From Prison to the Big Leagues

Here’s both an incredible and feel good story for not only Ranger fans, but for all baseball fans out there.

Last year, 12 years since getting drafted out of high school as the number 1 overall pick by the Padres in 2004, Matt Bush made his major league debut as a reliever.

So here’s the story:

After getting drafted, Bush was involved in a bar fight in 2004 before his minor league career ever began. He was arrested during that incident for underage drinking, etc. In 2009, Bush was allegedly involved in assaulting two high school lacrosse players. Then later in 2012, Bush pleaded no contest to a DUI incident in which he injured a 72-year-old motorcyclist. Bush was sentenced to 3 years in prison for a near fatal incident. Bush used his time in prison to think about how alcohol had sidetracked his life. He eventually began throwing again during his last year in his prison sentence.

Once released, Bush signed with the Texas Rangers. He was hitting high-90s on the radar gun with his fastball. Bush only pitched 17 innings in AA ball before getting called up to the show where he held a 7-2 record and 2.48 era in 61.2 innings pitched. Unbelievable numbers for a guy who just recently came out of prison. He was ready to go almost immediately.

Here’s video footage of his debut.

 

Who is Brad Miller?

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.

9440360312_7cda95f7be_k.jpgImage 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:

Year Games AVG OBP HR RBI SLG SB
2013 76 0.265 0.318 8 36 0.418 5
2014 123 0.221 0.288 10 36 0.365 4
2015 144 0.258 0.329 11 46 0.402 13

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:

Year Games AVG OBP HR RBI SLG SB
2016 152 0.243 0.304 30 81 0.482 6

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.

1c_miller080916_17725316_8colImage 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.

Boston’s Future

Red Sox Nation — With the recent departure of David Ortiz, fans all around must be scratching their heads thinking what’s next in store for the future of their storied franchise. Well, one needs to look no further than what’s already in front of them. In this past season, Mookie Betts has evolved into an unbelievable talent, finishing runner up to MVP winner Mike Trout.  Betts finished just 45 points behind Trout in a close 356 – 311 race.

Personally, I feel that Betts had an incredible season that was overshadowed by a 2nd place finish in the MVP race just because it’s one of those instances where nobody really remembers who finishes second. The numbers that Betts put up should not be overlooked however — these were Big Papi type numbers that Red Sox fans would have sorely missed, but did not.

Now, not to take anything away from NL MVP winner Kris Bryant, because both Betts and Bryant play different positions — and to compare an MVP winner’s rookie year numbers to another player based on the future projections of their age is very unfair. The point here is Mookie Betts quietly put up a very good year statistically. Here are the numbers for comparison at age 23 from each of the mentioned players:

AGE AVG OBP HR RBI SB
Betts 23 0.318 0.363 31 113 26
Bryant 23 0.275 0.369 26 99 13

Betts’ numbers eclipses Bryant’s in all major categories. The comparison on this past year’s MVP race between Trout and Betts is so close that Betts may have very well won MVP had it been any other year. Betts hit for a higher average, hit more home runs, collected more RBIs, and had more steals than Trout. The only major category in which Trout flat out won was OBP. Trout’s absurd .441 OBP was .72 higher than Betts which was probably enough to put Trout over the top in the race. If the numbers are indicative of anything, it’s showing that Mookie Betts is already up there with some of the best, and doing so at the age of 23.

If that’s not good enough, Boston’s star-studded outfield includes rookie Andrew Benintendi.  Benintendi is young and has had a very successful first stint in the majors this past year posting a .295 average and .359 on base percentage in 105 at bats, impressive numbers for any 22 year old to put up.

Boston Red Sox batter Andrew Benintendi, right, hits a single off Minnesota Twins pitcher Casey Fien as Twins catcher Juan Centeno watches in the seventh inning of a spring training Grapefruit League game at JetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Fla. on Friday, March 18, 2016.Image by The Boston Herald

Benintendi’s quick arrival means good news for Red Sox nation. After getting drafted in the 1st round in 2015, Benintendi excelled in minors. Without even finishing his full second year in AA, the Boston brass made the decision to call up Benintendi. Typically, even some of the most talented players need at least two years in the minors to polish up their game. Benintendi is one of the few exceptions.

I think Benintendi is going to turn out to be a lot better of a player than most people may perceive. At just 5’10″and 180 pounds, Benintendi brings a whole lot of pop to the table, an area I feel most people would write him off without even giving a second look.  Benintendi has shown the ability to hit for average and steal bases in the minors. I think this is imperative for a player his size when being evaluated. The best part is that Benintendi has shown that he is more than that.

On top of all that, Benintendi’s college career entails a list of some of the highest accolades. We’re talking about Baseball America’s College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award. These honors backs what Benintendi has been able to do against some of the top competition in college. And given some more time for growth in the majors, Benintendi may very well contend with those at the highest level.

Whether a player will excel or flop is not something that is easy to project. Benintendi and Betts have already shown that they are both rising talents with Betts already making his name known. With Big Papi now out of the picture, Red Sox Nation can rest easy with two young rising stars picking up the load.