Ask BA: Can Miller Stick At Shortstop?

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J.J. Cooper wrote a tremendous feature on Twins outfielder Byron Buxton for our July 9-23 issue, and it went live on our website yesterday. While Buxton was Baseball America’s top-rated prospect in the 2012 draft, he went second behind Carlos Correa, our No. 2 prospect. The Astros took Correa, signed him for well below the assigned pick value at $4.8 million and used the savings on sandwich-rounder Lance McCullers Jr. ($2.5 million) and fourth-rounder Rio Ruiz ($1.85 million).

In J.J.’s story, he relates that a majority of the scouts he talked to said they’d take Buxton over the package of Correa, McCullers and Ruiz. I concur, because I think Buxton is the best prospect in baseball. But I’ll also say this: Houston could have had Buxton and McCullers.

The cost of Correa, McCullers and Ruiz totaled $9.15 million. If Buxton had gone No. 1, he would have commanded more than $6 million but wouldn’t have come close to the full pick value of $7.2 million. The Astros could have given McCullers $2.5 million and signed a fourth-rounder at pick value ($360,200), leaving $6.3 million for Buxton.

Houston also could have gone another $400,000 over their assigned bonus pool without forfeiting a future first-round picks, meaning they could have paid Buxton $6.7 million. That definitely would have gotten a deal done.

Mariners shortstop Brad Miller seems to have done nothing but hit and get on base since being drafted. My question is regarding his defense and future. Is there any indication that his fielding (especially his arm) will play at the big league level, or is he destined to joining Seattle’s logjam at second base with Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley?

Gregg Patnode
Woodbury, Minn.

Miller was the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year and a second-round pick in 2011, but even so, his pro career has surpassed expectations. He posted an OPS of .866 or better at each of his four minor league stops, batted a combined .334/.409/.516 in the minors and joined the Mariners on Friday.

There’s little question about Miller’s bat. He should hit for a high average and get on base at a solid clip while also providing at least gap power and a few stolen bases.

Whether he’ll be able to stay at shortstop is another question. Miller has been an erratic defender in college and in the minors, and his range and arm are no more than big league average--and big league average doesn’t tend to play at shortstop. He has a better shot to play shortstop than Franklin but probably fits better at second base.

As long as Miller hits, I believe the Mariners will play him at shortstop alongside Franklin at second. Ackley’s future is in the outfield, and having less defensive responsibility could help him reach his considerable offensive potential.

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco has been on a tear since being promoted to Double-A, and his quick bat and power have drawn some comparisons to Adrian Beltre. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?

Steve White
Maplewood, N.J.

Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco (Photo by Cliff Welch)

Franco ranked as Philadelphia’s No. 8 prospect entering 2013, which has become a breakout season for him. He batted .299/.349/.576 as a 20-year-old in high Class A, and has strafed Double-A pitchers for a .468 average and four homers in his first 11 games at that level.

I believe Franco has hit his way into Top 100 Prospect status, but I don’t love the Beltre comparison at all. At the same age, Beltre was a solid regular in the big leagues. He’s making a legitimate case for the Hall of Fame, and his tools grade (and graded at the same stage) as better than Franco’s across the board.

Franco does have bat speed and plenty of raw power. He does have an unconventional swing and lacks patience at the plate, so he might not be more than an average hitter. He’s a well below-average runner, though he does play a solid third base thanks to soft hands and a strong arm.

Why doesn’t White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson get more recognition? He seems Billy Hamiltonesque with better power and hit tools.

Bryan Eder
Washington, D.C.

Johnson had a chance to go in the top five rounds of the 2012 draft, but he hurt his elbow and missed much of his junior season at Indiana, dropping him to the White Sox in the ninth round. He’s currently batting .342/.422/.530 at low Class A Kannapolis and leads the minors with 61 steals--12 more than Reds outfield prospect Hamilton, who won the last two minor league steal titles and set a record with 155 swipes last year.

While Johnson’s speed rates as a 65-70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, he’s not in the same class as Hamilton, who really deserves a 90. It’s also worth noting that Johnson has been caught stealing 19 times, six more than any other minor leaguer, and his 76 percent rate isn’t overly impressive.

He’s also not in Hamilton’s class as a prospect, though Johnson has a legitimate chance to become a big league regular and is one of the White Sox’s top farmhands. At 22, he’s old for his level, so his offensive performance must be placed in that perspective.

Johnson has some patience and some pop, but he may need to tone down his approach to make consistent contact against better pitching. Scouts don’t love his hands and he has made 31 errors in 116 pro games at second base, so he may wind up in center field, just like Hamilton. He can make at least one claim that Hamilton can’t--Johnson reportedly defeated eventual NBA No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden in a game of one-on-one when both were Indiana prep basketball players.

" June 17 Ask BA