Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo
Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo
Clay Miller enjoys pitching against the best – in the regular season, in the Colorado high school playoffs, in the Connie Mack World Series.
After one more season facing high school hitters, Miller will get his chance to pitch against the best college hitters.
Miller, 18, is an early signee at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, a perennial power in NCAA Division II baseball.
“It’s nice to have the decision made. It’s nice to know where I’m going,” said Miller, who has posted staggering statistics for BHS over the last two seasons.
“Coach (Rob) Coddington from Durango (High School) ... he set me up with (the coaching staff) at Mesa,” Miller said of the DHS head coach and Miller’s Connie Mack coach in the Farmington-based summertime league.
The workout set up by Coddington, along with Miller’s body of work, impressed Colorado Mesa head coach Chris Hanks and his assistants.
“We’re very happy to have Clay,” Hanks said in an interview with The Durango Herald.
“You know, we recruit Arizona, Utah, Colorado ... mostly Colorado. But we also get into Las Vegas and California some. And Clay’s as good a left-hander as we’ve seen,” Hanks said.
“We made every effort to sign him.”
A 1.01 earned-run average in two seasons of high school baseball with 199 strikeouts and only 18 walks raised eyebrows.
“And Clay had an opportunity to ... pitch in the Connie Mack World Series. I think he gained a lot of interest – Division I – after that World Series,” the Colorado Mesa coach said.
The University of New Mexico was among those who courted Miller.
“Once Clay pitched in the Connie Mack World Series, that next week, I started getting calls from several colleges,” said Tom Horton, Miller’s coach at Bayfield High School.
“But Mesa was smart, they got on him early,” Horton said.
“I think he made a good choice for him. His parents will be able to watch him play. Plus, what a program (at Colorado Mesa),” Horton said.
“I believe he can step up at the next level,” Horton said of the lefty, who’s been clocked in the low 90s.
“He has tremendous drive. When it’s time to pitch, it’s all business for him,” Horton said.
“His arm works free and easy. And he’s got arm strength and velocity, which you can’t coach,” said Hanks, who’s regularly led the Mavericks to the NCAA Division II national championship.
“What he’ll need is experience ... innings,” Hanks said. “He’s got to be a little better with his secondary pitches. But he’ll be able to do that. He hasn’t had to develop them to this point.”
Hanks said he’ll get a chance at Colorado Mesa – early.
“As a freshman, he’ll be in there. We’ll try to bring him along gradually ... but I want him to get his feet wet,” said Hanks, whose Mavericks play their home games at Suplizio Field (home of the Grand Junction Rockies minor league team).
“He’ll have to survive some tough times ... that’s the biggest jump from high school (facing a steady diet of experienced, college hitters),” Hanks said.
“Playing on a summer travel (Connie Mack) team helps, but at the end of the day, the college guys are more experienced, stronger,” Hanks said.
“Definitely, I have to work on my secondary pitches,” said Miller, virtually echoing the words of his future coach.
Miller said he visited UNM in Albuquerque and talked to several other colleges.
“But I liked Mesa more than any place else,” Miller said. “I figured it would be a good fit for me.”
Miller said his summer ball was vital in his development the last three years.
“Summer ... was really important. It helped me start to learn how to use my other pitches,” said Miller, son of Mitzi and Robert Miller.
Miller is among six early signees to Colorado Mesa, including Grand Junction Central catcher Kyle Serrano, considered one of the top hitters in Colorado.
Two infielders/brothers from Highland High School in Queen Creek, Ariz., also signed – Kevan and Trevor Elcock.
PJ Gonzalez, an outfielder from Arbor View High School in Las Vegas, signed to play in Grand Junction, and the sixth player is former Grand Junction High School pitcher Alex Kitzman, who currently plays at Otero Junior College in La Junta.
“Clay comes in with some really talented kids,” Hanks said.
“Anytime we can keep kids from Western Colorado here at home, we are excited.”