Brad Miller's biggest contribution to the Mariners through his first 16 games in the majors hasn't been with his bat, his glove, or even his legs.
Don't get me wrong, he's hit very well, fielded very well and shown great tools both on offense and defense, but it has been the other, intangible, part of his game that truly stands out so far. His energy and style makes every play that he is involved in exciting.
Gamer. Baseball Rat. Throwback Player. Call him whatever you want, but the batting glove-less, high sock-wearing, hair-on-fire, all-out hustling style of play and attitude that Miller has brought to Seattle has been a breath of fresh air and already has him endearing himself to Seattle fans.
It was a quick ascent for Miller, the 2011 ACC Player of the year before being Seattle's 2nd round pick that season, but he earned his promotion to Seattle by hitting .334/.409/.516 in 999 minor league plate appearances, .356/.426/.596 in 26 games with Tacoma this season, including a 22-game hitting streak to end his time there. He had hit just .200 (9 for 45) against left-handers in Jackson but improved on that one weakness when he hit .379 (11 for 29) off of them in Tacoma, and that has continued so far in the show where he's hit .333 (4 for 12) and drawn two walks in his first 14 plate appearances against southpaws.
One of John Sickel's favorite prospects for a while now, Miller wasn't in most other top prospect lists before the season, and was even passed over as one of the organization's Top-10 prospects by many, but he is showing in 2013 that he surely belonged there. The left-handed hitter has posted a 105 OPS +, .315 wOBA and 97 wRC+ in his first 16 MLB games while sporting impressive rates of 10.3% BB% and 10.3% XBH%, too. His baserunning has scored out as 1.3 BsR already, the same as Jose Reyes, despite having about half as many plate appearances as the former three-time Stolen Base King.
And about that defense? Todd Dybas of The News Tribune spoke with M's bench/infield coach Robby Thompson about the young prospect that was replacing perhaps the game's best defender, Brendan Ryan, and the veteran baseball man praised his tools while acknowledging that there is a lot of pressure on young players in the middle of the diamond. But the advanced defensive metrics all rate him as a plus defender at shortstop so far and Miller has shown the range, hands and arm that suggest he can stick at the position.
Miller gets a couple of pretty strong running middle infielders on those plays, showing everything physically that a shortstop needs. He had some high error totals climbing through the minor leagues, but that is exactly what the minor leagues are for. Chris Gwynn said to me last year on that subject, "I don't know a lot of minor league shortstops who didn't make a lot of errors in the minors. It's part of the learning process." And while Miller isn't the type to make excuses, Adelanto has some of the toughest grounds and conditions to play in. Gwynn wrapped it up nicely during that talk when he told me confidently, "If you ask me, he's a big league shortstop."
Miller told me in an interview last September that he approaches the game on both sides by, "being aggressive and not being afraid to make mistakes and testing my limits." Miller has definitely been aggressive in the field and at bat in his month-plus. And he's stayed aggressive despite the count as he's collected three of his extra base hits when behind in the count, two of those coming on 0-2 counts. That seems to be in contrast to the approach that some of the other young Mariners have struggled with.
I talked before the season about how similar the minor league careers of Kyle Seager and Miller were, and the similarities go beyond just their stats. Jackson broadcaster Chris Harris reminded me on the phone last night, "when Brad first got here [Jackson] I was telling people he was just like Kyle and nobody believed me. They both have that same type of personality and demeanor, that quiet confidence."
While Miller will assuredly see some struggles as the season progresses, being like Seager is definitely a good thing, both in terms of baseball ability and in mental ability. He is already showing that his ceiling as a player is likely a lot higher than most prospect evaluators gave him credit for over the past few years. If he manages to overcome struggles to exceed expectations like Seager has done, the Mariners could have another cornerstone player on their infield.