Cardinals top prospect Shelby Miller now pitching at Double-A

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The Cardinals selected Texas high school pitcher Shelby Miller with the 19th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, confident that his sharp high-90s fastball could one day make him a major league ace.

That day may be coming soon.

Miller was promoted to Double-A Springfield last week after opening the 2011 season with a 2.89 ERA and a dominant 81/20 K/BB ratio over 53 innings at High-A Palm Beach. He struck out 140 batters in 104 1/3 innings last season with Low-A Quad Cities, issuing only 33 walks along the way.

This winter, Baseball America rated Miller as the 13th-best prospect in baseball. ESPN’s Keith Law had him as baseball’s No. 4 prospect last week.

The 20-year-old right-hander made his debut for the Springfield Cardinals on Friday in front of friends and family in Corpus Christi, Texas. He allowed just one earned run over six strong innings, fanning five batters against two walks and scattering seven hits to earn his first career victory above the Single-A level.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a quick profile of Miller late Saturday night. The Cardinals, who preach a pitch-to-contact approach with most of their starters, have been slowly molding his off-speed stuff to be as effective as his signature heater. Instead of throwing a looping curveball like he did in high school, Miller now has a “power curve” that is tighter and pairs better with his fastball.

Miller could jump to Triple-A Memphis by the start of next season and could arrive in the majors by mid-2012.

Jonny Venters is still pitching

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Lefty reliever Jonny Venters was among a handful of players the Rays signed to minor league contracts, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Venters, 32, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 and has logged just 27 2/3 innings in the minors in the meantime due to a continuous battle with his elbow. According to David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Venters has undergone four — four! — Tommy John surgeries.

When he was healthy, Venters was a fearsome late-game option for the Braves. He posted a 1.95 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 83 innings in 2010, and a 1.84 ERA with 96 strikeouts in 88 innings in 2011. His first-half performance in 2011 earned him a spot on the National League All-Star roster.

Venters has spent the last two years in the Rays’ system and he’ll try to make it a third.