Difficult Decision Looms For Rockies' Matt Miller

DENVER—In all likelihood, right fielder Matt Miller will be facing a weighty decision this offseason.

He is winding down another solid season at Colorado Springs, where he has played two full years and part of a third. He is finishing his seventh professional season, all in the Rockies organization, and seems destined to become a minor league free agent.

Miller will turn 28 the day after Christmas. He might opt to leave the Rockies, thinking the opportunity to finally reach the big leagues is better elsewhere and that he has done about all he can in the organization that drafted him in the 13th round in 2004 out of Texas State.

If he leaves, Miller's legacy in the organization will be bittersweet. He ranks in the top 10 in Colorado Springs franchise history in six offensive categories, including singles, hits and RBIs. There is every reason to be proud of those accomplishments and every reason to have a lingered-too-long concern because Miller has had more than 3,100 professional at-bats, more than a third of them in Triple-A, without taking a swing in the major leagues.  

"I'm still playing this game, to use the cliche, to reach the end of the rainbow," Miller said. "I want to see what the fuss is about. I want to realize that all the years I've spent in the minors were worth it, and that it's not just the experiences and the guys who I've met.

"It's the sum of different parts, other than the money—which is very lacking—and the game. There's other stuff there that keeps me coming back, but I kind of want the money and the game to be a factor again."

Hazy Future

What Miller definitely doesn't want is to follow the footsteps of Christian Colonel. They were teammates for all or parts of four seasons in the Rockies organization, the last being 2009 at Colorado Springs. Primarily a third baseman, Colonel left the Rockies as a minor league free agent following the '09 season, his second at Colorado Springs and his second without a September callup.

"The main goal is to get to the big leagues," said Colonel, whom the Rockies drafted in the fifth round in 2003 out of Texas Tech, "and I felt like it might be a better option to try to get to the big leagues through a different path with a different team.

"It's going to be tough any way you look at it to get to the major leagues."

Members of the Rockies front office say that shortly after he signed a minor league contract with the Red Sox, Colonel expressed regrets about leaving. He said he had none, but that was before one final bit of business in a humbling, nightmarish season that resulted in Colonel getting demoted to Double-A and being released three times.

Miller will be granted free agency five days after the World Series unless the Rockies have already added him to their 40-man roster. And that's not likely to be Miller's good fortune since the Rockies aren't lacking for outfielders, not with Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs and occasionally Eric Young Jr. Partially because of this depth, the organization cut ties with veteran right fielder Brad Hawpe on Aug. 19.

Moreover, 25-year-old outfielder Cole Garner, who is in his first season with the Sky Sox, has more power and is regarded as being a better defender than Miller.

"I don't know if I'm in a position to get called up regardless of my performance," Miller said. "It's a business and they have plenty of outfielders and they're good outfielders.

"I'm kind of in this purgatory area, and I don't know my future. And it's kind of been like that for years."

A righthanded batter, Miller batted .325/.404/.436 with 10 homers and 81 RBIs in 507 at-bats. A year ago, he hit .319/.380/.476 for the Sky Sox with nine homers and 98 RBIs in 523 at-bats. When he first joined the Sky Sox in late July 2008, Miller had hitting .344/.408/.469 with 10 homers at Double-A Tulsa, where he won the Texas League batting title.

There's no question Miller can hit and has the ability to drive in runs. But his power doesn't profile in the big leagues to right field, where he has played this year and done better defensively, or left field where he previously played.

Miller is a gap-to-gap hitter, who stays inside the ball for a long time and hits a lot of balls to right-center field. But that approach limits his ability to hit some of the pitches that are middle-in with power to the gap in left-center.

Breaking Free From The Mold

One scout who saw Miller recently said he would be an ideal insurance type, a player who can hit and could add organizational depth at Triple-A. That's typecasting Miller would like to break if he leaves the Rockies organization.

"I want to make the best decision as far as what team could use me in the big leagues," Miller said. "I'm sure there are organizations that would like to have me on their Triple-A team in their minor leagues. I don't want to be that player anymore. I want to be able to contribute to a big league team in some way."

That was Colonel's hope when he tested the free agent waters last winter. Though he had a down 2009 season, he had batted .308/.360/.478 season for Colorado Springs in '08, belting 12 homers in 429 at-bats.

In 2009, Colonel went to big league spring training as a non-roster invitee. A corner infielder who can play the outfield, he was dubbed "duct tape" that spring by former Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, who liked the way could capably whatever position he played.

And he played a lot that spring, getting 63 at-bats in 31 exhibition games and hitting .286/.333/.444. That was a prelude to a season at Colorado Springs where Colonel made the Pacific Coast League all-star team—just as Miller did this season—and hit .279/.348/.386 with seven homers in 391 at-bats.

Colonel, 28, signed a minor league deal in January with the Red Sox but got released at the end of spring training. Since then he's passed through the Blue Jays, Padres and Braves organizations, batting a cumulative .257/.363/.351 in 191 at-bats, mostly in Double-A and mostly in a part-time capacity.

Colonel even landed in the independent Atlantic League for a week, where he batted 4-for-29 (.138) for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, before joining the Braves.

While with the Padres' Double-A San Antonio club, Colonel, the oldest player on the team, said he tried to be a mentor to the young players and tried "to show them how to play the game right" when he did play. That wasn't often, and after going 21-for-95 (.221) in 39 games, the Padres released him on Aug. 6.

Just prior to his release by San Diego, Colonel was emphasizing the positives, saying as long as he was putting on a jersey and cleats "then I still got a chance to get to the big leagues." But after bucking head winds all season, Colonel was concerned about his future.

"I'm just a little worried about next year and what's going to happen," he said. "I feel like I can still play. It's just when you're not playing, who's going to sign you?"