When the Rays parted ways with both Joe Maddon and Wil Myers, the 2015 Rays were that much less fun to watch. Myers had won Rookie of the Year with the Rays a season previous to a 2014 sophomore slump. This had to have led Rays fans questioning whether the Rays management knew what they were doing. Did the Rays dump Myers after one season of disappointment? Was it too much of an impulse decision? And then, what could have gone more wrong, did go wrong. The Rays lost utility man Ben Zobrist who — get this — moved on to the Kansas City Royals and the Chicago Cubs, aiding them both in winning world series titles, and the latter team being managed by the person the Rays let go, Joe Maddon. Alright, so 2 out of the 3 decisions didn’t turn out so great, maybe the Myers trade will work out. But what happened with Myers? He had a breakout year this past season with the Padres hitting a career high 28 home runs and driving in 94, and topped that off with 28 stolen bags. So what in the world were the Rays management thinking? The Rays had always shown that with a low payroll, a team could still find success in a division shared with the Yankees and Red Sox, so who did they gain in all this loss?
This leads to the crux of this article — the acquisition of shortstop Brad Miller. Miller was never a direct part in any of the aforementioned trades with any of the key players. Any Rays fan would logically assume that they acquired Miller from one of the keys pieces that left, but that’s not the case. He was acquired for 2 pitchers and another prospect, none of which quite panned out yet at least. This means that Miller wasn’t a very sought after player and was a relatively unknown player for good reason.
Image by Keith Allison
So who is Brad Miller? This is a guy who comes out of Clemson and gets drafted in the second round (62nd overall). This basically means that there was very little hype to his name after getting passed in the 1st round and being picked near the end of the second round in the draft. He’s no Bryce Harper, nor is he anywhere close to a player with the defensive prowess such as Andrelton Simmons.
Here’s a quick breakdown. Miller is guy who plays a defensive position without showing any sort of flash in his game both offensively and defensively. He spent 3 years with the Mariners prior to being brought on board with the Rays in 2016. Possessing a quick swing, average speed and defense, Miller was an average to fringe player all 3 years at Seattle who was able to find playing time due to the Mariners’ lack of depth at shortstop position.
Statistically speaking, here are Miller’s numbers with Seattle:
These are all average numbers all across the board. If there is any takeaway from this, it’s that Miller has shown a steady improvement each year. He was able to appear in more games each year, and was able to increase his OBP, HR, RBI, and SB in his final year with Seattle.
One shocking statistic not mentioned in the stats provided would be Miller’s defensive metrics. According to both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, Miller played average to below average defense at the shortstop position, a position at which defense is typically the most vital. This is very puzzling because at the offensive rate that Miller was producing, his defensive output was not high enough to back his lack in offensive production. Maybe Miller is a late bloomer, maybe he needs a little more time than the average shortstop. Maybe he needed to be traded to ignite a fire inside him.
The following are Miller’s numbers this past season after being dealt to the Rays:
Miller’s overall numbers showed a very noticeable spike in production with the Rays, a career-high in games played, a nearly double in RBI production compared to 2 seasons with the Mariners, and more home runs than all three years combined with the Mariners with 30 in one year with the Rays alone.
We’re talking 30 home runs from a shortstop (albeit Miller was converted to playing 1st base for a good chunk of the season). As for Miller’s hitting ability, his average was as stated, average. This is an area that can improved on and with Miller being the player that I think he’ll become, I think it’s very reasonable.
So what’s going on inside Brad Miller’s head in the midst of a career high? According to an MLB.com article last August, Miller was disappointed with the Rays’ management decision to stick him at 1st base. And who could blame him for being unhappy? After having played a primarily defensive position his entire career, going from shortstop to 1st base is far from something more practical like a move from shortstop to 3rd base would be. That’s a blow to any shortstop’s ego. I think Miller will continue to improve offensively in whichever side of the diamond the Rays decide to stick him at.
Image by The Tampa Bay Times
Pictured above: the unconventional Miller prefers not wearing batting gloves
Why am I so high on Brad Miller? The intrigue that I have with him is what an unknown player like himself possesses in terms of ability. I don’t know if baseball has ever seen a guy like Miller before. Here’s a guy that’s 27 years of age who is showing signs of life. There are GMs in baseball who will let a player go if they don’t perform by the age of 25. If the potential is there, and I do believe it’s there, the question now is what he can become.
Miller’s unique swing and quick bat is not ordinary for any ball player. For a guy with 4 years of MLB experience under his belt as just an average player, there is a certain level-headedness in the way he plays the game. It makes me believe that there is hope for a guy who’s headed the direction of being an MLB journeyman for the remainder of his career. He might just be the guy the Rays were looking for to stay alive in the very competitive AL East.