Back in the game: Miller signs pro contract

BHS alumnus impresses Pecos League champions

Former Bayfield pitcher Clay Miller, having rehabilitated his left arm after Tommy John surgery, recently signed his first professional baseball contract, joining the Pecos League's Tucson Saguaros for the upcoming 2017 season. Miller is seen here throwing in the Class 3A State Championships up in Greeley as a senior in spring of 2013. Enlargephoto

Times file photo by Joel Priest

Former Bayfield pitcher Clay Miller, having rehabilitated his left arm after Tommy John surgery, recently signed his first professional baseball contract, joining the Pecos League's Tucson Saguaros for the upcoming 2017 season. Miller is seen here throwing in the Class 3A State Championships up in Greeley as a senior in spring of 2013.

The rapid-fire Day 3 - encompassing Rounds 11-50 - of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in Secaucus, N.J., started out with Bayfield High product Clay Miller still available.

But as the 3 p.m. Mountain Time hour began in the Pine River Valley, the lefty was still available with the 35th Round (he'd been the Kansas City Royals' 35th-rounder back in 2013) progressing and selection numbers in the mid-1,000s.

Round 40 commenced at 4:01 p.m. Mountain and Colorado didn't even do him any kind of in-state solid, instead taking University of North Carolina recruit Luca Dalatri at No. 1,190. When the event finally ended at about 4:16, Miller's name still hadn't popped up on MLB.com's Draft Tracker as had five other Millers, and he wasn't listed among another five undrafted Millers.

That was the weekend of June 9-11, roughly a month after Miller had completed a second season as an assistant coach under father Robert at nearby Ignacio High School. But now in the last days of December, and Miller well-rested with his rifle of a left arm reloaded, he is more than ready to resume chasing a delayed dream.

If anyone needed proof, the Arizona Daily Star first mentioned back on Dec. 17 that the hurler had hit 90 mph on the radar gun on Day 1 (Dec. 16) of a three-day tryout in Tucson, Ariz., for those hoping to score a roster spot with one of the Pecos League's 10 teams.

On Monday, Dec. 26, a press release announced he'd accepted one last Christmas present:

A contract offer, which he signed, from not just any squad but the independent minor circuit's reigning champs - the Tucson Saguaros. Tuscon swept the Trinindad Triggers in a best-of-three series and finished with an outstanding 55-15 overall record.

This was the Saguaros' first season of existence, no less, meaning Miller's signature will surely sweeten their pursuit of a repeat title in Summer 2017.

"Clay was the best player there, and actually the best pitcher and the best hitter, which is very unusual," J.D. Droddy, former Triggers manager from 2013 through '14, and most recently the Saguaros' manager in 2016, said in a phone call Tuesday morning.

"I surely understand why the Royals drafted him out of high school," the club's director of baseball operations added in the aforementioned release.

"One thing that's going to be good for us and, in some ways, good for him," Droddy noted in Tuesday's conversation, "we use National League rules and our pitchers hit. And I expect that he'll be used as a pinch-hitter a lot when he's not pitching. I did that last year, had a right-hander who hit left-handed, who was the fourth-best hitter on the team. I expect that's probably what's going to happen with Clay also."

Having completed the infamous Tommy John surgical process and rehabilitation, Clay Miller's new digs will be Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium (maximum capacity 11,500) within Kino Sports Complex - where the Dec. 16-18 combine was held, sitting four miles south of Hi Corbett Field, the Rockies' former spring-training site. "It's a great place to play," said Droddy, who didn't disclose details regarding Miller's compensation, "and we're looking forward to having him; he seems to be fully recovered. He's throwing hard, got good stuff, and I'm looking forward to him making a big impact with our team."

"Sometimes a guy comes off Tommy John and he throws harder than he did before," he continued. "The day of our tryout he was throwing consistently at 89 - and that's off-season, on a cold, damp, windy day! I expect him to be throwing 92 to 93, 94, possibly during the regular season. That's hard for a left-hander - with a few exceptions, Aroldis Chapman, Randy Johnson, and I don't know why, but that's just the case."

Joining Tucson and Trinidad in the Pecos League this season will be the White Sands (Alamogordo, N.M.) Pupfish, Roswell (N.M.) Invaders, Alpine (Texas) Cowboys, Santa Fe (N.M.) Fuego, Salina (Kan.) Stockade, Garden City (Kan.) Wind, High Desert (Adelanto, Calif.) Yardbirds, Bakersfield (Calif.) Train Robbers, California City (Calif.) Whiptails and Monterey (Calif.) Amberjacks.

The Las Cruces, N.M., Vaqueros, however, will miss 2017 due to a badly-damaged Apodoca Park home.

DID YOU KNOW: In the Pecos' all-time standings, amongst teams with more than one season completed, Roswell's .631 winning percentage (273-159) going into 2017 is tops, with Alpine's .598 (255-171) second and Trinidad's .555 (149-119) third. Tucson's inaugural summer, however, yielded a .786 figure - the best-ever mark when including all crews, regardless of life span, since play began in 2011.

Former Bayfield pitcher Clay Miller, seen throwing at old Wolverine Field as a senior in spring 2013, this week signed his first professional baseball contract. Enlargephoto

Times file photo by Joel Priest

Former Bayfield pitcher Clay Miller, seen throwing at old Wolverine Field as a senior in spring 2013, this week signed his first professional baseball contract.