Kyle Muller has the size at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds. He has the stuff, highlighted by a return to the velocity that led him to be a second-round pick in 2016. But he didn't yet have the control in 2019 to make the whole package come together. Now he's got that, too -- along with an award to show for it.
The Braves' No. 12 prospect struck out 17 and allowed one earned run on six hits and four walks over 12 2/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi to capture Southern League Pitcher of the Week honors. It's the first weekly honor of his career, which spans four Minor League seasons.
After a five-start look at Double-A last season, the 21-year-old left-hander returned to the Southern League but struggled with his control to begin 2019. He walked 14 batters over his first three outings back with the M-Braves, including six in a 1 2/3-inning performance on April 19. His 21 walks over 19 innings in April were the most among all Minor Leaguers.
• View the Offensive Players of the Week winners »
But he hasn't walked more than two batters in his last four appearances, and his walk rate has plummeted from 25 percent in April to 8.7 percent over his five appearances in May. After walking two and striking out nine over seven scoreless innings Sunday against Jacksonville, he closed out the season's second month with a 0.81 ERA (fifth-best in the Minors), 0.96 WHIP, 33 strikeouts and 11 walks in 33 1/3 innings in May.
Those improvements came after Muller and the Mississippi coaching staff noticed an issue in his April outings and helped him make the proper adjustments.
"Earlier in the season, he was pulling off a lot of pitches," said Mississippi pitching coach Dennis Lewallyn. "We worked on staying within the delivery and getting to a more consistent release point. If the arm's in the same slot, it's a matter of getting to that release point, and all the pitches become harder to hit. When you're pulling off like he was, it changes the arm slot, and that changes the release point and it all falls apart. Now, he's got the more consistent delivery, and he's working on bringing that to each start."
Video: Braves' Muller gets ninth strikeout
The biggest improvement Lewallyn has seen beyond Muller's ability to pitch in the strike zone has been in the quality of his off-speed stuff. After making a concerted effort to focus on velocity -- including workouts at Driveline this offseason -- the Texas native touched 97 mph on the radar gun with his fastball Sunday and was sitting mostly 93-94, according to his pitching coach. However, the curveball -- considered by MLB.com to be an above-average pitch entering 2019 -- and the changeup weren't fooling Double-A hitters.
"Early on, he could throw a decent one here and there, but they weren't often competitive pitches," Lewallyn said of Muller's off-speed offerings. "This last outing was by far his best of the season because he got to that consistent release point. Now, he's got three pitches that hitters have to see. There's the plus fastball, and the curveball and the changeup really complement that well."
Even after his earlier issues, Muller now owns a 1.89 ERA on the season, placing him sixth in the Southern League in the category. His 27 percent strikeout rate ranks fifth in the circuit, but his 15.2 percent walk rate is 28th among the league's 30 qualified pitchers. While Muller is coming off a tremendous week and month of May as a whole, Lewallyn cautions he'll have to carry this run deeper into June to continue to stand out in a Mississippi rotation that boasts Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, Tucker Davidson and recent addition Jasseel De La Cruz.
"He's had five good outings in a row," Lewallyn said of Muller. "Like anything, he still has to repeat it over and over, now on an even more regular basis. His control and command will continue to get better as he continues to focus on his delivery, but he still has to show it."
Below is the complete list of Minor League Pitchers of the Week for May 20-26:
||0-0, 1.29 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 7 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 8 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K
||2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 14 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 12 K
||2-0, 0.71 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 12 2/3 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HBP, 4 BB, 17 K
||0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 6 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 6 2/3 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K
||2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 13 IP, 8 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 9 K
||0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 G, 1 GS, 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
||1-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 13 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 18 K
||2-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 G, 2 GS, 1 SHO, 14 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 HBP, 1 BB, 13 K