MadFriars' Interview: Justin Miller

LAKE ELSINORE: Justin Miller was a 30th round selection by the Padres in the 2011 draft out of Southeastern Oklahoma State. As with most players from the non-division one conferences it was hard to gauge how well his numbers (.433, 21 2B, 11 HR, 26 SB) would translate into professional baseball.

The Padres stuck him in AZL where he hit .407/.476/.574 and was promoted to Eugene when 2011 number one pick Cory Spangenberg was promoted to Fort Wayne. The stocky middle infielder hit .308/.409/.400.

A year later, Miller, now 23, was still tearing the cover off the ball. After a decent start in Fort Wayne, Miller was promoted to Lake Elsinore where he hit an impressive .311/.385/.475 with 15 doubles, 4 triples, 12 home runs and 17 stolen bases in twenty-four attempts in the ninety-two games he played with the Storm.

The problem for Miller, has always been where the team would play him because with his bat he was going to be in the lineup. The Padres were very high on top pick Jace Peterson and Auburn's Casey McElroy's best position was second base.

Because of his defensive versatility has found time as everywhere on the diamond except center field, catcher and on the mound...but you never know with a player like Justin who is going to do anything to get on the field.

What was it like to get promoted two straight years in the midseason?

Justin Miller: Its great, it is like getting a fresh start, a new challenge, and a new atmosphere. It was definitely warmer in Lake Elsinore as compared to Fort Wayne, which also made staying loose easier.

Most of us are familiar with what getting the "call to the show" is like, but what is it like just moving up levels? Is it the same thing?

Justin Miller: Similar. One of the guys from Lake Elsinore was in town watching the game, and post game they called me into the manager office and said they might have a better fit for me in Elsinore.

What were the biggest differences and adjustments you had to make as you moved between leagues?

Justin Miller: I think it is mainly the age of the players.

In Fort Wayne I was one of the older guys on the team and the league. Now most players are around my age, and I am against some players that have already been with their team for three or four years.

Hitting wise, and this has always been my thought, is that you get fewer mistakes the higher the league you go. Any pitcher that gets promoted from Low A to High A, moves up because they can establish the strike zone. Most pitchers have better fastball command, and are able to throw a strike with more than one pitch.

I think in Low A, you knew by the second at-bat what pitches the pitcher couldn't throw for a strike and you could eliminate them, and just sit on the one or two pitches they could.

Now in High A, you cant really eliminate pitches, and you know the pitchers have better control. They can go deeper into the at-bat and mix up there pitches better. They make it a lot harder to just sit on that one pitch.

You only hit one home run in your first 300 professional at-bats, and now have ten in three hundred at-bats in the Cal League. What has been the biggest difference? Is it the weather?

Justin Miller: The weather might play a small part as it is definitely warmer here. I think it has always been just me being an aggressive swinger. Early in the count, if I get a fastball I will do my best to square up on it. I don't exactly consider myself a home run hitter. I just do whatever I can to be aggressive and square up on the ball.

Have you altered your swing at all since coming to the Cal League?

Justin Miller: Its not that I couldn't have hit a home run in the other places I've played. I hit home runs in college but I wasn't necessarily getting myself into fastball counts, or trying to dump it in rather than swing hard and worry about the strikeout.

I haven't really altered my swing at all, but rather, have put myself in better hitting counts, where I could sit fastball and hit it a long way. I've really worked on swinging earlier in the count, and avoid ever letting an at-bat get to two strikes. When that happens I have a more defensive swing, and my power goes down as I try to make contact.

It seems like everytime I look you are playing a different position. What is your favorite position to play?

Justin Miller: In college I played a lot of centerfield. The coaches just let me run around and I always thought that was a lot of fun. Outside of that it doesn't really matter. I played a lot of second base as well and I like that.

I kinda like the idea of coming to the ballpark everyday and not knowing where I was going to play, or where I was going to bat. It keeps it fun and exciting. All in all I see myself as a hitter first, so I love playing any position that will get me to the plate.

Is there a different mentality you have to take, when and if you do not know whether or not you are starting on a given day?

Justin Miller: Yeah, last year I would play two games then sit one. Or sit two and play one. It was a learning experience after knowing exactly where I was going to play and where I was going to bat everyday in college.

I think playing everyday puts less pressure on the hitters. You know that if you mess up, have an 0-fer, or strike out a few times in the game that you won't be benched for the next few days.

Given my recent success though, I come to the park everyday expecting to play. I might not know where but I expect to play.

Even if I have a bad day or a few of the people that don't play everyday have a good day or even week, I try not to let it get to me. They are my teammates but we know that we are competing with each other for playing time. Instead of letting it get to you and make you press, you just try to stay positive and turn it into aggressiveness. You want your teammates to do well, you just want to make sure you do well enough to also get plenty of playing time.

You talked about being aggressive at the plate, has the management tried to work with you on taking more pitches?

Justin Miller: Not really. Like most players you rarely come up to the plate thinking "I am going to take two pitches before I swing." Unless of course the pitcher has just walked two batters or something.

Usually though, I look for a certain pitch in a certain part of the plate. We break the plate into three zones, and early in the count we will take away one of the zones. For example, I might look for a fastball on the inner two-thirds of the plate. If I get a fastball, even if its on the outside corner, I wont swing at it. It just becomes a guessing game. If you guess right you put a good swing on the ball, no matter the count.

Last question, do you like being in the Padres' organization?

Justin Miller: Of course, I love being a Padre! They treat us really well. I was just excited when the draft came around I didn't really care who drafted me, as long as I was drafted.

But now that I have had time with the organization, I am definitely glad the Padres drafted me.

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