Pauly Milto was born to lead.
From high school to college and every other stop in between, the IU senior pitcher has been dealt high pressure situations and handled them with ease. It’s in his nature.
Milto is now tasked with perhaps his toughest leadership role yet. The 6-foot-3-inch veteran arm will be asked to lead a pitching staff that will replace two MLB draft picks, Jonathan Stiever and Tim Herrin, while also facing some of the top teams in the country.
“Pauly was born older. God made him different,” IU baseball Coach Jeff Mercer said. “I don’t think it matters if he was a freshman or senior if he threw Friday or Sunday. I don’t worry one bit about his ability to lead a staff.”
Milto has been at the center of the IU rotation since he arrived in Bloomington after a successful prep career at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis.
As a freshman, Milto went 4-1 in 26.2 innings pitched across 14 appearances. The next year he cracked the rotation for a brief period, posting a 6-3 record with a 3.92 ERA in 10 starts and 20 appearances. That sophomore campaign ended with him being named third team All-Big Ten and earning IU’s pitcher of the year award.
His junior year was where he started to put it all together. Joined by Stiever and Herrin in the rotation, IU found success on the mound. The Hoosiers ranked seventh in the nation for team earned run average while producing eight shutouts on the season. Milto was the anchor of that rotation, going 8-2 with a 2.03 ERA on the way to an All-Big Ten second team selection.
Milto would appear to be the clear-cut ace heading into this season, but for now he’s not worried about what role he’s given. He just wants to help the team win.
“I’m willing to be in whatever role they need me to be in,” Milto said. “Obviously, being the Friday night starter would be awesome but wherever they need me to be, I’ll go in and do my job.”
Senior catcher Ryan Fineman has been Milto’s battery mate since the two came in together in 2016. The two had an immediate effect on the IU program. Fineman’s confidence in Milto hasn’t wavered even as Milto attempted to navigate his way through the conference’s top talent.
“Pauly has always been good,” Fineman said. “He handles pressure well. He’s our No. 1 starter. He’s going to be huge for us as a veteran leader.”
The physical tools have always been there for Milto. At the end of high school, he was firing at speeds in the low 90s. The last year or so has been spent more on the analytical aspect of the game. Alongside new pitching coach Justin Parker, Milto has learned to read the hitter and game situations to get a better understanding of what’s going to happen.
“It’s just about knowing the game as a whole, being able to understand situations ahead of time,” Milto said. “It’s not so much thinking about it now, it just comes natural.”
Milto understands that his pitches will never touch the speeds that guys like Stiever or junior Tanner Gordon will reach in the upper-90s. However, with his developed approach and the precision that has always impressed teammates like Fineman, Milto’s pitching is perhaps better than his All-Big Ten level last year.
“I’m more of a command pitcher,” Milto said. “Breaking several planes and being able to keep the hitter guessing by me knowing which way the pitch is going.”
Milto has been instrumental to Mercer and his staff in their first season in Bloomington before ever playing a game. Milto, Fineman and junior outfielder Matt Gorski have set the example for how the IU baseball program is run.
“The biggest they’ve done is that they’ve given their support,” Mercer said. “They’ve really been invested into continuing the winning culture and to working hard.”
Despite being left out of most preseason polls, Mercer is keeping IU’s morale high. From IU’s fall world series, where the losing captain had to dye his hair green, to their iron man challenge, the buzz around the program continues to grow. Outlets such as D1Baseball and College Baseball Daily have pegged the Hoosiers to finish in the top three of the conference alongside Michigan and Minnesota.
Milto believes there’s no reason the Hoosiers can’t do more.
“The vibe is very good. Everyone is very positive, everyone is upbeat, everyone has really bought in,” Milto said. “We’re going to do some special things this year.”
Pressure has never fazed Milto. He’s pitched in travel ball tournaments, high school state tournaments and back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. His expression and demeanor never changes. Whether it’s his experience, thick beard or deep voice, Milto is the definition of a veteran, one that Mercer will need this season.
“Pauly is a guy that doesn’t have emotion,” Mercer said. “He just goes out and has a plan and executes that plan. Whether he’s taking BP before games and hitting home runs or pitching, he’s just unflappable. We have a lot of confidence in him.”