The Mariners knew what they were getting when they took shortstop Brad Miller in the second round out of Clemson last year. They knew he would hit and would be an excellent teammate, but that his defense was a little rough around the edges. So far, that assesment has been spot on.
Miller has been an offensive force this season for the High Desert Mavericks. Over his first 72 games (297 at-bats), Miller is hitting .326/.409/.525. He ranks first in the league in doubles (27), third in walks (43), eighth in batting average and fourth in on-base percentage.
He was named to the California League all-star game that took place June 19 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and his former Clemson teammate (and 2012 first-round pick by the Rays) Richie Shaffer watched him go 1-for-1 with a double and a walk (which he drew off of Dylan Bundy).
"I've felt good, I feel like I'm just learning about how to play everyday and how to be consistent," Miller said about the first half of his season. "It's already been 70 games and there's been some ups and downs. You're feeling good, feeling bad, but it's been fun. It's been a fun first year."
Miller's home hitting environment is one of the best in the minor leagues for hitters. But his dynamic offense isn't just the product of a cozy home ballpark. He's hitting .368/.446/.645 at home this season. His road numbers, while a big step down from those at home, are still solid at .282/.370/.403.
"You always hear the hype and it's probably never as big as you expect because you go in with such big expectations," Miller said about playing in the California League. "I mean, especially at High Desert, we have our days. Sometimes it plays really fair and sometimes it gets out of control where there's 50 hits. We lost 26-11 one game and it's just tough. But there's some parks that play pretty big and the quality of pitching has been there and you still have to earn it."
As good as Miller's been offensively, he's still working to become more consistent on defense. He has 21 errors this season—14 fielding and seven throwing. His errors are the most in the Mariners' organization and he's tied with Billy Hamilton for the most in the California League.
Miller has shown improvement so far. Eleven of his errors came in April. He cut that number to seven in May and has made just three errors so far in June.
"I'm just trying to be consistent," Miller said. "You've got to bring it everyday and I'm always working on my footwork and staying low and really learning what kind of setup and everything works for me. It's just like hitting—you take pride in it. I really want to be a defensive player. So, that's my focus—just making as many plays as I can and trying to get to every ball."
Scouts and coaches rave about Miller's leadership and work ethic and he was well prepared to make a smooth transition into pro ball after three years at Clemson and two stints with Team USA.
"Luckily, I got to play on Team USA twice," Miller said. "We went to Japan, we went to Canada and we played and we traveled. So that experience is invaluable for playing with the wood bats and against the great competition. Playing with Team USA was some of my best memories in college and I feel like I really got a lot better playing there. That's huge to get that experience before coming into pro ball."
But Miller's professional pedigree stretches back even further. Before his time at Clemson, Miller played for Olympia High in Orlando. In total, Miller's alma matters produced 10 draft picks this year—seven from Clemson and three from Olympia—righthander Walker Weickel and outfielders Jesse Winker and Connor Lien.
"I played with Jesse's older brother (Joey)," Miller said. "When I go back home, I hit with Jesse all the time and he hits 'em way farther than I do! I know Jesse signed already and he's been texting me asking what to expect. He's a great kid and he works his butt off. I couldn't have been happier for him."