* Former Blue Jays scout Steve Miller kept tabs on his sign RHP Noah Syndergaard in his first two starts from far away ... the first watching on TV from a seafood restaurant in Cartagena, Colombia, the second from a Marriott buisness centre in Panama City, Panama. ....
By Bob Elliott
HOUSTON _ You know the feeling:
Stuck in traffic ... first pitch moments away ... will you make it in time?
Steve Miller knew the feeling.
Stuck in traffic he wanted to see Noah Syndergaard’s first pitch for the New York Mets last week at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
Except Miller wasn’t in a traffic jam on North Lakeshore or West Addison.
He was in the back seat of a Chevy Tracker in Cartagena, Colombia with Tampa Bay Rays scouts Darwin Maldonado, Alexander Zuñiga, Angel Contreras and his son little Angel Contreras, headed to Inversiones Restaurante Bar Donde Socorro Sea Food SAS restaurant which would televise the Mets-Cubs game.
It was Miller, then as a Jays scout, who found Syndergaard in Mansfield, Tex. and scouting director Andrew Tinnish selected the right-hander 38th over-all in 2010.
“We arrived late, then had problems with the internet,” said Miller, who arrived in time to see “his” guy get Miguel Montero to ground to first to lead off the second. “It was kind of like watching one of your kids.”
Syndergaard, the latest young arm to join Matt Harvey 26, last year’s rookie of the year Jacob deGrom, 27 and Jon Niese, 28 with the contending Mets put up five zeros before Jorge Soler singled to lead off the sixth, Starlin Castro doubled and Chris Coghlan hit a two-run homer to right centre.
“His father texted me about Noah making his first start and I saw it on twitter,” Miller said the other night from an Applebee’s in Dominican Republic where he was scouting for the Rays.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos sent Syndergaard to the Mets as part of the package for R.A. Dickey after the 2012 season.
Would Miller have dealt Syndergaard?
“Tony LaCava (Jays assistant GM) always used to say there are two ways to go about it: either draft big leaguers or draft people you can trade for big leaguers,” said Miller. “Anytime you get the chance to deal for a reigning Cy Young award winner ...
“But I really thought Noah and I would both be with the Jays forever.”
When Brian Parker took over as new scouting director he made changes.
Gone were Darin Vaughan (who covered the lower Midwest), Mike Pesce (Northeast), Bobby Gandolfo (mid Atlantic), Mike Medici (Midwest), Cliff Pastornicky (Alabama and part of Florida), Dan Cox (Hawaii and part of California), Joel Grampietro (part of Florida), Dan Cholowsky (Southwest cross checker) and Miller (Southeast cross checker),
“I haven’t thought anything about (being let go), if you ask ... no one is going to tell,” said Miller, who said Parker called him to inform him of the change.
* * *
The life of a scout can sometimes be romanticized as exciting.
So, there was Miller, a grown man, holed up in the business center at the Courtyard Metromall in Panama City Panama on Sunday afternoon. He watched the Rays beat the Minnesota Twins in Minneapolis and Syndergaard beat the Milwaukee Brewers at New York’s Citi Field at the same time.
An enterprising sort, Miller opened two windows on the computers. He couldn’t see the entire screen, but he focussed on Syndergaard when he was pitching and the Rays game when the Mets were hitting.
Syndergaard pitched six innings allowing one run on three hits and a walk, while striking out five after six innings, leaving with a 5-1 lead which was the final score.
“It was really fun to watch,” Miller said. “I thought he looked great except when that pitch got away and he hit Carlos Gomez.”
Syndergaard hit Gomez with a 96 mph fastball in the ear flap of his helmet leaving a welt on his cheek. Gomez passed the concussion test and hoped to play Monday against Detroit.
Syndergaard shut down the Brewers for five innings allowing one single. After a lead-off single by Luis Sardinas, Syndergaard hit Gomez. One out later, Ryan Braun singled in a run and then the rookie right-hander retired Adam Lind and Aramis Ramirez.
The bullpen did its job and Syndergaard had his first major-league win.
And the two computer screens closed in Panama City.
* * *
Syndergaard was part of the Lansing Trio along with Aaron Sanchez and Justin Nicolino in 2012.
And the year before that they were the Vancouver Trio ... all projected as can’t miss, front of the rotation starters.
Hired by former scouting director Jon Lalonde, Miller had been a college coach. He’d grown up in Oklahoma and been an assistant at Huntington College, Labette, University of Washington, Kansas State, Wichita State, Nicholls State and Central Missouri coaching the likes of Canadians Aaron Myette, Marc Chabot, Jim Ripley and Andrew Dunsmore.
He saw all the Vancouver trio at Nat Bailey Stadium as a Jays scout.
“Like a lot of people I thought Nicolino would come fast,” Miller said. “I loved Sanchez’s stuff, he had some command issues then, but his stuff? Amazing. I loved the delivery and arm action of Noah. They all had the same type ceiling
“And that Noah would get there first. There were concerns about his breaking ball. His curve and slider started to blend. When he started missing it became like power slurve. Now he powers through the slider and the breaking ball is tight.”
Sanchez has made seven starts (3-3, 4.26, issuing a league-leading 29 walks in 38 innings) after a 1.09 ERA in 24 appearances as a reliever last year.
Syndergaard was 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in five starts, fanning 34 in 29 2/3 innings at triple-A Las Vegas.
Nicolino is 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA at triple-A New Orleans in the Miami Marlins system.
It was completely luck that Miller stumbled upon the Mets new ace in his first year covering Texas. Scouting a game in Mexia, just outside of Waco when the start time was pushed back due to wet field conditions causing him and others to miss the double header at North East community college in Chapel Hill.
He asked a friend for help on a number of players and teams.
“Nope, no one there.”
“Not worth the drive.”
And “don’t waste your time,” were some answers he received.
“What about this Snydergrass guy?” Miller asked
“Ah, he’s a college guy, 86-88 MPH, but his name is Syndergaard.”
Looking at his schedule there were only two games Miller could make because of time and distance. He went to a high school game at The Ballpark in Arlington and headed to Mansfield.
“Walking in during the first I saw this big towering guy on the mound,” Miller said. “He was a giant, I looked around and I’m the only scout there. His arm worked well and he was a tick better 86-89 MPH.”
Miller talked to the Mansfield coach and then Syndergaard’s parents. His first question was “why didn’t your son make the Area Code Games team?”
The answer was that in the past 18 months he’d sprouted up from 5-foot-11 to 6-foot-3.
“The surprising thing was he wasn’t like a fawn, he could control his body,” Miller said. “This was the first year Alex had the smaller areas for scouts. That’s why we found him.
“And Noah always pitched Friday night when the best college guys pitched.”
Brandon Mosley, Billy Gasparino, Marc Tramuta, Dana Brown, Perry Minasian, Rob St. Julien and Tinnish to see Syndergaard.
On May 20 in a must-win regional game, Syndergaard had his no-hit bit broken up in the seventh and hit a homer to win it. Jays scouts left thinking “did we see him on his best day ever?”
They went back for his next game and he pitched a no hitter and he “walked off the field like Nolan Ryan,” according to Miller.
Miller was with the Jays for three years drafting Darin Mastroianni and Trystan Magnuson. Former Jays scout Carlos Rodriguez (2006-11) and Miller gave shortstop Adrian Rondon of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican a $2.95 million US bonus to sign with the Rays last summer.
As goodbyes were said on the end of the phone call Miller said the customary “nice talking to you.”
Now that he’s with the Rays he’s allowed to be interviewed, unlike when he was with the Jays and under the cone of silence.