The Underrated Brad Miller
By JJ Keller
When people think about the Mariners farm system, they usually think pitching. Names like Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and even Brandon Maurer are probably the guys who most often come to mind.
Then, if you think offensive prospects only, Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin are the go-tos. Zunino is the #1 (or #2 depending on who you ask) in the organization, and Franklin is/was widely thought of as the shortstop of the future. In fact, prior to Zunino being drafted last year, Franklin was the guy in terms of position players. Other than him, in most peoples minds at least, there were very few good position players in the system.
So what I have just demonstrated is that, to hear the name “Brad Miller” from most Mariners fans — when asking them about their prospects — you have to be extremely specific, and really attempt to get the answer you are looking for. Something along the lines of “Who is the Mariner’s second best middle infield prospect?” will probably get the job done. Not exactly high praise by most standard.
The problem is, Miller should not be that obscure. He should be the third guy in the Zunino-Franklin duo, but for whatever reason, he isn’t. He is kind of like a cult classic movie. Ya know, if baseball players and movies were at all the same.
I say that because there are also a ton of people who love Miller, myself included. One example is Minor League Ball’s John Sickels, who stated “I am actually more confident in his bat than I am in Franklin’s, but he’s a year and a half older and that matters. Still, if anything Miller is underrated nationally. He can really hit (.320/.406/.476 in Double-A) and he has the range/arm for shortstop if he can cut down on routine errors,” in his 2013 Mariners top prospect article.
And I would say that most other members of the Mariner’s blogosphere share similar feelings, particularly those who are sabermetrically-inclined. That is probably because he is not the kind of guy who scouts drool over. Some call him a throwback player, which I can see. He has the high socks, and all of that.
But to me, throwback isn’t what comes to mind. Quite frankly, “weird” is what I think of. His stance is funky, with high hands, an abnormal bat angle, and little to no stride (video below). Defensively, he has something different about him as well. I have no idea what it is, but in watching him take grounders, something just looks off.
That doesn’t mean anything negative on it’s face, or at least I didn’t intend it to. I am a big proponent of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” There are those who believe there is one way, and one way only. But watch any baseball game, and no two stances are the same. The same applies on the defensive side of the ball as well. So if what Miller is doing works, who cares what it looks like?
I am no scout obviously, so maybe no one will agree with the quirks I see in his defense. But since he seems to have some clunky hands that have led him to be error prone, maybe there is something there. I don’t know.
Miller may bring some idiosyncrasies and oddities in his game, but he brings some great offensive production right along with them. In his first full season last year, splitting time between Single-A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, he hit .334/.410/.512, with 15 home runs, and 74 walks to just 105 K’s.
He has continued a similar level of production this year between Double and Triple-A. In 58 games on the season — 42 in Jackson and 16 in Tacoma — he has hit .312/.393/.493, while continuing to walk at a very high level, while also limiting his strikeouts.
And that is really the best part of his game, and how he makes his money. He is an on-base-machine, in every sense of the world. Weird as his stance may be, the dude knows how to get on.
But it isn’t without power, and that is what sets him even more over the top. He showed good power in High Desert, but I think most people wrote it off because everyone hit in the Cal League. However, he has shown solid power at every level since. Maybe not 33 doubles in 97 games (48 double pace through 140 games) type power, but above average none the less.
He currently has 9 home runs on the season, which extrapolates out to about 22 homers over a full, 140 game season. What is interesting is that his home runs are up, but his doubles are down. That is likely just an anomaly, as in the future he projects much more as a gap power guy, with maybe 10-15 homers a year.
As you can see, I am a big fan in Miller’s bat. I think if he keeps progressing at the rate he currently is, he is a future leadoff hitter, and will be up with the Mariners as early as later this year.
But as I briefly mentioned earlier, his defense is somewhat spotty at times. He doesn’t lack the range or arm, which have condemned many a hopeful shortstops. Instead, he has clunky hands, and is somewhat error prone, reportedly on some easy plays.
Errors are not the best way to judge a players defense, for many reasons. One, it is a biased call, and not everyone agrees on what is an error and what isn’t. And two, a guy may be tabbed with an error because a ball hit off of his glove, while another guy might not even get to the ball at all, and will be off error-free.
However, when you have as many errors as he has (36 in 2012, 14 so far this year), it is likely indicative of something. On top of that, most reports have corroborated his occasionally faulty hands on what should be routine plays.
Despite the awful error numbers last year, he showed a lot of improvement in his time with Jackson. Just 5 of his 36 errors came there, which is much better than what he showed earlier. And that improvement had continued this year, before his call-up to Tacoma. He had 8 errors prior to getting the call, but has had 6 already with the Rainiers.
His defense is confusing to say the least. He has the athleticism to stick there, but his it seems like his hands are inconsistent and “meh” to say the least. I still believe he will stick though. I care more about range and arm than errors, because one, it is easier to improve your hands than your range, and two, errors are only bad in certain situations. You want to avoid them, but having a few in meaningless situations doesn’t matter all that much.
Brad Miller is good at baseball. He may not look like he would be, but he is. His bat figures to bode well in the majors, and if he is able to not only stick at short, but also be above average there, he will be a very valuable piece of this long, and complicated puzzle.
I think if all goes according to plan, I think he projects as a leadoff hitter, due to his ability to get on base a ton, along with his above average speed. And if he keeps with the pace he is currently on, he could see the bigs at some point this year, maybe even earlier than you would expect.