Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller, Baseball BFFs

Kevin C. Cox

A look at the similarities between two of baseballs top young pitchers.

It was only three years ago that Julio Teheran and Cardinals RHP Shelby Miller rocketed up top prospect lists and were considered two of the best young right-handers in the minor leagues. They were lists that included the likes of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, two generational talents. Neither were in that category, but both pitchers found themselves entering their age 20 seasons as two top-20 talents. In the 2011 preseason lists, Teheran slightly edged out Miller after his breakout 2010 season across three different levels in the Braves system. From then on, the two essentially became baseball’s version of BFFs.

After both went on to post great 2011 seasons, they again inched their way up rankings. Rays left-handed phenom Matt Moore had leap-frogged them and was considered the top pitching prospect in the game, actually edging out guys like Trout and Harper on many 2012 rankings. Going back and looking across the major outlets that are publicly available, the two were almost neck-and-neck, cracking the top 10 on nearly every list.

2012 America Prospectus Keith Law FanGraphs
Shelby Miller 8 10 5 5
Julio Teheran 5 5 18 4

At this point in time, both were entering their age 21 season and comfortably projected as top of the rotation starters. Neither wound up breaking camp with the club that spring, but both went to their respective Triple-A clubs looking to refine various parts of their game.

Teheran sat in the low-to-mid 90’s with a plus changeup, but he lacked a breaking ball that held him back from being a bonafide number one starter. After coming off a great season in 2011, the hope was he could put together enough of a breaking ball and would soon find himself as a constant piece in Atlanta's rotation.

Miller on the other hand, sat mid-90’s with a sharp breaking ball as his top secondary offering. The changeup was a work in progress, something he planned to work on in Triple-A to hopefully realize his potential as a number one starter.

However, 2012 didn’t exactly go as planned…

2012 Level IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP
Shelby Miller AAA 136.2 27.6% 8.4% 1.58 4.74 4.48
Julio Teheran AAA 131 16.8% 7.5% 1.24 5.08 4.83

Teheran’s struggles were well documented around these parts of town. It began in spring training for him, which initially landed him a trip to Triple-A. He had poor command, left fastballs up and fell victim to the long ball. His stuff and confidence had quickly disappeared. Reports at the time suggested they began toying with his mechanics, trying to get some plane and movement back on his fastball while continuing to look for a breaking ball that would play in the majors.

Miller also faced his fare share of struggles. While he was able to maintain a solid strikeout and walk rates, he gave up homers at an even more alarming rate. Reports also suggested his mechanics were inconsistent at times, resulting in less than impressive stuff for the first part of the season. Similar to Teheran, he is a flyball pitcher, and when the fastball becomes flat, he also can become susceptible to the home run rather quickly. Miller was able to fix many of his issues in the second half of the season and went on to eventually grab a cup of coffee with the Cardinals in September.

As expected, both stocks slipped – Miller less so than Teheran because of his strong second half, appearing to have fixed his early season issues.

2013 America Prospectus Keith Law FanGraphs
Shelby Miller 6 16 21 25
Julio Teheran 44 52 28 19

Even after relatively rough seasons, both were hoping, and were being counted on by their clubs, to land a spot in the rotation entering 2013. Both did impress enough during the spring and left camp labeled as their teams 5th starter. Teheran, out of nowhere, found a slider-curveball combo that became an above average offering, while his changeup usage fell off the face of the earth. The new repertoire proved to be a great success for the 22-year-old. Likewise, Miller also had a superb rookie season, finishing 3rd in the NL Rookie of the Year voting (Teheran finished 5th). There was not much more you could have asked from either going into the season.

2013 IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP fWAR
Shelby Miller 173.1 23.4% 7.9% 1.04 3.06 3.67 2.1
Julio Teheran 185.2 22.0% 5.8% 1.07 3.20 3.69 2.4

Again, the two followed along a very similar path, posting very similar numbers – K's, BB's, HR's, GB%, FB%, HR/FB%, LOB%... everything – but what else would you expect at this point. Miller faded a bit down the stretch and eventually was shut down for the year due to workload concerns, missing out (except for one mop up appearance) on the Cardinals run to the World Series.

Both have seemed to put to rest any major concerns from the past, having breakthrough seasons at 22 years of age. Teheran could still benefit from a regained feel for his changeup, but his mix of breaking balls and an added two-seamer proved to be enough in 2013.

Entering 2014, you guessed it, both are projected for similar sophomore seasons according to ZiPS:

IP K% BB% HR/9 ERA FIP fWAR
Shelby Miller 174 23.3% 7.5% 0.95 3.30 3.57 3.2
Julio Teheran 180 20.3% 6.4% 0.87 3.39 3.45 3.5

Who knows what will happen from here on out. They could continue to have very similar career paths or venture off in completely opposite directions. Injuries happen, stuff can be lost or found – the future is unknown. Looking at the past, it wouldn’t surprise me the least to see these two lead their respective rotations for years to come. Considering how well both teams are built, even squaring off against each other in the playoffs seems to be a very realistic possibility. Neither have reached their ceilings and are number one starters just yet, but they appear to be on their way to fulfilling the initial hope from over three years ago. It will be interesting to see just how long their relationship lasts.

Thanks to past prospect lists from Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and FanGraphs.

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