Brad Miller climbed very quickly up the Seattle Mariners' minor league ladder, not playing a full season at any one level since his 2011 professional debut and needing only 999 plate appearances to make it through four levels of Seattle's organization. He hit along the way, putting up very real and very impressive numbers that fans could see for themselves by looking up his profile on Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs. But what the fans couldn't see in those numbers and what they can now is really what was the driving force behind Miller making his way through the system so quickly.
Miller has been labeled a "Gamer" since even before being drafted by Seattle. He played that way for Clemson, earning him the respect of his teammates and opponents perhaps even more than his performance did. And his hustle and no-fear attitude were on display for the entirety of spring training as he stuck around with the MLB club until the end. But what we are seeing from Miller now in Seattle is that label and small sample being played out in full color for all to see.
Brad Miller is, indeed, a Gamer.
Going all out every time he puts the ball in play, diving into bases ahead of throws, laying out to make a stop on defense, Miller is the type of guy that will do absolutely everything within his ability to help the team win. And it appears that his efforts are working. Perhaps it is a coincidence, but the recent offensive outburst for the Mariners -- which has seen them score 90 runs in their last 17 games -- started the day that Miller was recalled and installed as the starting shortstop. And since he's been in the leadoff spot, the M's have scored 59 runs in 10 games.
"There's no question he is a big sparkplug," said Jackson Manager of Media Relations and Broadcasting Chris Harris. "He just has that type of personality and is that type of player that he makes everybody better," he continued. And Miller does it all, of course, because of hard work. Said Harris, "He's probably the hardest worker that I've seen in my time here. He and Taijuan Walker this year. He just takes his craft very seriously and works very hard at every aspect of his game to make himself better."
His quick ascension to the leadoff spot doesn't only tell you a lot about Miller; it says a lot about the Mariners. They've been searching for an answer at the leadoff spot even since Ichiro was traded away to the New York Yankees (and many would argue they should have been looking long before that). This season they have had Endy Chavez, Franklin Gutierrez, Jason Bay and Michael Saunders hit first in the order at various times before Miller staked claim to the spot. Three of those four are on the wrong side of 30, two of them 34-plus. That miscast foursome posted a cumulative slash line of .239/.280/.376 from the leadoff spot, good for just a .656 OPS, the 3rd lowest mark in the American League. They also drew only 21 walks in their 389 plate appearances atop the order, a 5.4% walk rate. In his 10 games hitting 1st Miller has been a clear upgrade as he's hit .268/.348/.439 for a .787 OPS while posting a 10.9% walk rate.
The left-handed hitting Miller batted mostly either 2nd or 3rd in Jackson (in 2012 and '13) and Tacoma, but he did lead off for 61 games with High Desert in 2012 and he definitely has the plate discipline, patience and speed to fit the part as a leadoff man. Although he hasn't run much this year, Miller stole 23 of 30 attempted bases in 2012 and has already swiped two bags at the major league level since his recall. More importantly, he has shown the baserunning savvy necessary to take the extra base on hits by his teammates who follow him in the order.
The other way that Miller has benefited the Mariners' offense is also magnified when stacked against his competition at shortstop. Before Eric Wedge handed over the keys at short to Miller, Brendan Ryan, Robert Andino and Carlos Triunfel had played every pitch at the position. That trio combined to hit a meager .182/.244/.244, all the lowest marks in MLB, famously not getting their first extra base hit of the season until game No. 42 on May 17th in Cleveland, when Ryan doubled to left center off of Rich Hill in the 6th inning of the first game of that rough Indians series. They also combined for a 24.0% strikeout rate at the position, just furthering the complete lack of hope whenever Seattle shortstops entered the batter's box. Miller has hit .279/.326/.465 and cracked two extra base hits in a game on three separate occasions already in his 12 starts at shortstop.
Another key point that shouldn't be discounted here is that because Miller showed himself as major league ready so quickly, Seattle didn't have to toy with Nick Franklin at all. All of Franklin's starts in Seattle have come as the second baseman, and he has looked very good there. Of course we'll never know, but it is possible that if Franklin were tasked with the more challenging defensive assignment at short that he wouldn't be enjoying as much success at the plate. Miller erased the need for that experiment to ever get off the ground by reaching Seattle and establishing himself ahead of the trade deadline.
With his swift journey to the big leagues, Miller has strengthened two of the biggest weaknesses for the Mariners -- shortstop and leadoff. And in doing so he extends the lineup, increasing the effectiveness of the rest of the order while bringing much needed youth and athleticism to the top of the Seattle order.
Brad Miller, the Gamer, is here to stay as the M's answer at shortstop and as their leadoff man.
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