Within just days of waiting in anxious anticipation ahead of the 2022 MLB draft, then signing his name on the dotted line with the Detroit Tigers, Penn baseball graduate Joe Miller flew out to the Tigers’ spring training complex in Florida with only business on his mind — but not with a dream of sitting behind a heavy desk, dressed in a pressed suit, and being addressed as “general manager.” Rather, he’s suiting up with resolute full-focus to prove that the only place he belongs at the moment is on the mound.
The left-handed pitcher graduated from Wharton this past spring, and now joins Detroit’s college-heavy MLB draft class as an 11th round, and 327th overall pick. He has shed the Red and Blue after an immense season with the Quakers, but finds it more difficult to peel away the Banana yellow as he learns to handle the fickle ride of life as a rookie in professional baseball.
Congratulations on being drafted with the Detroit Tigers! How are you doing? How have the past few weeks been?
“Thank you. It was stressful at first, I would say, when it all started — during the draft, waiting, kind of seeing how things are gonna play out. And when it happened, it was awesome. I was very excited. It's something that I've been preparing for, training for, almost my whole life, and it was a huge goal of mine."
"It's only a part of the things I want to accomplish in my life, but it was a big step for me. And my parents were super excited, and to see them excited meant a lot to me. It was very, very overwhelming, and exciting at first, but it is a business, so you kind of get right into it."
Before the first picks are even called, how clear of an idea do you have of where you will be after the draft?
"It's a little different now. I still have eligibility left, so there was a possibility I still could have gone back to college if I didn't get drafted. But it is hectic, and the draft’s been getting shorter and shorter the last couple of years too."
"It is tricky with how it works, and it's stressful. It goes on a course of over a couple of different days, so you kind of lose sleep on some of those nights, you know, seeing how things are going over."
As a Quaker, Miller was the local talent who grew up playing in Hatboro, Pa., just an hour's drive north from Penn’s campus. But his Tigers contract is not the first time his baseball career will take him across the country. Miller is perhaps more recognizable as the pitcher who threw that one summer for the Savannah Bananas. He was introduced on the MLB’s official site with a headline reading, “Tigers go Bananas on Day 3 of Draft,” and reactions by Tigers fans on Twitter were both impressed and amused of his former Banana days.
Now that you’re officially part of the Tigers’ organization, how have they welcomed you and helped you settle into what will be one intense journey in your baseball career?
"They flew me down — flew all the draft picks down to the spring training complex, which is in Lakeland, Florida. We just kind of open-train together as a group — introducing us to the throwing program, and the practice plan, and lifting plan — things like that, so they can get us onboard and get us accustomed to how the organization does things. So it's kind of been what my last week has been."
"Hopefully, we’ll all be on some affiliated teams soon and start playing some games, but it’s just been an on-ramping process so far, and it's been exciting."
Looking at some of the other picks by the Tigers; ahead of you, there was someone named Jake Miller, who is also a LHP. And then behind you was another Joe — Joe Adametz, who is also a LHP. Are you perhaps already setting plans to become the best left-handed Miller, or the best left-handed Joe in this year's draft class for the Tigers?
"Definitely, my goal is always to be the best version of myself. But it has been kind of funny being here — I throw every day actually with Jake Miller, so the coaches are all confused. They're like, you know, we're gonna give you guys a nickname or something because there's like, two or three Joe's, two Miller's. Kind of tough to call me by my name. We've got like three guys turning their heads thinking it's them, but it's kind of funny to see what we got here actually. It's worked out so far, so good."
For the first time since 2013, the Tigers chose to source all 19 of their draft picks from the college level. Miller is joined by picks who spent their spring seasons with the top college baseball programs in the country: first-round pick second baseman Jace Jung from Texas Tech as a much-needed boost to offense, second-round pick shortstop Peyton Graham from Oklahoma, and Tennessee outfielder Seth Stephenson.
I’ve read that Detroit was pretty bold to go college-heavy in this year’s draft. What are your thoughts on the perceptions of college ball by MLB teams, and the role that college plays now in many prospective professional athletes’ careers?
"I think it's kind of by organization to organization. Not to speak on what I think Detroit's philosophy is, but I think certain teams need certain things at certain times. There is a level of experience that goes with having played three, four, five years — however many years some of the guys around here played in college, and that might make the transition a little quicker, a little easier in a way."
"If you're just out of high school, and you're 18 years old … it may take you a little while to get acclimated. You're still very young. I mean, I couldn't imagine myself at that age doing this, going through all this. I was maybe a little immature, and I think a lot of that maturity in that process came through going into college."
Miller is no stranger to maturing in his skills as well; both on his own, and under the direction of coaches. Before the abbreviated spring season of 2021, Penn coach John Yurkow noted how far Miller had grown since freshman year; from being more of a thrower who focused only on pure power, to then developing a robust nuance to his pitches under the guidance of Penn's coaching staff.
The last time you spoke with us was in April of 2021, and you spoke of your growth since freshman year, saying: ‘I think I’m a completely different player than I was when I got here.’
And coach Yurkow agreed, that ‘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. I also think it’s really helped him improve his secondary pitches like his changeup and his slider as well.'
"I would say I’m honestly completely different from when I said ‘I'm completely different.’ Kind of funny how that works."
Since then, do you believe that you have achieved goals you had set for yourself then, and have your goals changed or been elevated now that you’re with the Tigers?
"I think last year, around the time the interview was, we started to play the short season we had, and it went terribly for me … I did really bad. But I think part of that failure, I learned from it over last summer, and then over the season this spring at Penn, and our coaches helped me out a lot with that, and I'd say going through that helped me get better and, you know, put me in a position to get drafted this year."
"Whether it was like my mental game or my delivery, and drills I worked on with Coach Schwartz, I think all of it’s really helped me out a lot and helped me develop. Because I think part of baseball, and part of life in general, is setting goals, and it's always changing. Once you kind of reach where you want to be, there's another level to it."
With a Wharton education, it also seems like you'll be a good fit for perhaps a front office role as well. There's been this column predicting that you would become the Tigers president and general manager by '2042.' Are you up for that job?
"I mean, it's definitely not what I would focus on now."
"I really do enjoy baseball. I think if I want to, when I'm done playing, I would like to stay around the game in some aspects. And if it comes to that point, and I want to start working in the front office, I would, but I think my focus now is fully on being a baseball player and developing as much as I can — making it to the pros. I know that I do have the education; that's something that I'm happy that I have. But like, right now, I think it's time for me to just play and focus on the playing aspect of everything."
You must be meeting a lot of new people within the Tigers organization. I’m curious whether people first recognize you as, ‘Oh, the former Savannah Banana.'
"A little bit. Definitely it's been the first couple of days, and there was also the article predicting I was going to be the GM. I was meeting a lot of people and that was kind of the joke going around like, 'Oh, there's the GM,' or like, 'Oh, there's the Banana.' Generally, it's all fun and games. A lot of people, I guess, are very curious about the whole Savannah thing, and I tell them about it. I mean, it was some of the most fun I've ever had, so I'm going to share that story and everything. But I mean, the GM thing too comes up, and I let everyone know I'm here to play baseball."
What are your thoughts on the team you'll be leaving behind in Penn Baseball?
"I think that they're in good hands going forward. I think the coaches have kind of set the new standard we wanted to set. It was really disappointing how it ended for us, but I think we were successful; we set the school record for wins and things like that, and I wish we could have won the Ivy League. But all in all, it was probably one of the most fun I've ever had, and I really made so many great friends throughout the process, especially the guys in my grade."
"There's a lot of young guys that are there now that I think will keep the program in good hands. I think there's some guys that have to step up here and there, and then there are some guys that know their role and will be okay."
"I think I'm pretty happy that we changed things for the better and left the program in a better place, and I think that's all we could ask for."
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