Then-23-year-old '08 10th Round pick Tom Milone was named the Washington Nationals' Minor League Pitcher of the Year after a (12-5) 2010 season in which the left-hander walked 23 batters (1.31 BB/9), struck out 155 (8.83 K/9) and posted a 3.02 ERA with a 2.57 FIP. Asked if he felt he was under the radar going into the season, MIlone told reporters at Nats Park last October he felt he might have been, "Maybe a little bit. But it didn't really bother me that much. I just went out there and just threw like I usually do and didn't really let it bother me. I think that kinda helped a little bit, just going out there and pitching, instead of worrying about what other people are saying or when I'm going to get a call-up."
Milone didn't appear on any post season lists of the Nationals' top prospects either, though Baseball America's Aaron Fitt did recognize the USC lefty for having the Best Control in the Best Tools section of last December's list of the Nats' Top 10. Milone attributed his success in 2010 to, "Just keeping the ball low in the zone, throwing a lot of strikes with every pitch, just hitting my spots when I needed to, going out fo the zone when I needed to, and basically just throwing a lot of strikes."
It's been more of the same this season, as Milone's walked just 16 (0.97 BB/9) and K'd 155 (9.40 K/9) in 24 starts and 148.1 IP at Triple-A Syracuse in which he's (12-6) with a 3.22 ERA and 2.24 FIP. On Tuesday afternoon, MLB.com's Bill Ladson (@washingnats) reported on Twitter that the soft-tossing left-hander would be called up to make his MLB debut on Saturday in place of the shut-down Jordan Zimmermann, who reached his innings-limit in his last start. No more remaining under the radar for Milone who'll be the big story until Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound on Tuesday night.
ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick (@JCrasnick) Tweeted in disbelief about Milone Tuesday night, writing, "Lefty Tom Milone, new to #Nationals rotation, has 310 K's and 39 BBs over past 2 minor league seasons. That's not a misprint." When Nats' Skipper Davey Johnson discussed the potential call-up earlier this month, the 15-year-veteran manager praised the left-hander for having, "... done a great job down there [at Triple-A Syracuse], he's probably been if not the best, one of the best pitchers in the International League."
In Minor League Ball's John Sickels' profile of Milone earlier this season, he wrote that the reason the left-hander doesn't show up on most prospect lists is simple,"... because he doesn't throw hard,":
"... his fastball is just in the 85-87 range, hitting 88-89 on his very best days. Despite the lack of velocity, the fastball is an effective pitch for him due to the contrast with his plus-quality changeup, a good cutter, and a solid-to-above-average curve. His command is obviously terrific, he has mound presence, and a consistent habit of exceeding the expectations of scouts."
How will Milone's high-80's fastball, change, cutter and curve play in the majors? The 24-year-old lefty will have the first opportunity to test himself this Saturday against New York. It hasn't been his stuff, but his control that got him this far, as Chiefs' Skipper Randy Knorr too explained after a typical outing which saw the left-hander strike out ten without issuing a walk earlier this summer. "'I just think he’s got great command of his pitches," the Chiefs' manager told Syracuse.com writer Mike Waters in an article entitled, "Tom Milone notches 10th win of season as Syracuse Chiefs down Gwinnett", "'He commands the ball well and he never gives in and he makes good pitches.'"
After four seasons and 516.2 IP in the Nats' system, Tom Milone's finally going to get his chance with the Nationals. The 6'1'' left-hander will have all September to show what he can do. He's done it at each level of the organization so far in his career. The next step comes on Saturday.