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High School | General | 4/14/2021

Ohio's Miller won't settle for less

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Jacob Miller (Perfect Game)

Baltimore, Ohio, 2022 righthander Jacob Miller never really burst upon the scene, at least not in the conventional interpretation of the phrase, although his 14u summer of 2018 did raise eyebrows.

Miller’s talents have been there in full display from the time he first appeared on the Perfect Game 13u tournament circuit in the summer of 2017. If there’s been anything at all remarkable about his rise up the top prospect ranks it’s been his consistent improvement, his acute attention to detail and his driving desire to be the best pitcher his abilities will allow him to be.

Here is a 17 1/2-year-old who has never really had a pitching coach, choosing instead to follow his own instincts and observations while working himself into a very advantageous position. He’s already accepted a scholarship offer from national ACC powerhouse Louisville and he’ll be watched closely by MLB scouting departments and front offices during this very important summer of 2021.

“My biggest thing is just don’t over-think it; I don’t need to change anything,” Miller told PG this week when asked about his mental approach heading into the summer of play. “For me personally, I trust my ability now. I tell myself all the time to rise to the occasion and there’s never a moment too big.

“I’m thinking I’m playing the (same) game that I have since I was 5, 6 years old so there’s no need to complicate it now that there’s MLB eyes me; I’ve still got to play my game the same way.”

Playing his game the same way over the past decade-plus has worked out just fine for Miller, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound multi-sport athlete (he’s still playing high school basketball). He is both the No. 1-ranked overall and right-handed pitcher prospect in Ohio in the 2022 class and ranks Nos. 31/7 nationally.

Miller, the son of Jim and Danna Miller, calls the central Ohio city of Baltimore home. It’s a town with a population of right around 3,000 souls that sits about 30 miles southeast of Columbus, 130 miles northeast of Cincinnati and 170 miles southwest of Cleveland, just as a point of reference.

The village is home to Liberty Union High School, where Miller is winding down his junior year while playing for the Lions’ baseball team, which began its 2021 season earlier this month. Getting back on the field with his schoolmates this spring was a welcome relief after having his sophomore season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“High school ball is just kind of the time when I get to play with them for a little bit and last year would have been a good year,” he said. “I was antsy to get back out with them this year...It’s pretty cool just to have the town behind you; it’s just a different feeling.”

It’s certain that the affable, easily-approachable Miller does have the town of Baltimore behind him, but the fields of central Ohio just weren’t big enough to hold him even if he couldn’t have asked for a better baseball upbringing.

Jacob is the youngest of four children, with two older sisters and one older brother all of whom are in their 30s. Jim Miller grew up on a farm and played high school baseball but nothing beyond that. He told PG this week that it seemed like Jacob was destined to be an athlete from the very beginning, and not necessarily just baseball.

“I think when he was born he had a ball in his hand,” Jacob’s dad said with a hearty laugh. “Whatever sport it was that season that’s the ball he had in his hand and he’s always been throwing a ball, playing the year-round.”

And Jacob continues to involve himself in other sports, playing basketball and running track, although spring baseball limits what he can do out on the track. He was also a quarterback in football before leaving that sport behind as a freshman when his baseball talents began exerting themselves.

Like so many other kids, he started playing T-ball when he was 5 or 6 years old and initially Jim helped coach his son a little bit. After one of the T-ball practices, Jacob urged his dad to hit him some fly balls and Jim was impressed by the fact that every pop fly he hit his son’s direction landed in his glove. Right then and there, Jim thought there might be something a little special going on.

“We know he’s got the drive; we know where he wants to go and what his goals are – he works hard and he wants to get there,” Jim said. Ever since he was a little kid...you could never tell him no you can’t do something because he would prove to you he can.”

Miller was 8 years old and playing at the 9u level when he first started pitching and that was also about the time he started locking down big-time on baseball. He was an outfielder initially and admitted that he was getting a little bored due to the lack of action he was seeing on the defensive side of the ball.

“When I started pitching, I was kind of like, this is fun,” he said. “I have the ball every pitch, I control the game every pitch. It’s on me, my tempo, my speed, how I want it to be played, and that’s just kind of where I got the love for it...

“And then watching baseball games, going to baseball games all the time, your eyes are always on the pitcher every play; that’s when I really developed the love for it.”

As he continued to pitch, he’d hear older players and even adults comment about the potential he was showing even though at the time he didn’t really have any idea what they were talking about. He only knew that it made him feel pretty good and he started thinking it might be worthwhile to see how far he could take it.

When he was still a little guy, Miller began mimicking the big-leaguers he was watching on TV, realizing at a young age it was important to see how they went about their business. The thought that he could play the game he’s loved since he entered kindergarten and maybe one day make a real good living at it was, in his words, “the coolest thing in the world.”

“I thought it would be a lot easier doing that than working a real job,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I might as well shoot for it.”

Like so many of the other top national prospects in his class, Miller put a lid on the 2020 season by pitching at the PG WWBA World Championship (Jupiter) held last October in Fort Myers, Fla. He had been picked up by the California-based San Diego Padres Scout Team, a powerhouse outfit with a roster that featured many of the top 2021s, ‘22s and even a couple of ‘23s in the country.

The kid from Ohio made the most of the opportunity, pitching 3 1/3 innings of one-hit, three-strikeout, shutout ball while delivering fastballs that sat 91-94 mph.

But it isn’t Miller’s mid-90s fastball that sets him apart, as impressive as that is. According to at least one PG scouting report, he’s a “pitchability guy” with an “incredibly high ceiling arm” who possesses some of the best breaking balls in his class.

“I’ve always had the plus-fastball and that (velo) has gone up how it should, but ever since I was 13 my curveball, it was good; I just had it,” Miller said. “When I was little and playing wiffle ball in the backyard all the time and trying to throw a curveball, that’s honestly where I learned to get true spin on a ball, whether it’s a baseball or not.”

Already having a lot of confidence in his fastball and curveball, Miller has since developed an effective slider and changeup. As he put it, he can throw a high fastball and a low 12/6 curveball or he can just go straight outside hard slider and look changeup off of that – an impressive repertoire to be sure.

Miller was already showing PG scouts his potential at the 12u and 13u level, enough of it anyway to receive an invitation to the 2018 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival held in Fort Myers, Fla. As PG National Crosschecker Jheremy Brown noted in a recent email “(Miller) was a projectable type at 14, a real skinny kid but the breaking ball was for real!!!”

Getting an invitation to the country’s premier 14u all-star event was a year in the making. Miller had watched the 2017 Select Fest on TV as a 13-year-old and immediately started to think about what he needed to do to arrive on that stage.

Turns out, it was really right there for the taking. If Miller wanted to earn a Select Fest invite it was incumbent on him that he perform at a very high level during the summer of 2018 and he did just that. He turned in four all-tournament team performances, including at the PG WWBA 14u National Championship playing with Ohio Elite Schaffer and the 14u PG World Series with the National Scout Team 14u.

“That 14u summer I kind of blew-up on the national scene down in Georgia...and that was the first time a college coach ever watched me. I was like, this is legit; this is pretty cool; I like how this feels,” Miller said. “And then Jheremy Brown was tweeting about it...and that’s when it kind of all clicked and I got the invite to the Select Fest.”

And that Labor Day Weekend, there he was, hanging out with top 2021s like No. 2-ranked Brady House and a whole lot of the top 2022s, including Nos. 1 through 4 with Elijah Green, Dylan Lesko, Andruw Jones, and Termarr Johnson.

The friendships Miller developed have endured. The players continue to communicate with one another on a regular basis and talk openly about their plans moving forward. “We’re looking forward to hopefully all being back in the All-American Classic this year if we all make it,” he said.

The class of 2022 national prospect rankings feature an intriguing collection of players from 10 positions (right-handed and left-handed pitchers are ranked separately) and it’s interesting that 10 of the top-40 are right-handers, with Miller coming in at No. 32 overall.

Georgia’s Dylan Lesko tops the list at No. 2 overall, with California’s Nick Dugan (No. 10), Washington’s Ian Ritchie Jr. (No. 11) and Michigan’s Brock Porter (No. 16) making the top-20.

“We can all share knowledge with each other,” Miller said. “If I need (help) with how to fix timing for something, we can tell each other, we can watch each other and see what we do wrong. It’s also fun because these are the guys we could be playing with or against in the pros, and that’s the coolest thing.”

It promises to be a busy summer for Jacob Miller, who will be a featured performer at the PG National Showcase at Tropicana Field – the home of the Tampa Bay Rays – in St. Petersburg, Fla., July 14-18. He’s got a lot of other big events on his calendar but he’s especially looking forward to the National because it gives him the opportunity to play in a big league stadium.

He is also going to be playing with Jeff Petty and the prestigious Canes National 17u club in 2021 which will only serve to elevate his profile all the more.

Ian Ritchie Jr. and Brock Porter are among the other right-handers who will be teammates with Miller on the Canes National 17u, along with top 2022 left-hander Tristan Smith (No. 9). That’s a four-man rotation that would be welcomed into any college program’s clubhouse tomorrow, let alone next year. Or maybe even in a big league clubhouse a few years down the road?

“I feel like all of us, we have the same goal: We want to be pros and we want to play at the highest level, so I feel like us working together we can help each other out that much more this summer,” Miller said. “I want to surround myself with people that are going to make me a lot better. If you want to be the best you’ve got to be around the guys who are the best.”

His dad agreed: “That team is just awesome,” Jim Miller said. “He knows going in...that he’s not going to be the best pitcher, he’s going to have to work and you’ve got to really push yourself. And that’s what the Canes say about their team is that everybody kind of pushes each other to make them better.”

It may have seemed like with Miller growing up in Ohio State’s backyard that the Buckeyes would have had an inside track when it came to securing a commitment from Miller, but truth be told they were never really in play. It’s just the way these things work sometimes.

“We’re big, huge Ohio State football fans,” Jim said, “but he always kind of wanted to go away for baseball...He decided he wanted to go out of state for sports and he always loved Louisville, both the (baseball) program and the school.”

The Millers even made the 3 1/2-hour drive down to Louisville over the Easter weekend to watch the Cardinals take on Wake Forest in ACC play and Jacob had the opportunity to talk with the coaches briefly after the game.

It appears Miller Time in Louisville will be a great fit if Jacob ever makes it to campus, with the MLB Draft having an over-sized say in that ever happening. The draft will also decide if other highly-ranked 2022s like shortstop Gavin Kilen (No. 13), shortstop Tucker Biven (No. 53) and third baseman Rocko Brzezniak ever become Louisville Cardinals.

Has the whole process been a little overwhelming for the family? For Jim and Danna, that’s a definite yes. For Jacob? Maybe not so much.

“He is a cool cat; I don’t know where he gets it from,” Jim said. “Nothing’s too big for him; no game is too big for him. When we’re talking to scouts, that’s what they like about him. When he’s on the mound he’s in his own zone and no outside noise affects him at all.”

And that’s the entire topic of conversation moving forward. Jacob Miller’s parents talk to him about staying grounded and keeping a level-head, and if he does that everything will fall into place at some point. Just keep doing the right things, don’t try to overdo it and let any “outside noise” dissipate into the thin air. Pretty simple, right?

When asked if he feels comfortable with the way his game has progressed to this point early in his career, Miller said that, yes, he has in fact been pretty pleased.

As a high school freshman two years ago, he thought about where he could see himself sitting heading into the summer before his senior year and today he feels like he’s right there. At the same time, there’s also a sense that he’s hardly even scratching the surface; he has to keep remembering that there is never a moment too big.

“Obviously the goal is to be a pro and I want to figure out which path is going to help me get to the Bigs the fastest, so we’ll see how that goes,” Miller said. “If I perform how I want to this summer, hopefully I’ll be a high enough draft pick and I’ll just go from there.”

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