For the first time in his budding Major League Baseball career, former University of Tennessee at Martin hurler Alec Mills has made an Opening Day roster.
Not only will Mills be in uniform for the Chicago Cubs during tomorrow’s season opener against Milwaukee, first-year manager David Ross announced on Wednesday that Mills has earned a spot in the starting rotation.
“Alec will be our fifth starter,” Ross told the Chicago media yesterday. “He’s done everything he’s needed to do. I couldn’t be happier with Alec – he’s done a great job for us. I like the way he competes.”
Mills is one of five Ohio Valley Conference alums on MLB Opening Day rosters in 2020, joining Belmont’s Matt Beaty (Los Angeles Dodgers), Austin Peay’s Ryne Harper (Washington Nationals), Southeast Missouri’s Joey Lucchesi (San Diego Padres) and Austin Peay’s Tyler Rogers (San Francisco Giants).
Mills is expected to make his 2020 debut on Tuesday, July 28 against National League Central division rival Cincinnati. He is part of a Cubs starting rotation that includes Kyle Hendricks, four-time All-Star Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood and five-time All-Star Jon Lester.
Before MLB’s original spring training was halted in March, Mills went 1-0 with a microscopic 0.84 ERA over five games (three starts), allowing only four hits while fanning eight batters over 10.2 innings of work. When the season got ramped back up this month, he shined in intrasquad games and elevated himself into a more prominent role.
Mills’ preseason success comes on the heels of an impressive 2019 campaign. The Clarksville, Tennessee native went 1-0 with a save over nine appearances (four starts). He generated a 2.75 ERA, conceding 31 hits while dialing up 42 strikeouts in 36 innings. He accounted for a 1.15 ERA in September, a memorable month which included his first career save (against Pittsburgh on Sept. 13), his first career victory (against Cincinnati on Sept. 16) and a career-best nine-strikeout performance in only five innings against St. Louis on Sept. 27.
In 19 major league appearances, Mills has combined for a 3.77 ERA over 57.1 innings. The 6-4, 205-pound right-hander boasts a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (69:23) while allowing only 45 hits over parts of three seasons (2016, 2018-19).
Mills was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the 22nd round of the 2012 MLB Draft and was named an All-Star at three different levels of the minor leagues (2013 at Single-A, 2015 in Advanced Single-A, 2016 at Double-A). He made his big-league debut on May 18, 2016 against the Boston Red Sox before being traded to the Cubs on Feb. 8, 2017.
Before becoming the first ever Skyhawk to appear in a MLB game, Mills starred at UT Martin from 2010-12. He developed from a freshman walk-on reliever to a lockdown setup man as a sophomore and eventually to staff ace during his junior campaign.
In 2011, Mills notched seven victories and three saves while making a school-record 30 appearances for a Skyhawk squad that won an OVC Tournament game for the first time in school history. Fittingly, it was Mills who earned the victory on the mound in that postseason game, just five days after he was tabbed to start in a must-win, tournament-clinching victory in the final game of the regular season.
Mills still ranks on UT Martin’s top-10 career list in appearances (67, sixth), strikeouts (165, seventh) and wins (13, eighth).