Enigmatic Miller Seeks Last Piece Of Puzzle

CARY, N.C.—He is still working to rid himself of the nasty habit, but once Clemson shortstop and Team USA infielder Brad Miller learns to stop thinking on the field and instead rely on his athleticism and instincts, he can be one of the best all-around players in the country.

A lithe 6-foot, 185-pounder, Miller has all the physical tools necessary to be be drafted in the first round or two. With a refined swing and advanced strike-zone discipline, he also has plenty of offensive ability to continue to play the game at the professional level. Even off the field, where teammates and coaches describe him as a hard-working and intelligent team leader, it is clear that Miller has the makeup that scouts and professional organizations love to see when they are weighing their draft options.

But although he speaks and plays with confidence, the mental aspect of the game has so far prevented the rising junior from becoming a complete player.

As a sophomore on one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's best offensive clubs, Miller led the Tigers with a .357 batting average, and finished second on the team in on-base percentage (.458), OPS (1.018), runs (71), and doubles (19). But as good as he was offensively, he was just as bad defensively. He led the conference in errors with 32, including seven in the NCAA tournament. In the super regional against Alabama he let a slow ground ball roll through his legs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and almost cost Clemson its berth in Omaha.

"Honestly, it was just like with hitting, I got into a slump and at times I did some uncharacteristic things," Miller admitted. "Sometimes when you don't perform the way you want to you stress about it and start over-thinking and being too fine. I just have to get back to being myself and letting my athletic ability and instincts take over."

It will be a major hurdle for Miller to overcome, but with the summer-ending injury to Team USA third baseman Anthony Rendon, Miller will get plenty of opportunities to work through the struggles, whether it will be at shortstop or at third base.

Coming out of Olympia High near Orlando in 2008, Miller was a highly touted prep prospect and one of the best high school players in the talent-rich state of Florida. There were rumors that Miller and his family turned down more than a million dollars from a team looking to draft him in one of the early rounds before the Rangers drafted him in the 39th round. Miller denied the rumors and said negotiations never even got started between the Rangers and his family. So he ended up at Clemson, where coach Jack Leggett was glad to have him.

"It was just one of those things where my family and I had a number in our heads that if a team offered it we would seriously consider it," Miller said. "It was definitely a situation where I couldn't lose. I was excited to get drafted but the idea of going to college and having three more years to mature, get stronger physically, and play against some of the best players in the country was just as appealing."

When fifth-year senior and defensive stalwart Stan Widmann left Clemson for personal reasons at the beginning of the 2009 season, Miller was unexpectedly thrust into the starting shortstop role. He performed admirably, hitting .273/.405/.345 with three home runs and 36 RBIs while making 23 errors and becoming the first Tigers freshman to start every game since Widmann and Taylor Harbin did it in 2005.

This season Miller broke out offensively and showed off his enticing potential at the plate with eight home runs and 49 RBIs. He also drew 50 walks while striking out just 43 times and helped lead Clemson to the College World Series.

"Offensively he really started to come on this year because he just kept working on his game," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "He has the ability to hit the ball to all fields and has some snap in his hands as well as power in his bat. Defensively he just needs to work on playing a little lower. He gets streaky but we talked about it and he knows he needs to work on it. Hopefully he can keep working hard this summer."

Although he is still on the temporary roster for the Cape Cod League's Cotuit Kettleers this summer, Miller knew the instant he was invited back to Team USA trials that he wanted to spend another summer representing his country. Last summer Miller hit .255/.417/.255 with eight stolen bases and a .981 fielding percentage while playing second base for Team USA alongside shortstop Christian Colon.

This summer Miller faced stiffer competition, as Team USA invited just one third baseman (Rendon) and six shortstops to trials. Nevertheless, when the dust had settled and the final 22 players had been picked, Miller was among those who had made the cut.

"There was a lot of discussion about Brad, but ultimately he is a leader who really blends in with any group," USA Baseball's general manager for national teams Eric Campbell said. "We asked him: If he wanted to play, would he be willing to play a number of positions? And he was ready for the challenge. We trusted him after last year, and he gives us a lot of versatility in the infield. I think this spring he was just out of rhythm defensively. He definitely has all the tools to be a great defender."

Now if only he could quit thinking so much.