It is safe to say that Sacramento River Cats' OF Jai Miller is having the most outstanding season of his career. In July, the centerfielder not only tied the single month home run record (12), but his team-leading numbers for the season in both HRs (27) and OPS (1028) are already enough to surpass his previous career personal bests. The impressive statistics do not stop there, as he also leads the team in RBIs (70) and SLG (.637).
After signing a letter of intent to play both football and basketball at Stanford University, Miller decided to forgo college and pursue professional baseball. The centerfielder was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the fourth round of the draft in 2003, and made his major league debut with Florida in 2008.
Picked up by the A's in April 2010, he spent a month with the River Cats, but was designated for assignment by Oakland and was later claimed by the Kansas City Royals. After splitting the rest of the 2010 season between Triple-A Omaha and Kansas City, Miller was designated for assignment at the end of the season and was a free agent, which ultimately led him to sign with the A's in November 2010. Miller hit .236 with a homer in 20 games with the Royals.
It is clear by his numbers this season that his major league debuts in Florida and KC garnered him not only valuable experience but also a great amount of confidence. Now that he knows he can contend in the majors, he has used this mental boost to improve his overall game.
With September approaching, the anticipation of call-ups may have an adverse affect on players at the Triple-A level. Getting too caught-up in this process can be too much to handle, and Miller knows this. By concentrating his energy on his own development and staying focused, the centerfielder will continue to prove himself as a consistent and dependable hitter for the River Cats.
I spoke with Miller before the River Cats' game versus Colorado Springs on Tuesday about his major league experience, his thoughts on a potential call-up and more.
Gabby Micek: You've clearly been having your best year, with career highs in both homers and OPS. Is there anything you have been doing differently?
Jai Miller: I think just trying a different approach and sticking with it, and not getting away from it at all. That also goes along with not giving up on myself.
GM: Do you think your approach has been the key to your success, or have you changed anything with your routine?
JM: My routine has been pretty much the same. Just the mental aspect of it all would be the only difference for me.
GM: After being with the Royals last year, why did you choose to sign with the A's?
JM: Well as soon as I became a free agent the A's reached out to me and had a lot of interest. I made that decision and I haven't looked back since.
GM: You had your first extended stay in the major leagues last year. What were the big leagues like?
JM: The big leagues were a dream come true. The first day I went up with the Marlins, actually against the A's, it was pretty surreal. The game itself was kind of a blur to me, but it was definitely amazing.
GM: What was the biggest thing you took away from that experience?
JM: I think last year, from playing up there for an extended period of time, I realized that it's all the same game. It may be a little faster, but the fact that I can play at that level is a pretty big thing for my confidence.
GM: September is coming up, which means call-ups. How closely are you paying attention to those?
JM: Honestly I'm just really focused on what I'm trying to do, and not so much about the call-ups. Worrying about all those different things will take away from what I need to get done each and every day. All I can do is go out and play hard and the rest will hopefully take care of itself.
GM: Has it been fun playing in Sacramento this year? Any particular aspects you like or dislike?
JM: I have definitely enjoyed playing here. The fans are great and this is by far the best team I've ever been on, which gives us a great winning atmosphere. The team is also really competitive. So all those aspects are exactly what you want when you head to the ballpark each and every day.
GM: What part of your game are you working on improving the most?
JM: Probably cutting down on strikeouts. That would be the biggest thing. But honestly just working on everything as much as I can. There is always an opportunity to get better at something.
GM: What have you been doing to help yourself cut down on those strikeouts?
JM: What it basically comes down to is that you have to swing at strikes. That's the biggest thing. Getting a pitch I can handle and putting a good swing on it, and just making sure I don't miss the good pitches.
GM: Do you have any personal goals for the rest of the season?
JM: Just to continue doing what I've been doing, and finish up the season strong and end the year on a high note.