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Two for the Show
Chris Mannix
June 05, 2006
North Carolina has a pair of aces in Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard, both likely first-round picks
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June 05, 2006

Two For The Show

North Carolina has a pair of aces in Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard, both likely first-round picks

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North Carolina's Andrew Miller and Daniel Bard are the yin and yang of college baseball's most celebrated pitching staff. Miller is a 6'6", 210-pound lefthander, quiet and unassuming--introverted even--as uncomfortable in the spotlight as he is at peace on the mound. Bard is a 6'4", 202-pound righthander, brash and confident, a fiery presence both on the field and off. Miller's sense of style is old khaki shorts and beat-up golf shirts; Bard prefers trendy T-shirts. But the two hard-throwing juniors have one thing in common: Both are considered top 10 prospects in the June 6-7 major league baseball draft. If Miller is not taken No. 1 by the parsimonious Kansas City Royals, it's widely believed he'll go No. 2 to the Colorado Rockies.

Money has figured into Miller's draft status before. As a senior at Buchholz High in Gainesville, Fla., in 2003, he was considered the top amateur pitcher in the country. Concerns over his hefty price tag (at the time he reportedly was asking for a bonus of $3 million) caused him to slip all the way to the third round, where he was selected by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. "I really wanted to go to college," says Miller, "so I just threw a number out there figuring that if they matched it, I would have to take it." Tampa passed, making him the highest draft pick that year not to sign.

So Miller went off to Chapel Hill, where he found a partner in crime in Bard, the North Carolina high school player of the year at Charlotte Christian and a 20th-round pick of the New York Yankees. In their first season together, in 2004, the two starters led the Tar Heels to a 43-21 record. Bard was the ACC freshman of the year, and Miller won second-team All-ACC honors. But with expectations higher in their sophomore year, a poisonous locker room--"too many cliques," says Bard--contributed to a late-season collapse. The Heels finished on a 6-11 skid, and after the team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament, Bard and Miller thought about transferring. "It just wasn't a lot of fun," says Miller. "I think there was a lot of resentment in the locker room from the older players toward some of us younger guys, and that spilled onto the field."

Miller and Bard took out their frustrations on batters in the Cape Cod League, doing so well that Baseball America named them the top two pro prospects there. Bard went 3-3 with a 1.25 ERA and led the league in strikeouts. Meanwhile, Miller put together a perfect 6-0 record with a 1.65 ERA and turned in one performance that will remain in Cape League lore. On a foggy night in Chatham, Miller struck out the first 12 batters he faced--only to have his record outing erased when the game was called after four innings. "That's one I wish I could keep," he says with a sigh.

When they returned to school, Miller, Bard and the rest of the Carolina pitching staff grew mustaches to bolster team unity. ("Hideous," says Bard of Miller's 'stache. "Worst on the team.") With improved team chemistry, the Tar Heels are 45-13 and even spent three weeks ranked No. 1 in the country, a first for the program. Meanwhile, scouts have flocked to Chapel Hill, with more than 40 showing up on Feb. 19 for a Bard-Miller doubleheader against Seton Hall. One bird dog calls Miller, who was ACC pitcher of the year, "can't-miss," comparing his style with that of a young Tom Glavine. "Both these guys are major league pitchers," says the scout. "Miller might be one right now, and Bard is a bulldog with a mid-90s fastball." With the NCAA tournament set to begin this weekend, Bard is 7-3 with a 3.53 ERA and 82 strikeouts in 79 innings. Miller has solidified his standing as the nation's top prospect, with an 11-2 record, 2.07 ERA and 102 K's in 95 2/3 innings.

Since they are likely to turn pro after the season, both know that this will probably be their last shot at a trip to Omaha for the College World Series. "Last year left a really bad taste in our mouths," says Miller. "The draft will take care of itself. Right now our focus is on taking this team all the way."