Promote Brad Miller

Dave · June 24, 2013 at 12:01 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Tomorrow marks the one month anniversary of Brad Miller‘s promotion to Tacoma. Given what he’s done in the 23 games he’s played down there, it might be time for another one. Take a look at his consistency as he’s climbed the ladder in the minor leagues.

Season Level Age PA BB% K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2011 (A) 21 59 7% 15% 0.113 0.415 0.458 0.528 0.447 182
2012 (A+) 22 473 11% 17% 0.185 0.339 0.412 0.524 0.408 143
2012 (AA) 22 170 13% 15% 0.156 0.320 0.406 0.476 0.407 151
2013 (AA) 23 175 11% 17% 0.176 0.294 0.379 0.471 0.386 146
2013 (AAA) 23 109 13% 15% 0.217 0.348 0.422 0.565 0.427 154

Miller has hit at every level he’s been at, and he’s done it with basically the same set of skills and minimal variance. He draws walks, makes contact, and hits a ton of line drives. Don’t pay too much attention to those slugging percentage numbers, as they’re inflated both by minor league BABIPs and some hitter friendly ballparks. He’s got some gap power, but he’s not going to be a huge home run guy in the big leagues. That said, the rest of the package looks like it might be good enough that his home run total won’t really matter.

Miller is often compared to Kyle Seager, because they were both high performance/moderate tools guys in college, and they didn’t profile as impact players based on their athleticism. Both just started hitting better than expected when they became professionals, though, and Seager has developed into the Mariners best everyday player. Seager is an easy comparison for Miller because of their similar pedigrees, but it also misleads in some ways.

The primary difference between them is on defense. Seager has always been an average to above average defender, both at second and third base, and his glove was probably the one thing you could point to as a college player and say “that will get him to the Major Leagues”. Miller, though, is a bit of a question mark defensively. From a physical standpoint, he can handle shortstop. He’s not Brendan Ryan, but he moves well enough to cover the necessary ground and has a good enough arm to make throws from deep in the hole. However, Miller is extremely prone to making errors on routine plays. And not just the once-in-a-while variety. He makes a lot of errors.

In 212 minor league games, Miller has made 55 errors, which works out to a pace of 42 errors per full season. Error rates are higher in the minors than they are in the majors for various reasons, including lower quality infields, and it isn’t that strange for minor leaguers to make a lot of errors. Back in 1993, Derek Jeter made 56 errors in one season, and his career minor league fielding percentage of .934 is lower than Miller’s .942. But Jeter was a teenager coming up through the minors, spending his final year in Triple-A at age 21, and this is a more common problem for very young players.

Miller is 23, and he played three years of high level college baseball at Clemson. You don’t generally see a lot of players at his age and experience making this many mental mistakes. And that’s really what they are. He’s not just butchering plays left and right because he is being asked to do something he physically can’t do; pretty much everyone who has watched him on a regular basis has said that the errors come as the result of simply whiffing on routine plays when he has plenty of time to glove the ball or make the throw. He makes his fair share of difficult plays; it’s the easy ones that tend to give him problems.

There’s actually a pretty decent Major League player with a similar problem right now; Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals $100 million third baseman. Zimmerman was a defensive wizard in college and drew comparisons to Evan Longoria, but a combination of shoulder problems and getting in his own head have made routine throws from third base to first base an adventure. The Nationals might have to eventually move Zimmerman to first base just to take the pressure off of him making the throw across the diamond.

This isn’t to say that Miller has “Steve Sax syndrome”, but from most accounts, his defensive problems are mental, not physical. This is either something you beat and it goes away, or it beats you and you change positions. In other words, there’s no real reason to treat Miller like Seager or Franklin — guys who just didn’t have the physical skills necessary to play shortstop and were moved to 3rd and 2nd respectively to compensate for their lack of range — because he’s either a shortstop or he’s an outfielder.

Given Miller’s potential at the plate and the organization’s hole at shortstop, having him stop making these routine mistakes would be in everyone’s best interests. Having a left-handed hitting shortstop who can provide some real offensive value would be a big boost to the team’s talent level, and the best case scenario involves Miller and Franklin teaming up to be the long term double play combination for years to come. Moving him to the outfield might make the defensive issues go away, but that decision should only be made once the organization is convinced that Miller’s error issues aren’t fixable.

And, really, they probably won’t be able to make that determination while he’s in the minor leagues. The only way to judge whether Miller can avoid the routine mistakes under the pressure of a Major League game is in a Major League game. And really, they should be incentivized to give him as a long a look at shortstop as they can afford to.

The 2013 season affords them that chance to take a look. The Mariners season isn’t going anywhere, so if they stick him at shortstop and he makes 25 errors, it’s not going to be the difference between a playoff berth and watching October baseball on TV. You can take some flyers in seasons like this, because the downside if they don’t pay off aren’t as low as they are when you’re trying to win.

The working assumption is that Brad Miller will be called up once the Mariners trade Brendan Ryan to a contender in order to free up a spot for him in the line-up, but I’m not sure I see the point of waiting. Teams know exactly what Brendan Ryan is. They don’t need to watch him play for the next five weeks to know that he’s a plus glove/no hit player who fits perfectly as a part-time player and defensive replacement on a contender. You’re not going to hurt Brendan Ryan’s (minimal) trade value by making him a part-time player now, letting him teach Miller the fundamentals of the position, and serve as a mentor to the kid on defense.

The Mariners already committed a roster spot to Henry Blanco for the sole purpose of having a guy who can teach Mike Zunino the finer points of catching. Ryan might not be the same kind of respected veteran leader, but if you had a young shortstop with defensive issues, who else is better equipped to show Miller how to field the position? Give Miller a month with Ryan around to help him conquer the mental side of playing shortstop, plus give yourself another month to evaluate whether or not he can be your everyday shortstop in 2014.

If you wait until after the trade deadline when Ryan is no longer an impediment, you’re reducing your evaluation time by 30%, and for what gain? Miller’s spent the better part of two years in the minors after spending three years playing high level college baseball. He doesn’t need to spend any more time in Tacoma. He’s not getting fooled by Triple-A pitchers. At this point, it’s not so much about Brad Miller learning as it is the Mariners learning about Brad Miller.

Can he play shortstop? That’s the question that will hang over his head until he’s called up and we see how he responds to the pressures of making the routine play in front of a large crowd. If he’s not a shortstop, better to learn that now and make the OF conversion next spring than to have to figure that out in-season next year and then try to make the IF-OF conversion while meaningful games are being played.

And if he is a shortstop, and he keeps hitting like he’s been hitting since he became a professional, then it helps the 2013 Mariners too. So, let’s not bother waiting until some contender gives the Mariners a C- prospect in exchange for Brendan Ryan. Just make the move now and give Brad Miller three months to show whether or not he can be the long term answer at shortstop.


69 Responses to “Promote Brad Miller”

  1. bfgboy on June 25th, 2013 6:58 am

    Some have begun posting about it, and it is bound to happen; where is everybody going? I don’t see the Nationals getting involved with us on anything, particularly with Ryan. I see:
    Ryan and Morse to Pittsburgh
    Perez to Detroit
    Ibanez and Guti to New York
    Saunders to Baltimore
    Harang to Oakland

  2. Calculon on June 25th, 2013 8:15 am

    Why not keep Ryan as a util IF? He’d be a great fill-in when Franklin/Miller need a break and/or as a late-inning defensive replacement. Any ‘clubhouse’ or ‘veteran leadership’ he added would be a bonus, too.

    It’s not as if the M’s have an abundance of better reserve options, nor is it as if Ryan will net more than a future Roberto Andino (or maybe Eric Thames) in a trade.

  3. Calculon on June 25th, 2013 8:26 am

    bfgboy : “Ryan and Morse to Pittsburgh”

    Uh… Pittsburgh already has Brendan Ryan, only he’s named Clint Barmes.

    And they have a better version of Morse in Gaby Sanchez/Garrett F’n Jones.

    Pittsburgh needs a RF. They’ll go after Nate Schierholtz types (cheap, young/in their prime, decent all-around players).

  4. miscreant on June 25th, 2013 9:32 am

    I’d wait on Miller. The Mariners have a bad habit of rushing their players. Ackley, Smoak, Montero, Zunino (sure I’m missing some) were all rushed.

    Have patience these are people not just names on a piece of paper or computer screen.

  5. djw on June 25th, 2013 9:48 am

    I’m not sure I buy the argument that Smoak was rushed by the Mariners. The Rangers put him in AA after just a handful of professional ABs, but he handled that quite well. When the Mariners called him up, he’d had nearly a year of AAA experience, and while he was producing merely pretty good rather than world-beating results, he didn’t have any obvious Zunino-esque issues that needed to be fixed.

    Similarly, the case that Ackley is rushed seems difficult to sustain if you focus on 2011. He’d had over a year in AAA, and in 2011, he appeared to have mastered and learned what he could there. At the time, I feared they were rushing him with respect to his defensive readiness, but I think I was pretty clearly proved wrong about that.

  6. stevemotivateir on June 25th, 2013 10:01 am


    Of course, they have to be DFA’d to be removed from the 40 man, unless they’re traded. Just sounded as if you thought he was currently the 3B alternative. This does bring up a good point regarding the odd balance of positional players we have, though.

  7. miscreant on June 25th, 2013 10:55 am

    Both Ackley and Smoak haven’t shown that they can successfully hit MLB pitching yet. I feel that pretty much proves they were rushed.

    Either that or they’re just not very good.

  8. eponymous coward on June 25th, 2013 10:55 am

    Ryan and Morse to Pittsburgh
    Perez to Detroit
    Ibanez and Guti to New York
    Saunders to Baltimore
    Harang to Oakland

    That’s, what, over a quarter of the M’s current 25-man roster?

    Good times.

    (I see no trade market for a guy who has the durability of stained glass like Guti, trading Saunders right now would be REALLY selling low, and there’s no way the M’s are going to trade almost all of their starting OF, unless Jack’s planning on being fired.)

  9. The_Waco_Kid on June 25th, 2013 11:45 am

    Safeco Joe to O’s or Condor?

  10. dnc on June 25th, 2013 12:03 pm

    “Both Ackley and Smoak haven’t shown that they can successfully hit MLB pitching yet. I feel that pretty much proves they were rushed.”

    That’s a way too simplistic way to look at things.

  11. Rainiers_fan on June 25th, 2013 1:48 pm

    I know I am in the minority but I advocate waiting with Miller. I freely admit I am not a scout and don’t know when to promote a player so this is just an opinion from a guy who sits in the stands drinking a beer and watches out of pure love of the game. I stopped reading the Mariners game threads because it kills me to see comments ripping into players I love who failed after what I thought was poor handling. It frankly scares me to think of Wedge “helping” Miller become a big leaguer. Those of you who know me outside this blog know I am a physicist on the plus side of fifty and I have been watching baseball since I can remember, I believe in advanced statistics so I am absolutely not an old school guy. I totally agree that college experience helps and I believe that is part of why Seager was able to handle the rapid promotions so maybe Miller can as well. Still, the major leagues are the pinnacle of baseball and I humbly submit that the player should have more than a few weeks of experience in AAA before he takes on that challenge.

  12. msfanmike on June 25th, 2013 1:51 pm

    Would cherry-picking a portion of his comment also be considered simplistic?

    In fairness to miscreant, he left the reader(s) with more than one possibility.

  13. djw on June 25th, 2013 2:19 pm

    Would cherry-picking a portion of his comment also be considered simplistic?

    Not really. The quoted part is a complete thought that is, in fact, quite simplistic, because…

    In fairness to miscreant, he left the reader(s) with more than one possibility.

    But he left out a third: that a player was ready based on all available information at the time, and hit some unforeseeable struggles down the road. I really have a hard time seeing how you can argue this with Ackley. (Smoak, I think, just isn’t very good.)

  14. bookbook on June 25th, 2013 2:52 pm

    Many many good prospects fail. They don’t all fail because they were rushed. Some, like Petagine, probably failed because they weren’t given enough opportunity at the right time. I’m convinced that Ackley was not rushed. Zunino probably was, and probably won’t fail just because he was rushed.

  15. stevemotivateir on June 25th, 2013 3:30 pm

    It frankly scares me to think of Wedge “helping” Miller become a big leaguer.

    That’s a very good point. And somehow, I didn’t give it much thought, though I thought about that a LOT when Zunino was promoted. Maybe because Zunino wasn’t as advanced with the bat?

    I think a lot of people are on board with him being promoted, while remaining skeptical that it might just simply be too fast, regardless of his numbers and consistency have shown.

    I see the pros and cons. The move I would prefer to see first, is the firing of Wedge.

    Anyway, that was a well-worded response. We’ll see what happens.

  16. Rainiers_fan on June 25th, 2013 4:58 pm

    Thanks! I was hesitant about mentioning that. The fire the manager cliche is old and tired, but I can’t see Wedge helping much with young player development and we happen to have quite a few young players on the big league team right now. Wedge moving on might help. Speaking of prospects we are headed to see Walker pitch tonight in his first AAA game. We are really living in a great time for the farm system, I think the Rainiers are loaded even without Franklin and Zunino. As for Miller he is getting closer and closer to the big club, it won’t be long.

  17. Rainiers_fan on June 25th, 2013 5:08 pm

    Just noticed your comment bookbook. I tend to think of timing of advancement as one facet of handling. Handling of prospects being the sum of many aspects of the development of a young player.

    Thanks again for your post Steve, I always enjoy your insights even when I don’t comment on posts.

  18. stevemotivateir on June 25th, 2013 10:42 pm

    ^Likewise (When you do comment).

  19. Rick L on June 27th, 2013 9:13 pm

    Promoting Brad Miller would create more 40 man roster disruptions. Who you going to give up to make room for him? Next spring, there will be more room. You talk about trading Ryan, but what if nobody wants him?

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