In a Nashville Sounds' starting rotation full of big bodies, big arms and big hype, it might be easy to forget about left-handed pitcher Brad Mills.
Standing at just 6 feet, 188 pounds, Mills is a 29-year-old veteran with a fastball that rarely reaches 90 mph, and he won't show up on any top prospect lists. Nonetheless, Mills has still been one of the most important pieces to the Sounds' successful first half in 2014.
After his most recent start against Reno on June 9, Mills' ERA in 11 starts sits at 1.57, the 2nd-best mark in the Pacific Coast League behind teammate Jimmy Nelson.
How Mills has been able to get batters out in bunches this season is a true testament to his baseball sense. Without having the arm to blow batters away, he relies on mastering the other parts of pitching to keep hitters guessing.
"I have deception, and I have location," Mills said. "Velocity lets you get away with more, but you can still be plenty successful not throwing 100 mph."
His ability to control both deception and location was most evident in a recent start against Colorado Springs on May 29. Despite topping out between 85 and 89 mph, Sky Sox hitters were no match for the location and movement of Mills' pitches. The end result was a career-high 13 strikeouts in eight shutout innings to help the Sounds pick up another victory.
The start wrapped up an insane month of May for Mills, as he went 2-0 with a league-low 1.16 ERA in six starts while also striking out 43 batters in 38.2 innings. He also limited opposing hitters to a PCL-best .138 average.
The consistency Mills has discovered has not gone unnoticed. Sounds pitching coach Fred Dabney has been impressed with the strides Mills has made this season, and he feels it has provided a great example to the rest of the pitching staff, which boasts the best ERA in the PCL.
"It's tremendous to have [Mills] in the rotation," Dabney said. "Just so other people can feed off of his execution and consistency and how he goes about his business."
This 2014 campaign is a welcomed return to normalcy for Mills, who is now playing his fourth organization. Last season, his career took an interesting turn when the Orix Buffaloes in Japan purchased his contract from Round Rock in July. It was an experience that helped him improve on the field as well as off.
"You don't realize how much you take for granted, talking with your teammates and speaking English with anyone," Mills said. "It got lonely at times there."
Mills signed with the Brewers in January 2014 and has quickly found success in Nashville. The new opportunity has also given him a chance to work with and mentor some of Milwaukee's best young pitching prospects: Jimmy Nelson, Ariel Pena and Taylor Jungmann.
"All three work hard and it makes it easier for a veteran to be around," Mills said. "The younger guys are the ones who can take their talent for granted, but all three guys really, really work hard, and you've seen the successes in our pitching staff as a whole."
Mills hasn't pitched in the major leagues since making a spot start for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2012, but with his long-standing work ethic to go with improved skills and numbers, it seems that his next shot in the majors is going to come sooner rather than later.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.