Mitchell High teammates may give Tampa Bay a leg up in MLB draft

If Jackson Miller and Mason Miller are picked this week, they will become the highest-drafted players in program history.
Mitchell High School's Mason Miller, left, and Jackson Miller, right.
Mitchell High School's Mason Miller, left, and Jackson Miller, right. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 10, 2020|Updated Jun. 10, 2020

Jackson Miller and Mason Miller took very different paths to this week’s MLB draft, but the former Mitchell High standouts have been together every step of the way.

Jackson, a left-handed hitting catcher, drew attention from college scouts early on and committed to Wake Forest as a freshman.

Mason, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher, committed to Florida Gulf Coast, but it wasn’t until the summer before his senior year when his tools all came together.

Now they could become the highest-drafted players to come out of Mitchell and the first teammates from the school to get taken — an even bigger accomplishment since this year’s draft has been shortened from 40 to five rounds.

Mitchell catcher Jackson Miller is as good behind the plate as he is swinging the bat.
Mitchell catcher Jackson Miller is as good behind the plate as he is swinging the bat. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

Baseball America ranked Jackson as the 99th-best prospect in this year’s draft class. Mason is ranked 108th.

Currently the highest pick to come out of Mitchell is Twins reliever Tyler Clippard, selected in the ninth round by the Yankees in 2003. Left-hander Patrick Schuster was drafted in the 13th round by Arizona in 2009. Right-hander Cobi Johnson is the only other Mitchell player to be taken, in the 35th round by San Diego in 2014.

“It’s such a unique year,” Mitchell baseball coach Howard Chittum said. “But they have some pretty good schools as a fallback plan. For both of them, if they don’t get drafted where they want or they don’t get drafted, there’s an uptick to that, and by their junior years, they’re just going to get better.”

Jackson and Mason, who aren’t related, have played together since they were 13 as teammates on the Kangaroo Court youth team run by Jackson’s father, Jason, out of New Port Richey.

This spring, they had high hopes for winning a state title as seniors. But their season ended after just seven games — all wins — due to the pandemic. Mason pitched in just three games before the season ended, hitting a home run in what would be his final high school at-bat in a 5-1 win over Fivay.

Mason Miller, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher, committed to Florida Gulf Coast.
Mason Miller, a 6-foot-3 left-handed pitcher, committed to Florida Gulf Coast. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]

“Some of us will get to continue to play baseball and some of us won’t, but we won’t have the opportunity to play again as a group,” Jackson Miller said. “That’s the part of it that’s really hard, playing with the neighborhood kids. That’s something that’s taken away that you’ll never get back.”

Even after the season was cancelled, Jackson continued to train at his father’s facility, the Courthouse Athletic Center in Oldsmar. Mason kept his arm loose by throwing every day and twice-a-week bullpen sessions.

Now, they enter a situation that’s even more uncertain. The minor league baseball season could be canceled, so if they do turn pro, their first season will be an unusual one.

“You still jump-start your path to the major leagues,” Mason Miller said. “So you have the opportunity to get into that system and work your butt off, and it gives you more time to show them what you’re capable.”

Mason struck out 21 of the 46 batters he faced this season, but he broke out as a draft prospect the summer before his senior season. A 12-strikeout, six-inning performance at the World Wood Bat Association showcase in Georgia earned him an invitation to the East Coast Pro showcase in Alabama, where he showed a low-90s fastball and plus-curveball that’s rare for high school left-handers.

“I used to be a really wild pitcher, and over the past two years I really honed in on and have been able to throw a lot more strikes,” Mason Miller said. “Overall, it was just maturity and learning my body. When I was younger, I used to think I had to throw it through the catcher to get everybody out, but as I grew up I realized you don’t need to do that. Just stay within yourself and let your stuff do what it does.”

Jackson also possesses rare traits that pro scouts love as a left-handed-hitting catcher with polished tools behind the plate. Perfect Game ranks him the third-best high school catcher in the country.

While they would have preferred an accomplishment they could have shared with their Mitchell teammates, Jackson said getting drafted still could be important for the program.

“There’s kids in my neighborhood, and I live like two minutes away from the high school, who will choose to go to Jesuit or Calvary or Berkeley or wherever because they don’t think the program at Mitchell is all that,” Jackson said. “But I think with this it could really open people’s eyes so that when they’re in seventh our eighth grade and they’re deciding where they should go to high school, it should be an easy decision. They should go to their local high school, because they’re going to get a really good program.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at Follow @EddieInTheYard.