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Indians Indians Archive Goodyear Notebook: 3/14
Written by Tony Lastoria

Tony Lastoria
Adam MillerMiller's Future Still Unknown

Things today are much different for the Cleveland Indians and right-handed pitcher Adam Miller than they were at this time three years ago.

Going into the 2007 season Miller was the Indians number #1 prospect for the third straight year, and at the time he and another top pitching prospect in right-hander Fausto Carmona looked to be the two aces in the rotation for the Indians for the foreseeable future. Since then, however, both pitchers have seen their careers take drastic turns where their future with the organization is no longer as certain and promising as it once was as Carmona is battling personal demons to throw strikes while Miller is trying to recover from a rare finger injury.

These days Miller can be found at the Goodyear complex, a facility he has grown to know all too well. Out of anyone in the organization he has probably logged the most days at the facility since it opened in the summer of 2008 as he has spent more or less all of the last two years rehabbing his finger there.

Currently, Miller is out participating with his fellow minor league teammates this spring doing drills, with the one exception: he has not been cleared to throw.

“It’s doing pretty well,” said Miller after morning drills on Saturday. “I had an MRI and things are good, and it looks fully healed. There is a little bit of scar tissue, but for the most part it is pretty good and I am cleared to do everything but throw.”

Miller’s career is in serious jeopardy due to complications from an injury to his right middle finger, an injury that goes back to the 2007 season. Little did he know when the injury cropped up in May of that year that it would be a career altering injury that would serve as a giant detour from what looked like a promising big league career that was on the horizon. Armed with an upper 90s fastball and a wicked slider, he had the stuff and makeup on the mound it seemed to be one of the next great young pitchers in the game. But the tip of his middle finger had other ideas.

“I remember when the injury first happened in 2007 well,” recalled Miller. “I threw a game and felt fine, but the next day I was throwing 60-feet and it felt a little weird but I thought it was nothing big. The next day during my bullpen session I was like ‘man, my finger is sore’. I didn’t know what to do with it as it was not an elbow problem, it was a finger, and I didn’t want to get set down for a finger. And then from there it all started. I actually went out to the [Arizona Fall League] at the end of the year [to make up innings], and literally on my last start of the year before I would be done for the offseason I sprained it again. Now, does it matter if I had not thrown that last start in the AFL? No, because it probably would have gone at some point anyway.”

Since then Miller has had several surgeries to try and repair a broken callous and to seal a gap in the finger which came about from a ligament in his finger causing his skin to sag up against the baseball. He rehabbed from the initial surgery and pitched well in the 2008 offseason in winter ball and went into spring training last year as a legit option for the Indians bullpen. He actually felt like he was in the clear after his successful winter ball stint and his early throwing in spring training.

But a few weeks into camp last year the finger pain started up again and Miller was shutdown and ended up having career threatening reconstructive finger surgery.

“I’ll tell you, nothing surprises me now, that’s for sure,” said Miller. “It is frustrating as I had come back and it was almost like I didn’t have surgery. I rehabbed, I went to winter ball, and I felt fine and everything was good. I felt the best I had going into spring in quite awhile, so that was kind of a shot to the stomach there. That was totally unexpected as I don’t know what caused it.”

At this point, the situation had reached critical and Miller and the Indians had to find a way to hopefully end the finger issues once and for all. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and that’s what they ultimately decided to do when they agreed to have him undergo exploratory reconstructive surgery of the finger. Last April the first of two planned surgeries were performed on the finger, and the first stage of the surgery called for reconstruction to the middle finger to repair the flexor pulley system by replacing two pulley ligaments in the finger with a tendon from his wrist. He underwent the second planned surgery later in the summer to clean up the scar tissue as a result of the first surgery and attach the new tendon in his middle finger.

“In April they re-did the pulley where they put a silicon rod in it so scar tissue would not form on the tendon,” explained Miller. “The silicon rod created a little canal and I had that in for three months. Three months later we had the second surgery where they went and put a tendon from my leg in the finger by sliding it down the canal and attaching it.”

Team doctors decided to keep the finger in a cast a little longer than normal than the previous surgery as they wanted to build up more scar tissue this time since in his prior surgeries they felt he was not building up enough scar tissue. He did a lot of muscle memory exercises and then in November starting throwing again, but in early December he suffered yet another setback which required a third surgery to stabilize the flexor tendon reconstruction in his finger.

“I came back throwing and I was back to 90 feet and I had like three more throwing sessions and two more flat grounds and I would be semi-cleared for the offseason,” said Miller. “I felt fine, and then with just one throw it kind of went. The tendon had not fully healed and kind of just tore, so I was back to square one again.”

Miller is currently rehabbing the finger and working out at the complex and participating when possible in regular team drills, but because there really is no precedence for this surgery and all of the setbacks he has had, no timetable has been set for his return to full time baseball activities and getting him back on the mound.

“I have kind of taken it in stride and now I don’t really have expectations on it and just take it day by day,” said Miller. “I feel pretty comfortable, so hopefully the scar tissue breaks up. You don’t ever know when that is going to be, but I think once that comes along I will be good to go. It doesn’t have to be perfect as I don’t have to make a fist. I just need to be able to grip a ball and have a little strength with it. It just depends on the scar tissue. If next week it breaks up and I have better motion with it then obviously I could sooner. But there is no timetable, that’s for sure.”

Miller’s last time on a mound was this time last year. In between last year and now it has been nothing but surgeries, therapy, rehab, and a few throwing sessions mixed in. His return to the mound seems very unlikely this year from a competitive standpoint, but if things go well it is very possible he could by the end of the season be working off the mound during rehab or potentially in the rookie Arizona League or in the offseason in Instructional League.

“I definitely think so,” said Miller about a possible return to the mound later in the year. “I don’t really have anything where by June or whenever I want to be on the mound. I know now it is not going to be great or perfect again, but it is just getting on the mound and throwing pain free and every thing staying intact. If you take away seven throwing sessions it has really been a year since I have thrown, so I am not really worried about when I come back what the stuff is like. I just want to get on the mound and be able to throw.”

Things have certainly changed in the three years since Miller was tabbed as practically a can’t miss starting pitching prospect and one of the game’s best up-and-coming pitchers. But through it all, Miller has remained positive and his mindset has not changed much because he knows it was something that was really out of his control.

“I don’t know if I am going to get back where I was, so it is hard to tell where I am at,” said Miller. “I definitely don’t have any regrets. It is just a freak thing I guess with the finger. It is a game, and I try to keep it that way and try to have fun with it. Right now pretty much my only focus is getting back to throwing and we will see where it goes from there.”


Lofgren Back To Indians: As I reported on Saturday morning, the Milwaukee Brewers have offered left-hander Chuck Lofgren back to the Indians. Lofgren was selected by the Brewers in the Rule 5 Draft this past December and must first clear waivers before he can be officially sent back to the Indians or the two teams can complete a trade that would send Lofgren’s full roster rights to the Brewers in exchange for some sort of compensation. The waiver process typically takes up to 48 hours, and it is very unlikely he will get picked up because of his Rule 5 status. Even with all of the pitching depth the Indians seem to have in the upper levels right now with the big league team and Triple-A Columbus, it seems very likely the Indians will choose to take him back. If he does return to the Indians, he will likely be sent to minor league camp sometime next week.

What About Ambriz?: The other Rule 5 pawn in play still for the Indians is the guy that they picked up in the draft themselves from the Diamondbacks, right-hander Hector Ambriz. He has had a solid camp, but early reports show that he may not be ready or reliable enough to use in even a low profile bullpen role. In two outings his command has been shaky as he has allowed three walks in just two innings of work. Though I cannot confirm, it is quite possible the Indians will soon or have already started the process of returning Ambriz to the Diamondbacks. The Indians could complete a trade with the Diamondbacks to acquire his full rights, though with Lofgren now likely returning that may not happen. In any case, it looks very unlikely based on his performance early on in camp that he has shown enough to be kept on in a big league bullpen role to start the season.

Now Playing First Base, Wes Hodges: This was a move that was coming, and the Indians have finally made the move this year as they plan to split his time at first and third base this year at Triple-A Columbus. It provides some versatility for him, especially since he is just an average defender at third base, but more importantly it gives the Indians another option at first base down the road. One look at the depth chart, and you can easily see that first base is probably the weakest position in the organization, and if Matt LaPorta is out for any length of time Hodges could be the short term option there now. Also, with hot shot third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall on his heels now, the Indians needed to create another place for Hodges to play since they still value him as a player but consider Chisenhall the third baseman of the future as soon as the early part of next season.

Draft News: The Indians has the #5 pick in the draft this coming June. Everyone feels that catcher Bryce Harper will go #1 overall, but the Indians are doing their due diligence as they are currently out in Las Vegas scouting him. The Indians may not think they will have a chance to draft him, but in the case he does slide to them for signability reasons there is no way they will pass on the opportunity to draft him. While his contract demands would be very high and put them over budget, they would still have exclusive negotiating rights to him for over two months to maybe get something done and also at the same time keep him away from the big spenders the Yankees and Red Sox. Also, the big thing to remember is if they were to fail to sign him that they would get the #5 overall pick in the 2011 Draft as compensation in addition to whatever pick they have in the first round that year. Of course, the reasons illustrated also apply to the other four teams ahead of the Indians, which is why they will have almost no shot to take him at #5.

Young Roster: The Indians will soon start sending out a lot of the players from their big league camp to minor league camp which officially kicks off with full squad workouts this Monday March 15th. Currently they have 60 players in big league camp, which includes 19 non-roster invitees. Among the 60 players, there are 29 pitchers, 16 infielders, 9 outfielders, and 6 catchers. The Indians average age of their current 40-man roster is 26.25 years, which of no surprise is the youngest in the Major Leagues (MLB 40-man average age is 27.86).

Saturday Recap: Minor league camp at the moment is mostly just drills, bullpen sessions, and batting practice since for the most part pitchers and catchers are the only ones in camp at the moment. There are some infielders and outfielders in camp, but the position players do not officially report until today (Sunday) as they will have physicals and then the first full squad workouts will take place on Monday. On Saturday the catchers did a lot of drills with catching high pop ups from a pitching machine which shot balls straight up in the air. They also did some work on blocking the plate and making tags at home on throws from the outfield by having Catching Coordinator Chris Tremie hit balls at them from 50 feet away as if they were coming from the outfield. The outfielders and infielders did a lot of work on fly balls and grounders, and worked through many situation drills.

Injury Updates: There are a lot of guys to get caught up on who missed considerable time last year due to injury. I will provide more detailed updates on all of them over the coming week, but outfielder Abner Abreu is back in action and supposedly is good to go. I have seen right-handers Joey Mahalic, Eddie Burns, Mike Pontius as well as left-hander Heath Taylor throw off the mound in bullpen sessions. They all looked to be pain free, though I will confirm that over the course of the week. Also, left-hander Ryan Morris is working his way back and should be 100% by the end of April or early May. I actually talked to him and will have a piece up on him in my next Goodyear Notebook.

Up Next: I have pieces on Ryan Morris and Carlton Smith in the pipeline, and many more players next week. With the start of minor league camp and then games by the end of the week, the news should start to flow.

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