2011 season?

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In 2011, that project is Miller. And after his debut against the Padres—5.2 IP, 3 ER, 7 H, 6 K—there's reason to believe that this one might pan out.

Miller was thought to be the next big thing when he was a top-10 draft pick five years ago. The towering left-handed flamethrower drew comparison to Randy Johnson after a career at UNC in which he set school records for strikeouts and was named the nation's best collegiate pitcher. 

But all the hype did not pan out. Miller was quickly called up to the Majors (maybe too quickly), but failed to live up to expectations in Detroit. After starting 13 games to the tune of a 5.63 ERA in 2007, Miller was part of the package dealt to Florida in the Miguel Cabrera deal.

With the Marlins, Miller failed to benefit from a fresh start. In three seasons, the southpaw could not keep his ERA down. In 2010, Miller started the year at Triple-A, and in seven starts in the big leagues, he was 1-5 with an ERA over eight. 

The Red Sox, though, still saw promise in Miller, and in this past offseason swapped pitcher Dustin Richardson with the Marlins for their underperforming young pitcher. 

The price was low, but the potential benefit was sky-high. 

Miller was not lights-out at Triple-A in Pawtucket, but showed signs of promise. In 12 starts, he posted a 3-3 record with a 2.47 ERA. In his last four starts before his recent call-up, Miller was at his best, capping his strong stretch with a one run, 10 strikeout performance.

With an opt-out clause in his contract that would make him a free agent if he was not called up to the big leagues by June 15, the Sox recalled Miller this week, and he made his debut last night against the Padres. 

The timing for Miller could not have been better. Daisuke Matsuzaka is out for the rest of the season with Tommy John Surgery. Clay Buchholz is on the 15-day DL with a lower back strain. John Lackey spent time on the DL after a 2-5 start with an 8.01 ERA. Tim Wakefield has looked as great as ever, but is nonetheless 44 years old.

The Red Sox have overcame a horrid start to place their names back in conversation about World Series favorites, but recent developments have cast some doubt over the reliability of their rotation.

That doubt could be shored up with a resurgent Miller. 

Miller was by no measure spectacular in his Sox debut, but take away one swing of the bat by Orlando Hudson, and he has the win. 

But despite that, the Sox cannot be more pleased with his efforts.

Miller showed command and threw for strikeouts. He pitched well enough to get his team the win, and that in itself puts him at his highest point in the Major Leagues in quite some time.

Red Sox fans can hope that this success will give Miller the boost of confidence he needs to dig down and find the tools that made him the next big thing when he was in college ball. 

While Epstein's projects of the past haven't earned a passing grade, this one looks like it may have the potential to be an A. If Miller can be anywhere close to the pitcher he was touted to be, a reliable and hard-throwing left-hander in an uncertain rotation could be just what the doctor ordered for Boston.

Only time will tell, but last night's start is certainly a step in the right direction. He's fallen a long way, but at only 26, there sure is a lot of room to climb back up.

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