Nobody expects to remain the same player after they transition from one level to the next, but Joe Miller's game has undergone a significant revitalization since he's arrived at Penn.
Hailing from Hatboro, Pa., the junior pitcher is known for having a solid changeup and slider and has become a leader for Penn baseball as he’s progressed in his time with the program. During his freshman year, Miller earned a 4-1 record, and in his sophomore season, he had a 3.00 ERA in just two starts before the season was abruptly cancelled due to COVID-19.
At La Salle College High School, Miller helped lead his team to a Philadelphia Catholic League championship and garnered a first-team All-Philadelphia Catholic League nomination his senior year. It was only his sophomore year, though, that Miller considered a serious future in baseball.
“I had a coach at the time, and he started running a private facility, and I started actually training and lifting weights and practicing every single day outside of just playing high school baseball,” Miller said.
From that point on, the southpaw pitcher saw a marked improvement in his game, and with it came interest from prospective colleges such as Penn.
In his junior year of high school, Miller took a visit to Penn and coach John Yurkow saw a prospect who he felt could be molded into a very successful player on the team.
“I was looking back at some old pictures the other day when he was a junior and he took a visit to Penn,” Yurkow said. “It’s funny to see how much he’s changed, how much stronger he is. He looked like a little kid, looking back on that picture. Any time you see left-handed pitchers that are that athletic, even if they’re a little bit on maybe the shorter side, we felt like it was a good opportunity to see if we could make it happen with Joe.”
After committing to Penn, Miller had the task of upping his game to the caliber of college ball. He found the transition during his freshman year to be fairly smooth, especially given his local roots just outside of Philadelphia.
“Towards the end of my freshman year, I think I really started to put some things together,” Miller said. “Going into the end of the year, I felt like I finished the year pretty well, and then I went away and played summer ball and felt like I was throwing really well and sophomore year was going off to a great start, and I was gonna have the opportunity to start in the conference series on the weekends hopefully.”
His sophomore season’s cancellation proved to be a significant hindrance for Miller, as he was continuing to ramp up his throwing abilities.
“I was probably throwing the best I ever had, which was really frustrating, and obviously, I think it was frustrating for everyone, and just how it happened for us was really tough,” Miller said.
At that point, Miller was left in the same predicament as all other college athletes and was forced to adapt his training at home.
“My dad and I had found some things on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, so I had a little bit of a gym put together in my basement, and a couple of my friends play, my neighbors play college and pro baseball too, so I trained with them, and we all trained with each other, working out in my garage trying to throw live at-bats at home,” Miller said.
Miller also bounced around from league to league over the summer and the fall, as he was looking for a way to stay fresh. Eventually, he ended up in a league for college baseball players who also had their seasons cancelled. Miller said that they were pretty much just scrimmages, but that they were a good way to get some reps in and face some hitters.
In his shortened junior season, Miller has started twice so far, but sees the rest of this year and potentially the next as good opportunities to gauge whether or not there might be interest in him during the MLB Draft.
The possibility of an MLB transition comes after a substantial uptick in the quality of Miller’s game. Yurkow describes Miller’s high school abilities as being a bit less refined.
“I think he was more of a thrower, like a lot of high school kids are, where they just try to rear back and throw the ball as hard as they can,” Yurkow said.
At Penn, though, Miller made a conscious effort to try and amend that aspect of his game.
“I think I have pushed myself a lot in high school and since I’ve been here to get better and to become a better player,” Miller said. “I think I’m a completely different player than I was when I got here. I had to work pretty hard to change my game and focus on a lot of things that I still need to work on so that I can provide for the team.”
Specifically speaking, Yurkow sees a player now that has a much more streamlined delivery.
“I thought Coach Schwartz did a really good job trying to simplify his delivery over the past couple of years, and I think it’s helped his command, as far as being able to locate his fastball a lot better,” Yurkow said. “I also think it’s really helped him improve his secondary pitches like his changeup and his slider as well.”
These and other changes have helped Joe Miller become a key player on Penn baseball, as he hones his game even more day by day.