photo: Zane Mills (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
At number 40 in The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 prospect countdown for 2022 is the Cardinals’ fourth-round pick in 2021, a 6-foot-4 right-hander from Washington State. FREE report!
Position: Starting pitcher
Age: 21 years old
Height/Weight – 6’4/220
Acquired: 2019 Draft – 4th round (120th overall) from Washington State
Primary team in 2021: Florida Complex League Cardinals (Rookie)
Finished 2021: Florida Complex League Cardinals (Rookie)
Prior Top 50 rankings – not applicable
Click on the above photo to be taken to Mills’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Jake Tweedie’s scouting report
(current grade/future grade)
Mills was utilized minimally in the 2021 season following his selection as the 120th overall pick in the 2021 draft. He made seven appearances for the FCL Cardinals and will look to build upon that in 2022.
His fastball sits in the low 90s and he has solid control of this pitch. Although not the quickest, he has remarkable control on the mound and his wind-up sets himself to hit the part of the zone to which he is aiming. Mills has a three-quarters slot with a slow build up and then a quick arm action that generates his velocity.
Mills’ secondaries include a slider and a change up. He manages to keep the tunnelling the same and this increases the deception of the pitch. It goes low and away from left-handed hitters, and he has solid control of the offering.
His change up comes into the same bracket as his fastball. Mills has good control and solid command with it, and again it comes out of the same tunnel to be a consistent pitch.
There wasn’t much volume to see from Mills in 2021, but he certainly has the stuff to fully establish himself in 2022.
Future Value: 40
Role: Backend starter 5.00 FIP/Middle relief
This clip comes from Mills’ complete game start for Washington State in the spring of 2021. In an earlier outing of seven innings, he fanned a season-best 13.
Brian Walton’s environmental impact report
2021 recap – college
Mills began his college years in the bullpen with Washington State and moved to the rotation in the COVID shortened 2020 season. In 2021, The 21-year-old concluded his junior year with a 4.15 ERA in 80 1/3 innings including 83 strikeouts and 22 walks.
The Oregon native had two earlier stints in the Northwoods League, performing well both summers. In 2019, the right-hander finished with a 2.89 ERA while starting and relieving. In 2020, he posted a 0.58 ERA as a starter, likely drawing the attention of Cardinals scouts.
2021 recap – professional
Mills came to terms for $375,000, saving the Cardinals more than $100,000 against slot value, which they used on overslot signings Joshua Baez and Alec Willis.
Despite signing relatively early, on July 19, Mills was one of the later players from his draft class to appear in game action. His professional debut was on August 17. The reason for the delay is unclear, whether due to fatigue or minor injury. Another possibility was the long time off following his last collegiate start, on May 28.
With about a month remaining in the season, Mills still had time to make seven relief appearances three or four days apart. With only one exception, he threw just one inning at a time, walking none and scattering just four hits against the youthful hitters of the Florida Complex League. His only professional run yielded to date came in his debut. Over his 7 2/3 innings, Mills fanned nine and hit two batters, but the numbers lack critical mass.
Mills certainly did not disappoint, nor was he challenged to the level he faced in his college years. That will surely change in 2022.
Assuming he is healthy and effective in camp, the only question seems to be whether Mills will skip Low-A and open 2022 in High-A Peoria. In a vacuum, I would guess the latter. His results will dictate how quickly he progresses from wherever he lands.
Then again, nothing is assured, as possible competitors for the Peoria rotation are numerous. Among those from the 2021 draft are Alec Willis, Michael McGreevy, Gordon Graceffo and Austin Love, the latter three who already have some experience with Palm Beach. Also in the mix should be 2021 Beach Birds standouts Inohan Paniagua, Dionys Rodriguez and Levi Prater. In other words, it should be a spirited battle for starting berths come spring.
It is worth noting that his 88 innings between Washington State and the FCL Cardinals set a new career high for Mills. His extended time off between the two stints is a reminder that his durability as a minor league starting pitcher (throwing 120 innings or more) has not yet been demonstrated.
His 2022 will tell us a lot more about what to expect from Mills down the road.
Mills fits the classic Cardinals profile as a pitchability right-hander with more command than pure stuff. He does not project to be a high-strikeout pitcher. Rather, he profiles more as a dependable, strike-throwing, innings eater. Commanding three pitches gives him a nice edge, with the hope further velocity will emerge. That may ultimately help decide his role and ceiling.
With Mills’ such limited track record, one is flying blind trying to determine when he will reach St. Louis and in what role. One would hope a polished collegiate arm would move more quickly than most others, but I will wait until I see meaningful results and appropriate progress to make that prediction. Conservatism reigns in the meantime.
MLB debut: 2025
Rule 5 Eligible: 2024
Our 2022 Top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles planned daily into early 2022.
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