MadFriars' Interview: Ryan Miller

FORT WAYNE - While most of us are aware that catching is the most physically demanding position on the field many of us neglect to remember that the most difficult part of the position is the mental part of the game; particularly in the minor leagues where the physical wear on your body and mental demands of the daily grind can become overwhelming.

The job of a minor league catcher may be the toughest in the game. He and the other catcher on the squad have to catch all of the bullpens by the staff, endure numerous extra-work before games - which usually means blocking drills in the dirt- hit, do infield drills and then squat for nine innings.

There is a reason all of these guys are young.

Ryan Miller, 21, was drafted in the fourteenth round of last year’s draft out of San Bernardino Community College by the Padres. He only began catching in his last year of high school and was considered going into the draft a very good athlete who had an opportunity to develop into a quality backstop.

Last year with Eugene he was inconsistent at the plate with a .245/.316/.302 line but also didn’t make a single error and led the Northwest League in assists with 65. Most impressive was that he threw out 35 runners in 66 attempts.

This season in Fort Wayne Miller’s bat has picked up, particularly in the power department, with 19 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, compared to zero home runs last year.

While his overall defensive statistics haven’t been as impressive as last year, San Diego has been impressed by his overall development at the position.

“As much as we all pay attention to the hitting at the end of the day that position is about defense,” said TinCaps’ manager Michael Collins, a minor league catcher for ten seasons in the minors, on Miller.

“Ryan has been really solid for us behind the plate this year and while a catcher has to hit what he has been doing behind the plate and how he has been developing, has been impressive.”

Last year when I spoke with you in Eugene you were coming off a good month offensively in Eugene but you were concerned about your defense because you hadn’t caught that much in college.

So far everyone that I have spoken too has been impressed by your defense. What did you do to improve in the off-season.

Ryan Miller: It helps a lot that our manager Michael Collins caught in the minors for ten years. Before games, if I’m not catching that day, we have early work where I will block balls and work on other footwork drills that really help my throwing.

He really focuses on defensive aspect of my game, which is big for catchers, game calling, blocking balls and throwing runners out.

It is quite a bit. At first when you get a new pitcher, which we get a lot of at this level, you have to build that trust. I will tell the guys, “Hey bury that breaking ball in the dirt” because I can get it.

I need to have my guys having that type of confidence in me.

Talk a little bit about calling games. Most people don’t realize when they see the catcher peering in the dugout that is just for pick-off moves. You are the one calling the game. That is quite a bit of responsibility.

Ryan Miller: After a game I am pretty mentally worn out because I put so much responsibility on myself. I put down a suggestion because in the end the pitcher has to be comfortable with what he wants to throw.

When I’m looking in the dugout it is for defensive switches and pickoffs only; so I look at as a lot of the game is on me. I go over the scouting reports with the pitchers and together, along with the pitching coach we try to form a game plan.

Catching in the minor leagues is just brutal with all of the early work, bullpens, catching and playing in the game. What do you do to stay fresh?

Ryan Miller: We have a good strength coach and trainer. Our clubby gives us good food, keeps us away from the junk, and we do our best to get our conditioning in.

You can do all that when you are 21.

Ryan Miller: [laughs] I don’t know, right now I’m feeling 40.

When you were in Eugene your batting average went up and down. So far you have shown some good power here and the overall numbers have been good. What has improved with you offensively?

Ryan Miller: From last year to this year I’ve really worked with Morgan Burkhart [the TinCaps’ hitting coach] and Damion Easely [the rehab hitting coach] in the Dominican for Instructs and during Spring Training.

Every day I do a half-hour work with soft toss. I’m starting to realize that all of your power does not come from your lower half and have been using my hands more to whip through the ball.

Has it always been there?

Ryan Miller: I think it has but I just didn’t have that bat path through the zone that I do now.

When I talk to you guys from short-season to the Midwest League so many of you guys seem to improve so much. It it the realization of when you first get to Eugene of, “Man these guys are good, I have to really pick it up.”

Ryan Miller: It’s a big difference from there to here. When I first got drafted I went from a small junior college to guys that were drafted in the first and second rounds who were throwing in the 90s consistently.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t hit it, I just wasn’t use too it. Now every day we face someone who throws that and we are just more used to it.

Are there that many scouting reports at this level?

Ryan Miller: There isn’t so much a scouting report, but a tendency report. What kind of things he does to righties and lefties in certain counts. Does he have fastball command to both sides of the plate? Can he throw a consistent breaking pitch. Things like that.

What has been the biggest surprise for you so far in the Midwest League?

Ryan Miller: For me its that I am tied for the lead in home runs because last year I didn’t show any power. The power factor has been the biggest surprise for me.

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