Name: Tom Milone
Date of Birth: February 16, 1987
Milone was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2008. He was the 9th selection of the 10th Round (#301 overall) out of the University of Southern California. USC has been producing Major League talent for years, a group which includes Ian Kennedy, Barry Zito, Mark Prior, Randy Johnson, Aaron Boone, Mark McGwire, Fred Lynn, and Dave Kingman – just to name a few. Milone is one of three players from his draft class to reach the Major Leagues thus far, joining Danny Farquhar (Toronto) and Robbie Weinhardt (Detroit).
Within a week of the draft, Milone had signed his first professional contract at the age of 21 and had been assigned to the Vermont Lake Monsters, Washington’s affiliate in the Low-A NY-Penn League. Milone appeared in 6 games, including 3 starts, and pitched a total of 21.2 innings for Vermont. He went 1-3 during that span, with a 4.57 ERA, 1.2 BB/9, and 9.1 K/9.
With an impressive handle on controlling his pitches, Milone soon found himself promoted to Hagerstown to finish his first professional season. He’d make 7 more starts for the Suns, posting a 0-3 record, 2.89 ERA, 1.4 BB/9, and 6.5 K/9 over 37.1 innings of work. He limited the hits in the season’s second half, and didn’t allow a single home run after his promotion midseason.
With a promotion to High-A Potomac to begin the following season, he would solidify and lead a rotation with a solid 12-5 record in 25 starts. The left-hander added a 2.91 ERA, 2.1 BB/9, and 6.3 K/9 over 151.1 innings. Once again, strong command was quickly becoming Milone’s calling card.
The 2010 season proved to be a big step forward. Again Milone found himself promoted another level to begin the season, this time joining Double-A Harrisburg. He didn’t disappoint, once again repeating his 12-5 record while making 27 starts and pitching 158.0 innings. He’d add a 2.85 ERA, 1.3 BB/9, 0.5 HR/9, and 8.8 K/9. He’d be named the organization’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year at season’s end.
2011 once again proved Milone to be a model on consistency. He began the season with Triple-A Syracuse, posting a 12-6 record while making 24 starts (148.1 innings). His ERA rose slightly, to 3.22, but so too did his K/9 rate, to 9.4. More importantly, however, Milone had continued to dominate minor league opposition and earned himself a trip to Washington before the season concluded.
Milone joined the Nationals as rosters expanded on September 1st. He would make his first start two days later, allowing 4 runs on 6 hits over 4.1 innings in an 8-7 Nationals victory over the Mets. Milone would not factor in the decision. In all he’d make 5 starts over the season’s final month, going 1-0 with a 3.81 ERA, 1.4 BB/9, and 5.2 K/9.
Top Prospect Rankings
Baseball America (Top 10): Unranked
MLB.com (Top 10): Unranked
FanGraphs (Top 15): Unranked
Seedlings to Stars (MLB Top 100): #60 overall, 5th out of 7 Nationals to make the list
DoD Editor Aaron Somers (Top 15): 8th
DoD Staff Writer Michael Natelli (Top 15): 13th
DoD Staff Writer Andrew Flax (Top 15): 6th
Thanks to Nathaniel at S2S:
Milone has a big time changeup that can miss bats, and while his fastball only comes in at 86-90 MPH, he locates it so well that he’s almost always ahead in the count and avoids walks. If he can have league average homer and strikeout rates with these super-low walk rates, he’s already an efficient mid-rotation starter who can eat a ton of innings, as the early returns on his MLB performance indicate. If more of his Triple-A strikeouts come with him, he could be the next Mark Buehrle.
Command has absolutely become Milone’s calling card to date. He doesn’t walk batters, holding a career minor league mark of 1.5 BB/9 in 516.2 innings. That’s only 84 walks in that span, versus 465 strikeouts.
In the 2011 season, for example he finished with a remarkable 155/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio. For a point of comparison that helps illustrate how impressive those numbers are, let’s look at the players above and below Milone in the hunt for the International League’s strikeout title. Chicago’s Alex Torres finished in 1st, with one more strikeout than Milone, and he walked 83 batters. Detroit’s Andy Oliver was 3rd, 12 strikeouts behind Milone, and he walked 80 batters.
The lack of velocity is often concerning to most scouts and members of the bigger media outlets. Just look at where he ranked on the various top prospect lists cited above. Yet, thus far superior command and a strong changeup have allowed Milone to pitch through the lack of velocity, and the lack of respect in most prospect circles. He’s going to need to continue developing his secondary pitches, however, if he’s going to truly develop into a quality major league starter. Command and his changeup are really his only weapons presently.
2012 and Beyond Expectations
It would seem that Milone probably doesn’t have much more to prove in the minor leagues, having shown an impressive level of consistency over the past three seasons while advancing through the Nationals system. In a brief September cameo he also seemed to hold his own, though he did not pitch deep into any of those games. Milone appears ready to battle for a spot in the team’s starting rotation next Spring.
However, therein lies a problem, as the Nationals currently have seven viable starters but only five spots in the rotation. Milone may be one of the “odd men out” in that situation, mainly because he still has options remaining and is not as high-priced as some of the alternatives – two factors that shouldn’t work against him but may.
Milone may find himself back in the minor leagues for a period of time during the 2012 season, but sooner rather than later he’ll find himself pitching in Washington once again. Milone has most often been compared to Buehrle, a pitcher the Nationals sought heavily this offseason but failed to land. In time, Milone could be their own Buehrle, at a lower cost and with an already established following from this fan base.