CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – At the mall last summer, Andrew Miller bought a three-pack of silicone bracelets. For a 21-year-old, he has a propensity to purchase ridiculous items, like cap guns and Velcro tennis-ball sets, and when he opened the bag and snaked the blue bracelet, he realized this was no different.
Etched into the right-wrist decoration are the words DR. DESTROY. Now, to Miller's knowledge, Dr. Destroy does not exist – not in comic books, not in sci-fi novels, not even in the Secretary of Defense's office. So before Miller's name is called in Tuesday's Major League Baseball amateur draft (1 p.m. Eastern) – likely as the No. 1 overall pick to Kansas City and possibly down further if his signing-bonus demands scare off teams – may we christen a freshly minted millionaire with a fresh nickname.
"It fits," said North Carolina second baseman Bryan Steed, Miller's roommate. "Especially for left-handed batters. It's not exactly like they're giving up. But they're waving the white flag. They don't want anything to do with him. Their swings are pitiful. And you can't blame them."
No, against Miller it's tough to dole out anything but sympathy and compassion. For the last three years with the Tar Heels, Miller has toyed with college hitters like he's Geoffrey the Giraffe – and, come to think of it, at 6-foot-7 and slender like a swizzle stick, Miller fits that description pretty well.
Of course, Geoffrey does not sling 92-mph two-seam fastballs with shimmy and sliders that confound left-handed hitters and scare right-handed ones. That is Dr. Destroy's domain.
"I don't have a nickname, so I like it," Miller said. "Most people look at the bracelet and think it supports cancer or says Nike or go Tar Heels. No. It says Dr. Destroy."
Miller is trying to stay lighthearted this week, the busiest of his life. First comes the draft and the discussion of a signing bonus starting at $5.5 million and escalating toward $8 million regardless of where he's picked. Then, with millions hanging over his head and his new team glued to the TV, Miller pitches for the Tar Heels in a super regional for the chance to advance to the College World Series.
"You can see why we like him," Royals scouting director Deric Ladnier said. "He has won games. And I still think there's some projection with him."
The allure of Miller is that from early on he's mixed that projection with production.
He sprung into the national scouting spotlight as a junior in high school at Buchholz High in Gainesville, Fla. No one could touch him in summer showcase events, and Miller climbed to the top of the 2003 prospect class. Control issues dropped him during his senior year, and Miller slipped to the third round, where Tampa Bay chose him. Miller wanted $2.5 million to sign, the Devil Rays barely bothered negotiating and Miller went off to Chapel Hill, down the road from his girlfriend, Katie Roark, a soccer player at Duke.
As a freshman, he struck out a batter an inning, yet it wasn't until that summer in the Cape Cod League that Miller unleashed a true Dr. Destroy moment.
It was a foggy night. Miller started the game for the Chatham A's and struck out the side in the first inning. He did the same in the second inning. Seven, eight and nine went down by strikeout. And in the fourth inning, Miller continued the impossible.
Twelve batters, 12 strikeouts.
"And the umpires called the game," Miller said. "Fog. Amazing that a game that didn't even make it into the books is what I'm remembered for."
Not just that game. Baseball America named Miller the top summer-league player last season, even though he throws only a fastball and slider, and anointed him the No. 1 pick for 2007. And that was before Miller started to rein in his fastball, which, in seasons past, rested at 95 mph without control as opposed to a put-it-anywhere 92 mph.
"He figured that out after last year," Tar Heels coach Mike Fox said. "He knows he can throw a cutter and get a ground ball on the first pitch. Most power guys want to strike people out. All we kept circling were the walks and hit by pitches. He wasn't giving up a hit an inning. The only reason he got beat is because he was giving the other team freebies."
No longer. With a win in the regional tournament last weekend, Miller is 12-2 with a 2.26 ERA, His walks are down to 35 in 103 2/3 innings pitched and, even better, he's allowed one home run all season.
"We faced him in fall scrimmages, and you just can't hit his slider," Steed said. "It's hard to describe. It's going 82 mph, and the way it bites at the end. He struck out a guy swinging on a slider that hit his leg."
To all the plaudits, Miller shrugs. He's heard them for years and knows they can fade. He has no celebrations planned today, no champagne-bottle-popping activities scheduled. He'll watch the draft on the Internet. And he'll keep an eye to make sure the bracelet, so snappable, stays in place.
Come to think of it, Miller seems too humble and old-fashioned to carry such a weighty nickname as Dr. Destroy.
So, in Dr. Destroy's place, let's defer the new nickname to Fox, who, obviously, understands how quickly the power structure of a relationship changes when a few million bucks are involved.
"After Tuesday," Fox said, "I'll call him Mr. Miller."
- Andrew Miller
- Tar Heels