I did a phone interview with Brad Miller a little over a week ago while the Rainiers were in Las Vegas, and one of the things we talked about was his excitement over watching teammates like Mike Zunino and Nick Franklin get the big-league call.
“Last year, I moved up to Jackson (from Class A High Desert) in July and I was rooming with Carter Capps,” he said. “Then he got called up to Tacoma, and the next day he was pitching in Yankee Stadium. We were all huddled around the TV in the locker room, all giddy. It was definitely pretty special.”
He remembered being in Reno a few weeks ago, shortly after being called up from Double-A to Tacoma, and texting Nick Franklin to see if he wanted to grab some lunch.
“He said, ‘Can’t, man.’ He had been called up. It’s really cool getting to see that. That’s got to be the best part of our manager’s job, telling people they’re going to the big leagues.”
And last night, it was Tacoma manager John Stearns who got to tell Miller, after he had extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a home run and raised his average to .356 with five doubles, six homers, 28 RBIs, a .426 on-base percentage and .596 slugging percentage, that he was going to the big leagues.
Miller will almost certainly replace Brendan Ryan as the Mariners’ every-day shortstop, because you don’t bring up a guy like Miller, 23, to have him sit on the bench. Interestingly, part of our conversation involved Miller raving about how much Ryan had helped him in spring training. It was Miller’s first time in major-league camp, and he made an extremely positive impression on manager Eric Wedge, the coaching staff, and Jack Zduriencik.
“Just getting to work with Brendan was incredible,’’ Miller said. “His habits, his preparation, the way he thinks out there, is awesome. Getting to see how he’s in every pitch, locked in, trying to take hits away, help his pitcher, that was huge.”
The biggest challenge for Miller will likely be defensively. He mad six errors in 22 games with Tacoma, and eight in 29 games with Jackson.
“The biggest thing, regardless of whether I get an error or not, I feel I want to make every play,” he said. “Even if the scorer gives them a hit, if it’s a play I feel I can make for my pitcher, that’s the main thing. The biggest thing to try to learn as a shortstop is to be reliable. Someone the pitcher knows when they hit a ground ball to you, he’s done his job. You’re going to cash that in. I’m trying to get better at that, being that reliable consistent guy you can trust.’’
Here’s what Stearns said about Miller’s defense (keep in mind that the interview was over a week ago):
“It’s not like he’s as good a fielder as Brendan Ryan right now, because Brendan is a magician,” Stearns said. “But he’s fine defensively. He has plenty of arm to play shortstop, positions himself well, gets jumps on balls. He probably could get a little better, but he’s a good fielder. ”
Stearns had nothing but raves about Miller’s performance with the Rainiers.
“He’s a guy who came up to Triple-A for the first time and had no problem making the adjustment to this level,” he said. “He showed up swinging the bat well, playing well defensively. He’s a left-handed-hitting middle infielder who can run. You’re looking for an athlete like that on your baseball team. He’s been impressive. He’s not pressing. It’s like he’s been here before. It’s like he feels at home. The pitching hasn’t bothered him at all. He gives you three, four good at-bats each night, whether he gets a hit or not. He’s not chasing balls out of the strike zone, he’s using the whole field, not pulling off balls. He hits like he’s been here before.
“It’s been quite surprising and amazing for me to watch. A lot of times, there’s an adjustment period when you move to Triple-A. There was no adjustment for him. He showed up relaxed and fit in from Day One. For a middle infielder, he has line drive power, but he can jerk the ball out of the park. He just impresses. I was with him last year in High Desert and Jackson as a rover (minor-league catching instructor). I loved him then, and after seeing him play every day, he’s more impressive than I thought.”
Miller is often compared to Kyle Seager, who will now be next to him in the Mariners infield. The two first crossed paths wwhen Clemson and North Carolina met in Miller’s freshman year at Clemson. Miller calls it his “welcome to college moment” – watching in awe a star-laden Tar Heels team that featured not only Seager but future pros Dustin Ackley, Alex White, Matt Harvey and Brian Moran, among others.
“I remember saying to myself, ‘When I’m a junior in a couple of years, I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to carry myself like Seager and Ackley,’ ’’ he recalled.
Miller is also acquainted with Corey Seager, Kyle’s younger brother, drafted by the Dodgers in the first round last year. He met Corey during a recruiting trip to Clemson. Miller remembers spending a lot of time talking to Jeff Seager, father of Kyle, Corey and Justin Seager, the middle Seager brother taking in the 12th round earlier this month by the Mariners. Miller said that Kyle took him under his wing this year in spring training.
“He’s such a big help to me, if I ever need anything,’’ Miller said. “I made sure to follow him around in spring training, got on his hitting schedule, his routine. I know he’s doing things the right way.’’
Now Miller gets his chance in the big leagues in the middle of his second full pro season, just like Seager before him. When I asked Miller last week about his timetable to get the call, he said, “I just feel I’m learning so much. I’ve felt like every step of the way, I’ve been on the same page as the Mariners….It’s been a lot of fun. That’s the biggest thing I tell everyone — I’m having a blast. It’s been cool seeing some different places and different levels and adapting as I go along. I’m kind of letting everything else dictate itself.”
When you hit .360, that tends to dictate a callup, and Brad Miller got his last night.