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The best Nats pitching prospect I saw in Altoona

The 23 members of the Class AA Harrisburg Senators who are not named Stephen Strasburg have been told countless times -- by their coaches, the Nationals' player-development bosses and (presumably) their agents -- to treat the intense spotlight focused on Strasburg as an opportunity: With all this attention on Strasburg, from scouts and media members, if you do something well, you're bound to get noticed.

That advice was spot-on, at least in this one case -- because today I want to tell you about Tom Milone, whom I saw pitch for the Senators against the Altoona Curve on Saturday, one day before the Big Fella took the mound.

Okay, the headline on this post is an exaggeration: Milone wasn't the best prospect I saw in Altoona. Obviously, Strasburg was. In fact, Milone isn't considered much of a prospect at all -- at least by the folks who produce those prospects rankings that we all love to read. But Milone's six-inning, one-hit, one-walk, four-strikeout start on Saturday was the best individual pitching performance I saw while in Altoona. (Well, that may not be true, either. Drew Storen's devastating four-up, four-down save of Strasburg's win on Sunday was pretty good, too.)

The Nationals, however, think Milone, a 23-year-old lefty, has a chance to make it to the majors as a back-of-the-rotation starting pitcher, and from what I saw on Saturday, I agree. Milone showed extremely sharp command with four pitches -- a fastball that he calls a four-seamer but that had some two-seam tendencies (i.e., it sinks), a cut fastball, a curve and a changeup that was probably his most effective pitch. He threw all of his pitches to both sides of the plate and rarely missed spots.

"The Nationals preach 'pitch to contact,' " Milone said when I asked him about his approach. "It's not necessarily that I'm trying to nibble on the corners -- it's that I'm trying to get it on the outer third [of the plate], as opposed to right on the edge. There are places for that, like [counts of] 0-2 or 1-2. But earlier in the count you want to get the ball over the plate with the pitch you want, and hopefully you can get ahead in count, and after that you can go off the plate and try to get them to expand their strike zone."

It's no surprise Milone gets overlooked, because baseball has become obsessed with radar-gun readings, and Milone's fastball generally sits in the 84-87 mph range, with an occasional 89. (By contrast, Strasburg's changeup usually clocks in at 88-91 mph.)

"He's not going to light [the radar gun] up," said Senators pitching coach Randy Tomlin.
"He's going to have to keep proving himself like that, but he's shown he can do it at every level. I think he has a chance because of his competitiveness and ability to command the ball."

In fact, Milone, a 10th-round draft pick out of USC in 2008, has a lot in common with John Lannan, an 11th-round draft pick of Siena University in 2005 who shot through the Nationals' farm system, made it to the big leagues in a little more than two years, and is now an established front-line starter in Washington.

Here are their respective rate statistics in the minors:

........................ H/9 IP.... HR/9 IP...... BB/9 IP....... K/9 IP
Lannan............ 8.7........... 0.6..............3.5.............6.3
Milone............... 8.7........... 0.5............. 1.9............ 6.6

As you can see, the numbers are eerily similar, except that Milone's walk rate is nearly half that of Lannan's. Like Lannan, who blossomed at Class A Potomac in 2007 (6-0, 2.13 ERA in eight starts), Milone's big breakthrough came at Potomac, where he spent all of last season, going 12-5 with a 2.91 ERA and 106 strikeouts against only 36 walks in 151 1/3 innings.

According to Senators catcher Sean Rooney, who also caught Milone in Potomac, it was the addition of the cutter -- taught to Milone by Potomac pitching coach Paul Menhart -- that made the difference. "After that, he started picking up more strikeouts," Rooney said. "But it can be any pitch on any given day, where it's just lights out."

Milone understands his limited velocity means he'll have to prove himself over and over to folks who doubt he can get good hitters out with that stuff, but he said he doesn't mind the challenge.

"It's actually not a bad gig," he said. "There are guys who are expected to do great because they throw it in the mid or high 90s. I'm not saying I want to fly under the radar, but sometimes it's nice because you kind of surprise people. They'll say, 'Wow, I didn't expect you to be able to do that.' And I'll just kind of smile."

By Dave Sheinin  |  April 13, 2010; 11:53 AM ET
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Great post Dave! Besides the "fastball" and cutter what ther pitches does Tom have that are above average?

Posted by: markfd | April 13, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

OH, NO!!!!!!

Not ANOTHER pitch to contact guy!

Gee, a guy with a fastball that tops out at 83-85 mph. We haven't had one of those in a while.

Give me Jesus, please.

Posted by: Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me | April 13, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I like your post, Sunshine.

Posted by: Pete433 | April 13, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

Batters come to the plate. He sends them back to the dugout. He is facing and beating the guys he will likely face in Washington. What exactly is wrong with his performance? Somebody tell the Yankees to get rid of Pettite. Forget the wins; he doesn't throw hard enough.

Posted by: fpcsteve | April 13, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

Great post, thanks Dave!

Posted by: PattyinSJ | April 13, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

Its too bad Bradley Meyers had to have that foot surgery. He seemed to be on a fast track with his performance last year. You might have seen him as well.

Still think they should try starting Storen. I think he has the personality and number of pitches + command to be a true stopper in the starting rotation.

Posted by: periculum | April 13, 2010 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Milone should sit down with Livo for a tutoring session...

Posted by: Juan-John1 | April 13, 2010 12:41 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand why some commenters are so fond of fireballers. pitch-to-contact, or pitch-to-miss is a perfectly valid pitcher build.

So are getting 5 fireballers and 8 Adam Dunns, but personally, I don't find that to be baseball. It's some other weirdo sport that the Yankees play.

Posted by: swang30 | April 13, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

The Philadelphia Phillies sure like the National's "pitch to contact" philosophy.

Posted by: clandestinetomcat | April 13, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

we need "fireballers" because sometimes the umps suck, like yesterday, and nibbling at the corners isn't an option.

Posted by: longterm | April 13, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I see. Fireballers will improve umpiring. Boy, I'm glad we got that straightened out. How did Dave McNally win a ton of games for the O's with all of his soft-toss stuff?

Posted by: fpcsteve | April 13, 2010 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 13, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

The Orioles decided in 1993 that Jamie Moyer would never win 256 games in the bigs. He just didn't have the stuff to do so. On the other hand, Garrett Mock, now he has stuff!

Posted by: Section314 | April 13, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

@fpcsteve. i didn't say "fireballers" would improve umpiring. when you have no choice but to throw it down the middle, control of the corners doesn't help much. but you are more likely to get a swing and a miss or weak contact at 100mph than at 80mph.

Dave McNally has nothing to do with this, unless of course he agrees with me.

Posted by: longterm | April 13, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Jamie Moyer wouldn't have won that many games for the Orioles. Tiny park, AL East, they were right to move on.

Posted by: longterm | April 13, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Let's have as many of them succeed as possible. If we have more major-league, back of the rotation pitchers than we need, we can trade some for position players. Keep it going, Milone- we can use you.


Posted by: kevincostello | April 13, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Jamie Moyer's best years were at age 38-40. Not trying to sell him short just saying it takes a long time before the soft tossers start to have success. More often than not they get cast aside for the Nuke Laloosh's or just never learn the finer things or confidence needed to make it at 85 mph

Posted by: sjt1455 | April 13, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I miss seeing Tom Milone in Potomac. This year's squad is a little underwhelming, with maybe the exception of Burgess and Moresi (I'm still trying to figure out how the Nats acquired Moresi, and why he is in Class A)
Can anyone help me with that?

Posted by: PNatsFan | April 13, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Tome Milone is a good prospect. If he wins at Harrisburg he will get a shot here this or next season. It's about winning games not the radar gun.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | April 13, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Nice one, sec3. I feel like I should get you some candlesticks.

Now quit it with the lollygagging...

Posted by: baltova1 | April 13, 2010 1:51 PM | Report abuse

"Dave McNally has nothing to do with this, unless of course he agrees with me."

Since he's dead, longterm, that's doubtful...

Why don't we just let Milone get to the big leagues and then the hitters will tell us if he can get the job done? For every guy with great stuff who's a great pitcher, there's a guy like Maddux or Glavine who gets by with control and changing speeds.

Posted by: baltova1 | April 13, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Tome Milone is a good prospect. If he wins at Harrisburg he will get a shot here this or next season. It's about winning games not the radar gun.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

A-men to that!

Posted by: fpcsteve | April 13, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

I have to say I love reading stories like this!

Posted by: dmacman88 | April 13, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Love to see Dave posting. 2 heads are better than one even though Adam's head is pretty good. Also, love the extra minor league coverage lately.

Greg Maddux never threw more than 92 or so, he managed to eke out a career. If Millone mows down AA hitters, he deserves to go to Syracuse. If he mows down hitters there, he deserves to try it in DC. I don't care if he lobs it in underhanded, if he gets outs, I'll take him!!

Posted by: Avar | April 13, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Re: Moresi, looking at his minor league numbers, not much power, best batting average in a season was .235 and his OBP was .268 in 2009 - I'd guess that the Astros released him...

Posted by: comish4lif | April 13, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

PNatsFan -- The Nats took Morisey from the Astros in the minor league phase of the rule 5 draft. He's a CF out of Fresno State. Houston drafted him in the third round in 2006 but he has struggled to hit in four minor league seasons (.222/.289/.359), mostly in high A-ball. Hence, Potomac -- he's too old to take up roster space in Hagerstown (turns 26 in November). This is probably his last shot. That said, he's hitting .438 on the year (sorry, 506).

Posted by: BobLHead | April 13, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Errr, that would be Moresi.

Posted by: BobLHead | April 13, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Milone was ranked #20 by

They also gave this scouting report:

Posted by: Wooden_U_Lykteneau | April 13, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

Am I the only one who immediately thinks of Mr. Belvedere every time he hears "Altoona?"

Posted by: JohninMpls | April 13, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Strange - twice a comment is made and the writer then says it is either untrue or an exaggeration. Perhaps he needs to revisit his writing style. He takes up too much space telling us contradictory information. The Post can do better.

Posted by: greendayer | April 13, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

You and Bob Uecker, JiM.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 13, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

Everybody's a critic ...

Strange - twice a comment is made and the writer then says it is either untrue or an exaggeration. Perhaps he needs to revisit his writing style. He takes up too much space telling us contradictory information. The Post can do better.

Posted by: greendayer | April 13, 2010 6:08 PM |

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | April 13, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

There's a place for fireballers (as in "Strasburg"), but I would remind the radar-gun folks that the one quality start the Nats got so far this year came from Livan.

There's a place for that too. And maybe a longer, healthier career.

Posted by: Meridian1 | April 14, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

I kind of like the idea of a mix between fireballers and "pitch to contact" guys. In a 3 game series, the other team will have to adjust not only to the pitcher of the night, but they will have to change their mindset from Millone throwing 85 one night to Strasburg throwing 100 the next. I've never played baseball at a high enough level to say for sure, but it seems like there would be an advantage for the Nats in keeping opposing batters off balance from one night to the next.

Posted by: cheeseburger53 | April 14, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

@Wooden thanks for the Milone link.
He looks like a lot of our inventory low upside kind of guys. You root for them to pan out but I hope we can get some more guys with K potential at the major league level. John Lannan should be a heartwarming tale not an organizational philosophy.

Posted by: souldrummer | April 14, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

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