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Tommy Milone: Atypical Tommy

Saugus High graduate Tommy Milone is taking a different approach to the big leagues

Posted: February 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 3, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Tommy Milone, a 2005 Saugus High graduate, was named the 2010 Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Washington Nationals. Milone, a left-hander, has had tremendous success at every level of baseball, despite relying on command rather than speed.

Tommy Milone is setting himself up for one of those classic baseball stories.

While some players ride a rocket to the Major Leagues, there are gobs of others who aren't supposed to be there, yet they make it anyway.

Well, Milone is different.

The Saugus graduate should have been a college baseball player, yet almost didn't get the opportunity.

Maybe he shouldn't have been a professional baseball player, yet he is.

And with a mid-80s fastball, he certainly isn't supposed to become a Major Leaguer.

But it's getting more and more possible that he will be.

"I think the hard thing for people in baseball to quantify is a guy who doesn't show you velocity," says Washington Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris. "Over the course of history, it's a difference maker. But with a lefty, you can throw a lot of that out the window. (Milone is) well on his way to being a big leaguer."

Last season, the Saugus High graduate who was the valley's most dominant player in 2005, was named the Nationals Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

How the heck does a kid who doesn't rank on any list of top prospects, whose fastball doesn't hit 90 MPH, get named an organization's top pitcher?

"I think people often doubt Tommy because he doesn't throw 95, he isn't vocal, but what he goes out there and does is gets people out," Harris says. "He's a winner."

And always has been.

Milone still wasn't overpowering as a senior at Saugus in 2005, yet he was 9-2 with a 1.04 ERA.

He was also the Foothill League's best hitter with a .474 average with seven home runs.

His May 13 performance against Canyon still stands as one of the greatest of any athlete in any sport in Santa Clarita Valley history.

He not only hit a home run in the game, but he pitched a perfect game, with 17 of his final 18 pitches being strikes.

"I remember not really knowing what was going on," Milone says. "I think about the fourth or fifth inning I figured it out. ... No one sat next to me in the dugout.

"It was pretty cool because after the game I went up to my dad and he was speechless. He didn't know what to say to me after the game."

Yet Milone wasn't getting tremendous interest from universities.

He says there were a couple of schools who called, but many wanted him to walk on.

"Colleges weren't really that interested. I don't know if they didn't see the potential hitting or pitching to make next level," Milone says. "They didn't see what I could become. ... I was hoping someone could take a chance and I could prove the others wrong."

Luckily Milone had a connection.

His first three seasons at Saugus, he played for Casey Burrill, who is currently the head coach at West Ranch High.

In college, Burrill played for Mike Gillespie at USC.

Gillespie, who is considered one of the greatest coaches in Santa Clarita Valley history having guided College of the Canyons to three state titles, was the head coach at USC from 1987 to 2006 and won the 1998 national championship.

Gillespie says Burrill told him about Milone, yet USC was in a bind as it had no more scholarships to offer.

Luckily for Milone, USC pitcher Jack Spradlin opened a door for him.

"We were in a regional (of the NCAA Tournament) at Long Beach State and won and went to the super regional in Oregon State. Spradlin was drafted much higher than we thought (in the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Nationals)," Gillespie says. "We went to Oregon State, lost, showered, got out and got to bus to get to airport. It looked like (Spradlin) would sign. I called Tommy from the bus and asked if he was still available."

That fall, Milone joined USC and in the spring, he made an impact.

In Gillespie's last season with the Trojans, Milone became one of his horses.

He started 16 games and went 7-4 with a 4.94 ERA.

Gillespie says the only knock on Milone was his velocity.

Other than that, Milone was known for being quiet.

But he always has and continues to be.

But that's not a knock.

Milone says it's a trust factor - he needs to know you before he opens up.

"Because he's a smart guy who is poised and he's really quiet, in being so quiet it's hard to know him and therefore know how competitive he is," Gillespie says. "You have to be with him every day and see him pitch a lot to realize he's anything but afraid. He's tough. He does not get rattled. He has a very even disposition and maintains that demeanor if things are good or things go bad. These things never show up in the stats. The Nationals are realizing what they got now."

Milone was selected in the 10th round of the 2008 draft.

After going 1-6 with a 3.51 ERA in his first minor league season, the 23-year-old, soon to be 24, has posted back-to-back 12-5 campaigns.

What jumps out are Milone's numbers.

An 86 to 89 MPH fastball that scraped 90 a couple of times.

That's still up from the mid-80s at USC and the low 80s at Saugus.

Despite those numbers, he's able to put up these impressive ones - in 368 1/3 career minor league innings, he has struck out 310 batters and walked just 68.

He's been able to do it with a plus curve ball and plus changeup that Harris says he commands, not controls - the difference being he can locate in and out of the strike zone.

He was 12-5 in Double-A Harrisburg in 2010, with a 2.85 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 158 innings.

And despite those numbers, Baseball America, the sport's most respected data and rating publication, doesn't rank him within the Nationals' top 10 prospects.

On top of that, he didn't receive an invite to Major League Spring Training camp.

Harris says he doesn't usually call prospects to inform them that they aren't going to big league camp, but he felt the need to with Milone.

"He understands that this is not an indication that (we don't consider him a Major League prospect)," Harris says. "(When I called) Tommy, he said, ‘That's fine.' Typical Tommy."

Milone says he doesn't know how much he has to prove to people anymore.

If you listen to Gillespie and Harris, he doesn't have to prove that much.

Milone, who will likely begin the season in Triple-A, thinks he does have something to prove - he has to prove people wrong.

"It's the same thing over and over. The same question is (I won't get there) because I don't throw that hard, when is he going to shut down, or flame out, when is this going to end?'" Milone says. "I don't think it's going to end. Hopefully people that think I can't make it I can prove them wrong."



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