As Jordan Zimmermann reached his innings cap of 160 innings for the season this past Sunday, the Nationals were forced to replace him in the starting rotation. On Tuesday, they announced that LHP Tom Milone will be called up from Triple-A Syracuse to take his place Saturday against the Mets. Milone, 24, was drafted in the 10th round in 2008 out of the University of Southern California as a soft-tossing left-handed pitcher with great control who was lacking a plus off-speed pitch but whose results far outpaced his stuff. Ever since being drafted, all Milone has done is continue to prove his skeptics wrong and continue to get batters out. Last season, Milone was named the Nationals minor league pitcher of the year, going 12-5 with a 2.85 ERA, 155 strikeouts against only 23 walks in 158 innings for Double-A Harrisburg. Not to be outdone, Milone has gone 12-6 with a 3.22 ERA, 155/16 strikeout to walk ratio over 148.1 innings in Triple-A Syracuse so far this season. Overall for his minor league career, Milone has gone 37-22 with a 3.05 ERA, 465 strikeouts against 84 walks in 516.1 innings spanning four seasons.
Milone possesses a fastball between 84-88mph, a fringy curveball and a reasonable changeup, with plus location, excellent movement on his pitches and a solid pitcher’s frame. This scouting report more resembles something I would produce for a collegiate player pitching in the Cape Cod League rather than for a pitcher being called up to the major leagues. Thus, I am rather curious to watch Milone perform in his audition down the stretch, as my gut tells me that major league hitters will feast on his repertoire, however my brain constantly reminds me he has proven himself one level at a time year after year with fantastic results and consistency. If his lack of stuff was going to be his downfall, batters would have caught up to him in Double-A Harrisburg last season, like so many polished college pitchers drafted annually, who rely on experience and location to get overeager hitters out in A-ball then see their success quickly dry up against the increased competition at double-A.
Thus, the great experiment begins. Will he be as Malcolm Gladwell would say, “an outlier”, or will major league hitters finally solve the riddle that is Tom Milone? I cannot think of another pitcher currently in the major leagues with comparable stuff and besides the often made (and lazy) comparison of Milone to Jamie Moyer (who had a tremendous changeup, immediately making it a poor comparison), I cannot think of another pitcher in recent years to succeed with rather underwhelming stuff. Milone reminds me of the Moneyball character/former Oakland A’s prospect Jeremy Brown in that, this will be an interesting test case between sabermetricians (those who focus on results and would like Milone) and “old-school” baseball scouts (who focus on talent, stuff, and potential who are skeptical of him). As a baseball guy, I have learned that you must trust your eyes and your gut feelings, and while I am never one to shy away from an opinion, Milone truly has me baffled. The five starts he should receive down the stretch should provide further insights and give the Nationals (and fans like myself) a more educated opinion into the future of Tom Milone: Is he a solid mid-rotation starter like his numbers suggest he is, or is he a Quad-A player that will consistently goes back and forth between Triple-A and the majors? I guess only time will tell, but I am fascinated to watch this experiment play out beginning with his first career start on Saturday.
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