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June 28, 2013
The Situation: With the Mariners’ offense once again struggling to score runs, Miller is being called up to replace incumbent shortstop Brendan Ryan. Although Ryan has flashed his usual fantastic glove, he’s hitting a punchless .196/.254/.252 in 67 contests. Seattle will look to play the hot hand with Miller, who’s currently riding a 22-game hitting streak while batting .356/.426/.596 in 26 Triple-A games.
Background: Miller was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft following an accomplished three-year career at Clemson University. The Orlando native has since produced at every level, quickly mashing his way up the minor-league ladder. While Miller didn’t rank in Baseball Prospectus’ top 10 Mariners prospects this past offseason, he’d certainly crack that list today. Entering this season, Jason Parks wrote that Miller didn’t “have an ideal profile for an everyday shortstop” but could be a “valuable utility player at the major-league level.” The prospect has since hit .319/.399/.521 between the Double- and Triple-A levels, proving that his breakout 2012 campaign wasn’t just a mirage. He’s looking more and more like a big-league regular in the middle infield.
Scouting Report: I was able to put eyes on Miller during both spring training and an early-season series at Double-A Jackson. He impressed in both looks, showing an all-around mature game––particularly at the plate. The 23-year-old prospect earns the “gamer” moniker from many scouts, as he’s a high-energy type who wears his socks high and seemingly has no use for batting gloves. In the end, Miller’s solid tool-set should separate him from your typical big-league utility scrapper.
A lefty hitter with an athletic 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame, Miller flashes a solid-average hit tool to go along with a disciplined approach and fringe-average to average pop. Despite his unorthodox swing––he doesn’t really load his hands––he has plus bat speed and stays extremely short to the ball, enabling him to make consistent contact to all fields. The quick bat and decent strength help to yield some pull-side power. Miller is also an above-average runner who gets out of the box quickly, posting consistent 4.1 home-to-first times when I last saw him in April.
While Miller continues to prove himself with the bat, his glove remains the primary question mark. Flashing the potential to become an adequate defender, Miller has enough range and instincts for shortstop. But his iffy hands have led to consistently high error totals, including 14 in 51 games at short this season.
In a perfect-world scenario, Miller’s overall profile would play best at second base. The Mariners’ current infield situation isn’t perfect, however; Miller is simply a better fit at shortstop than fellow middle infielders Nick Franklin and Carlos Triunfel. Miller doesn’t have superstar upside, but he profiles as a usable big-league regular up the middle. As Mariners fans have learned in recent years, there’s plenty of value in that.
Immediate Big-League Future: Miller isn’t being called up to ride the pine; he’ll serve as Seattle’s primary shortstop and should be in the starting lineup on Friday. The Mariners will take a defensive hit by swapping Miller for Ryan at short, but it’s likely a wise move given their total absence of offensive production at the position. To sum it up, the Mariners didn’t have an extra-base hit from a shortstop this season until May 17––their 42nd game. While Miller may experience some of the typical rookie growing pains, he’s a polished hitter with a mature approach, and he’s certain to provide more sock at the plate than Ryan. —Jason Cole
Fantasy Impact: Miller almost feels like someone who should be in the Cardinals organization. You know, just one of those guys who can hit a ton, but never seems to draw much praise for it on his way up through the minors. Of course, the Cardinals would’ve found a way to get him in the 22nd round instead of the second, but he probably wouldn’t be debuting until his mid-20s either, another St. Louis staple. Instead, the sweet-swinging Mariners product arrives at age 23 and gives Seattle one of the youngest middle infields in the game, as he and the recently promoted Nick Franklin have a combined age of only 45.
Speaking of Franklin, Miller looks to bring a similar bat to the majors, though with a more refined and disciplined approach leading to a higher batting average. Miller’s .294 average at Double-A was his lowest at any stop by 26 points. Throw in a 16 percent strikeout rate and 11 percent walk rate over 995 minor league plate appearances, and you have someone ready to hit immediately. His quick swing is conducive to a contact-heavy approach which, combined with a line drive/groundball batted-ball profile, yields plenty of base hits. He isn’t a slap hitter devoid of power, though. He managed 62 extra-base hits last year, including 40 doubles, and he had 25 XBH in 293 PAs prior to his promotion, including 11 home runs. That put him on pace for 24, which would have smashed his home run total of 15 from a year ago.
Miller has the capability to throw in some steals, but after a 23-for-30 season on the basepaths last year, he’s just 6-for-10 at the upper levels. Franklin almost certainly has him beat there, but the rest of the offensive production will be more than enough to counterbalance it.
Without the fanfare of a top 101 ranking or even a preseason top 10 organization ranking, Miller won’t have nearly the hype of Franklin when it comes to FAAB bidding in your league. That doesn’t mean you should take him less seriously, just that you may be able to get him at a discount by comparison. A middle infielder who can hit for a .280 or better average with double-digit power is a huge boon, especially if you’re dealing with an injury at those precious positions or got stuck with Starlin Castro.
Depending on how dire your situation is, you should be ready to pony up around $20 to secure Miller’s services in an AL-only league. Adjust your bid accordingly if Franklin went for something drastically different. I would push a bid as high as double-digits in mixed leagues, again with necessary adjustments based on your league. I would also be considering Miller in keeper leagues, as he may show enough immediately to play himself into your 2014 holdovers. —Paul Sporer
Jason Cole is an author of Baseball Prospectus.