The Seattle Mariners promoted shortstop Brad Miller from Triple-A Tacoma this morning. Miller is one of the best infield prospects in baseball in my view, but for some reason he's never received quite as much attention as he deserves.
I wrote about Miller as Prospect of the Day back in April. I have been a big fan of Miller since his college days at Clemson, and I felt the Mariners got a steal with him in the second round back in 2011. I ranked him 48th on my Top 150 Prospects List entering 2013, which to my knowledge is the highest he'd ranked on any of the better-known prospect lists.
This is what I wrote about Miller in my 2012 book:
Brad Miller was drafted in the second round last year, 62nd overall, out of Clemson. Despite unconventional hitting mechanics, he was a machine in college, showing superior plate discipline, gap power, and good speed on the bases. He looked excellent with the bat in two weeks of pro ball, and it's expected that he'll be a batting average/OBP force as he moves up. The main question is defense. He has a good arm, but is error-prone, especially with throws, and a lot of scouts doubt that he can stick at shortstop. He made four errors in his first 14 pro games and didn't show a lot of range, but so far there is no word about him moving to second base. If I were the Mariners, I'd let him play short for awhile to see if he can work his issues out. I'm a fan of the bat. Grade B-.
He hit .339/.412/.524 in 97 games for High-A High Desert last year, then .320/.406/.476 in 40 games for Double-A Jackson, leading to this comment in my 2013 book:
Brad Miller is one of my favorite prospects. A second round pick out of Clemson in 2011, Miller has a fast bat from the left side. He makes contact, controls the strike zone very well, and shows more power potential than most middle infielders. His numbers in the Cal League were not an illusionary a result of High Desert, and he continued raking after being promoted to Double-A (wRC+ 151, OPS +24 percent, SEC .326 in the Southern League). If anything, people are still underestimating his bat. Miller also has better-than-average speed and is an effective stealer. His main problem is defense. He has sufficient range and arm strength to handle shortstop, but remains error-prone on routine plays, particularly throws. He showed some improvement with this late in the year, and if I were the Mariners I'd leave him at shortstop as long as possible. Even if he moves to second base, Miller's hitting skills make him a premium property. Grade B+.
Miller opened 2013 with Jackson and continued to hit well with a .294/.379/.471 mark in 42 games. Promoted to Triple-A Tacoma in late May, he hit .356/.426/.596 in 26 games, giving him a .319/.399/.521 line in the full season with 35 walks and 48 strikeouts in 257 at-bats. Overall, he is a career .334/.409/.516 hitter in the minors with 113 walks and 162 strikeouts in 999 plate appearances.
So Miller rips the ball and he has since college. He controls the strike zone well, shows good power for a middle infielder, doesn't strike out that much, and has had no problems adapting to advanced minor league pitching. Why the relative lack of hype outside Mariners circles?
I think there are three factors to this.
A) Miller used a Craig Counsell-like batting stance in college and was given a Counsell comp from some prominent evaluators. Counsell was a useful player but no star, and I think that reputation has stuck with Miller. The problem here is that the comp isn't valid now, even if it ever was. He's adjusted his batting stance since college and it no longer looks much like Counsell's. Miller is also bigger and stronger than Counsell, giving him more bat speed and power potential.
B) Defense. Miller has enough arm strength and range to play shortstop and can make outstanding plays, but he also makes his share of errors, sometimes more than his share, and some scouts believe he fits better at second base. The Mariners believe he can remain at shortstop and are willing to put up with some mistakes to get his bat into the lineup.
Miller has a terrific work ethic to go with his athleticism, and the Mariners project that his error rate will come down in time. I agree with this idea, but not everyone does, and people who see Miller as "just" an offensive second baseman downgrade him accordingly.
The problem here is that even if he winds up at second base, you are still talking about a guy who could potentially hit .300 with some power and OBP. How is that not a top prospect?
C) Miller has a boring name. One of the commentators in the April thread mentioned this. It may sound silly, but I think it is a completely legitimate theory.
In any event, Miller has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. This doesn't guarantee that his transition to the majors will be easy of course, although the fact that he controls the strike zone and makes such solid contact could give him an edge over many prospects. The Mariners aren't going anywhere this year, and they have nothing to lose by committing to Miller at shortstop and Nick Franklin at second base.