The last time Shelby Miller was at Modern Woodmen Park, he was an 18-year-old, brand-new millionaire with an aw-shucks grin and a baby face.|
The grin is still there, and he's hardly a grizzled veteran, but the St. Louis Cardinals top prospect returns to the Quad Cities River Bandits more schooled on what it's like to be a Major League Baseball player -- slightly more, even, than his Single-A teammates.
When the rest of the Cardinals future was reassigned to minor league camp, Miller's time rubbing elbows with major leaguers was extended a few extra days. His signing bonus, grin and baby face had nothing to do with that. It was his right arm. He has the stuff on the mound. Cardinals manager Tony La Russa says so.
"He told me he was impressed with what I had done in spring, and I had the biggest smile on my face and I thanked him," said Miller, who arrived to the Quad-Cities on Monday with the rest of the River Bandits. "I let him know I was ready to get my career started and really just focus on baseball and to get to the Big Leagues as soon as I can."
Miller said he wants to follow in the footsteps of Chris Carpenter -- an ace on the Cardinals pitching staff.
The position may change, but the goal of joining that elite class is the same for each of the men who stepped off the bus and into their temporary minor league home on Monday. In all, the Bandits have 13 players on the roster that have spent at least some time in the Quad-Cities. Among the longest-tenured QC players are Frederick Parejo (outfielder, 94 games), Niko Vasquez (infielder, 61 games) and Miguel Tapia (pitcher, 82.2 innings). Tapia will start the season in the disabled list.
One of those short-term, former and future Bandits is catcher Robert Stock -- the Cardinals No. 2 pick of 2009. Stock also spent time in the major league camp, and also is feeling the benefits of that.
"I worked with (former Cardinals catcher) Mike Matheny and the stuff I learned was unbelieveable," Stock said. "(Roving catching instructor) Dann Billardello came out and reinforced that stuff."
Stock has the unusual skill set of being draftable as both a catcher and a pitcher. Stock throws in the mid-90s off the mound, but he will be a catcher unless it doesn't pan out.
"Catching and pitching are both things I love," Stock said. "Playing everyday is something I love even more."
QC manager Johnny Rodriguez likes what he sees overall, but Rodriguez pointed directly to starting pitching as the Bandits' key strength in 2010. It starts with Miller, but also bleeds into 2008 sixth-round pick Eric Fornataro. Both of those men will be starters only. The rest of the starters will be put into the tandem pitching rotation, which pairs a scheduled starter with a scheduled reliever each game.
The Bandits get their chance to begin their individual path to the show when they begin action Thursday in Burlington.
"I'm just ready to get the season started," Miller said, "and see where it goes from there."
Quad Cities River Bandits opening-day roster
Player (draft round) -- Pitchers: Michael Blazek (35), Dan Calhoun (29), Christopher Corrigan (30), Eric Fornataro (6), Deryk Hooker (7), Joe Kelly (3), LaCurtis Mayes (23), Shelby Miller (1), Chris Notti (36), Jorge Rondon (FA), Scott Schneider (20), Jesse Simpson (40), Miguel Tapia (FA, DL), Aaron Terry (42). Catchers: Ivan Castro (FA), Robert Stock (2). Infielders: Matthew Adams (23), Ryan Jackson (5), Luis Mateo (20), Jonathan Rodriguez (17), Jason Stidham (8), Niko Vasquez (3). Outfielders: Kyle Conley (7), D'Marcus Ingram (25), Frederick Parejo (FA), Ryde Rodriguez (FA), Devin Shepherd (11). On restricted list: Alan Ahmady (11), infielder; Tyler Bighames (31), outfielder.
*FA -- free agent; DL -- will start season on disabled list.