Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller have been linked for nearly their entire professional careers. They were back-to-back first round selections for the Detroit Tigers, with Maybin going 10th in the 2005 MLB draft and Miller sixth in 2006, and they were packaged together in a deal that would change the fortunes of both teams involved just a year later.
Now, both players are attempting to jump start careers that never got off of the ground as expected in either Detroit or in Florida, their second home together. Monday night, those linked paths will cross once more, as Miller takes the mound for the Red Sox in his first major league start of 2011 to face Maybin's new club, the San Diego Padres -- for the first time in pro ball, these two will be opponents, rather than teammates with a similar destiny.
Maybin got his start the same year Miller did, playing for Single-A West Michigan in the Midwest League as a 19-year-old. He drew comparisons to one of the most exciting ballplayers of the 1980s, Eric Davis, with his expansive tool set, and was expected to be an anchor in the Detroit outfield for years to come because of it. Maybin's first taste of the majors came in 2007, although he didn't prove deserving of this fast-paced promotion, hitting just .143/.208/.265 in 53 plate appearances.
Miller started his career a level above Maybin at High-A Lakeland, and threw just five innings before the Tigers plopped him into their bullpen in the majors. It wasn't meant to be a permanent home for him, but was instead Detroit's way of fortifying their pen down the stretch as they attempted to extend their season into October. It wasn't a successful experiment, and neither was their attempt to use the left-hander as a starter in 2007 -- shocking, that, given he had all of 83 minor league innings under his belt.
An opportunity to acquire Miguel Cabrera and his fantastic bat came along in the winter of 2007, but a talent like that has a serious cost. Not only did the Tigers have to give up both Maybin and Miller, but they also sent a slew of assorted other (Burke Badenhop, Eulogio de la Cruz, Mike Rabelo, and Dallas Trahern) along. Of course, the Tigers also believed they were getting a pitcher to replace Miller in the deal, as they inked Dontrelle Willis, who was packaged with Cabrera, to a three-year, $29 million extension just weeks after the trade (but that's a story for another day).
The Marlins, who were so obsessed with young, inexpensive pre-arbitration players that maybe Chris Hansen needed to start investigating them instead of Forbes, were in just as much of a rush as the Tigers to get Miller and Maybin on the major league roster. The lefty Miller made 19 starts and one relief appearance for the Marlins, playing in just six games in the minors, and Maybin, while he spent most of the year Double-A, was in the bigs for eight games.
Miller was a mess, continuing to show very little command or control in the majors, and not being given the opportunity to work out those problems against minor league hitters. Essentially, Miller was taken out of college and thrown into the majors, with an occasional respite against minor league hitters that he may not have been ready for either -- he was never given the chance to find out, given how quickly the Tigers threw him into (and kept him in) the mix in the majors. The story of 2008 carried over into 2009 and 2010 for him as well, with Miller being converted to a part-time reliever. No matter the role, the strike zone was myth to him, as he wasn't punching out many hitters, and walked nearly as many as that.
Maybin never got a real chance at the majors, as he was constantly bounced up and down between the Fish and their minor league affiliates. Over the course of three years, Maybin played in just 144 games with the Marlins, hitting .257/.323/.391 for them. That's not great -- in fact, it's a below-average OPS+ of 88 -- but given his youth and what seemed like the Marlins total indifference to his development at times, it's hard to envision a scenario where it would have been.
Maybin was sent packing to the Padres this past winter in exchange for two relievers, Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb, who are promising and productive, but ultimately are still just middle relievers. At least the Padres admitted there was value to him, though: Miller was dealt to Boston for a left-hander that may not even have a career as a LOOGY. Being traded for Dustin Richardson straight up is the baseball equivalent of, "We're not mad ... we're just disappointed." This move meant that reliever Burke Badenhop was the last man standing from the Cabrera mega-deal of just three seasons prior.
Maybin was slotted in as the everyday center fielder in San Diego, and has flourished in the role. As with all San Diego hitters, it's tough to tell from just looking due to Petco Park's anti-offense policy, but his .266 True Average, 106 OPS+ and .293/.343/.505 road line say a lot more than his overall numbers. His defense is as good as advertised, as well: San Diego hasn't missed Tony Gwynn's glove in center nearly as much as was expected -- instead, it was Maybin's leather they missed when he was placed on the DL earlier in the year.
Miller is making his first start back in the majors tonight, but he has also undergone a potential metamorphosis. While he started the year with the same absurd walk rates he was known for, a new approach and emphasis on attacking the strike zone has reversed his fortunes. In his final 25-1/3 innings and four starts for Triple-A Pawtucket, Miller struck out 26 hitters and walked just four. A June 15 opt-out clause in his contract sped up the promotion process, but it's hard to think he has much left to learn at Triple-A after his recent starts.
Miller now throws a simulated inning before his starts, in order to work out the kinks and go over the things he needs to do -- like attack the strike zone, avoid nibbling, and what to do with the specific lineup in question -- and the results have been excellent in the minors. Whether that translates to the majors for Andrew Miller is something we will start to learn as soon as tonight, in that start against his former teammate and fellow (possible) resurgent, Cameron Maybin.