Brad Miller: Buy Or Sell?
In 2013, Mariners Brad Miller was above average – by a hair – offensively. For a veteran, a wRC+ of 103 is generally worthy of a shoulder shrug. For a rookie, average is anything but a dirty word as more celebrated rookie Anthony Rendon fell short of Miller’s pace.
But what’s ahead? It’s not as if Miller is particularly graceful, fluid, strong or athletic. In truth, pretty much everything about the shortstop is underwhelming except for on field production.
Is there much room to grow and continue to develop physically? Will his already polished offensive game result in a .300 hitter, 15-home run threat or anything else resembling a top flight offensive shortstop? We know the Mariners are better off with Miller at shortstop than Brendan Ryan or other internal options, but what about your dynasty league fantasy baseball team? Can you do better, or is Miller a legitimate building block?
Evaluating Miller’s minor league numbers are a bit tricky. As a college draft pick, his dominating Single-A and High-A was expected — especially in the California League. In actuality, his promotion to Double-A in 2012 was the first time Miller faced appropriate competition. Miller maintained his torrid pace and dominated at a time when his numbers should have regressed.
The end of 2012 was my first look at Miller and I came away impressed with his hit tool and athleticism at shortstop even though it wasn’t particularly pretty. That perceived “funk” and lack of fluidity is likely the cause of Miller falling out of the first round of his draft class. After scouting both Nick Franklin and Miller, I believe the former Clemson Tiger was Seattle’s shortstop of the future and Franklin would eventually move.
In spring training, I was disappointed to see Franklin playing shortstop with Miller serving in more of a super utility role. This, followed by a Double-A assignment left me thinking Franklin would receive first crack at securing the position in Seattle.
Fortunately, Miller picked up where he left off offensively and proved to be one of the best hitters in the Southern League. A promotion to the Pacific Coast League and continued dominance prompted the call to Seattle.
In Seattle, the results were a bit of a mixed bag. In June and July, he maintained solid walk rates and brought the strikeouts in check. The signs of a young hitter about to bust out were there, but then the walk totals plummeted. With Miller being a player who peppers the field with line drives and ground balls, I suspect opposing pitchers decided to challenge Miller in the strike zone more.
Fortunately, scouting Miller has me thinking he’s a smart enough player to adjust and improve through experience. Plus, his rookie ISO would have ranked sixth among shortstops if he had the plate appearances to rank amongst qualified leaders. Jed Lowrie ranked fifth with an ISO just .002 higher. Miller has the pop to make pitchers pay.
Speaking of Jed Lowrie, his 2013 totals are a fine statistical comp for the player Miller can become. Miller’s BABIP of .294 struck me as low even though it’s about league average. Combine his decent speed with a strong line drive/ground ball profile and I expect his BABIP to be .315-.320 over a full season. Lowrie’s was .319 and yielded a triple slash line of .290/.344/.446. With 15 home runs and 75-80 runs and RBI, Lowrie proved to be one fantasy baseball’s best shortstops.
As for Miller, I’d be looking to acquire him in dynasty formats. The combination of his playing in Seattle and not having a speed profile will prompt owners to look for something sexier. For example, an owner with both Jonathan Villar and Brad Miller is likely to keep Villar as a lottery ticket with a chance at 40 stolen bases and punt other categories. It’s a reasonable line of thinking and one I would even consider.
Remember, top shortstops go for mad money at auction and it would be wise to go cheap at the position, hold serve and invest that money elsewhere. Maybe it’s chance, but the best fantasy shortstops all came up lame this year. If one can no longer trust Jose Reyes, Troy Tulowitzki or Hanley Ramirez to play 150 plus games, then why pay the premium? I’d rather go all in on a second baseman like Robinson Cano who is a near lock for 160 games played.
3 Feb 2014 / Mike Newman /
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