At the start of the 2011 season, MLB.com unveiled Top 10 prospect lists for all 30 Major League organizations on Prospect Watch. Over the course of the season, those lists changed due to graduations to the big leagues, trades and performances. With the season completed, MLB.com will review how the prospects on those lists fared in 2011.
Any prospect will gladly admit he aspires to earning an in-season promotion. Couple that with the well-worn thought that the jump to Double-A is the toughest to make, and it's very easy to conclude Shelby Miller had a satisfying 2011 season.
The Cardinals' No. 1 prospect not only received a promotion to Double-A, he excelled in the hitting-friendly Texas League. The gloves came off for the 2009 first-rounder and he responded with nearly 140 outstanding innings.
"I think I had a really good year," said Miller, who is 21 years old. "I got promoted to Double-A and was successful at that level. That was the ultimate test this year, getting there and seeing how I was going to perform against better hitters. I learned a lot about how to attack better hitters and about using my offspeed stuff more, becoming a better pitcher overall."
Miller was warned about what pitching in Springfield could be like. Especially after starting the year in the pitching-friendly Florida State League and the huge ballpark in Palm Beach, Miller was told to expect a shock to his system in the Texas League. Then when he first got there, he learned first-hand what could happen if he didn't execute his pitches.
"Everyone told me the ball flies and that it was a hitter's league, that it helps to keep the ball down," said Miller, who also went to his second straight Futures Game in 2011. "I think I saw seven home runs the first game I was there. That was an eye-opener for me. This isn't a pitcher's league. I gave up two homers. That's from me keeping the ball down, keeping hitters off-balance. You have to focus on every single pitch in Double-A."
Those two homers -- four for the season over 139 2/3 total innings -- might be the most impressive stat from a season full of gaudy numbers. Miller adapted quickly to having to use his secondary pitches more instead of relying on his fastball as he did at the lower levels. He learned the benefits of getting quicker outs, allowing him to stay in the game longer. All of this bodes well for what could be a big 2012.
"Double-A was going to be the eye-opener this year, to make me know where I am as a pitcher," Miller said. "It's not the lower levels. Double-A, that's where people say all the best prospects are. The success I've had there, the games I've pitched there, I can take into next season, into Spring Training. Hopefully, it helps me out and I can use it on the field next year. Hopefully, it falls into place and I'm in the big leagues sometime next year."
Top 10 Review
Miller was far from the only top prospect to show upward mobility in 2011. Not including Lance Lynn, who graduated off the list to the big leagues, six of the current Top 10 players earned in-season promotions.
Zack Cox, the 2010 first-rounder, Joe Kelly and John Gast all joined Miller in making that big leap from Class A ball to Double-A, with various levels of success. Jordan Swagerty, taken a round after Cox, was supposed to be a college reliever who could move quickly. While he did make 12 starts, he did live up to expectations, pitching at three levels, closing games for Springfield at season's end.
Behind that group, a pair of exciting international prospects created a good amount of buzz. Carlos Martinez joined Miller at the Futures Game and moved from Quad Cities to Palm Beach in his United States debut. He'll pitch all year in 2012 at age 20.
Cardinals' top 10 prospects
A look at how the A's Top 10 Prospects list looked at the beginning and end of the 2011 season:
Shelby Miller, RHP
Zack Cox, 3B
Carlos Martinez, RHP
Seth Blair, RHP
Jordan Swagerty, RHP
Tyrell Jenkins, RHP
Oscar Taveras, OF
Joe Kelly, RHP
Lance Lynn, RHP
John Gast, LHP
Matt Adams, 1B
Players in bold were removed from the list after reaching the rookie eligibility threshold.
Outfielder Oscar Taveras won't turn 20 until June. Even with a hamstring injury, he showed full-season ball was not difficult for him (.386/.444/.584 in 308 at-bats). He held his own in the Arizona Fall League as one of the youngest players there, perhaps a sign he's ready to join the others mentioned above in moving more quickly through the system in 2012.
Organizational Players of the Year
MLB.com's Preseason Picks
Cox, 3B: It was predicted the 2010 first-round pick would move quickly, compete for a system batting title and even show more power than expected. Cox did hit .306 and earned a promotion to Double-A while collecting 13 homers. Solid, but not quite hitter of the year caliber.
Miller, RHP: Every once in a while, things work out as predicted. Miller was supposed to jump on the fast track in 2011, play at two levels and lead the organization in ERA and strikeouts. OK, so he finished second in the system in ERA, but everything else in that prediction was right on the money.
MLB.com's Postseason Selections
Matt Adams, 1B: Not deterred by a double jump to Double-A, Adams led the system with his 32 homers, finished second with 101 RBIs and ended up fourth with his .300 average. His .566 slugging led the Texas League as well.
Miller: In addition to the aforementioned accomplishments, Miller had a nifty .219 batting average against at two levels, struck out 11 per nine innings and walked a very respectable 3.4 per nine.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.