The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.
Where Did He Come From? The Marlins selected University of North Carolina outfielder Brian Miller in Competitive Balance Round A (No. 36 overall pick) of the 2017 MLB Draft. He received a $1.89 million signing bonus.
.265 BA | .326 OBP | .354 SLG | 2 HR | 98 wRC+ | 495 PA (Double-A)
Miller led Double-A Jacksonville in several offensive categories including hits (119), stolen bases (22), triples (5) and intentional walks (3). That isn’t saying much, however—the Jumbo Shrimp ranked dead last in the Southern League in run production.
In hindsight, I was surprised to see how much center field Miller played in 2019. He has spent 30-plus games there in each of his three professional seasons (though left field remains his primary position). During his minor league career, the 24-year-old has a strong ratio of 17 outfield assists compared to only five errors.
Miller struck out in 16.4% of his plate appearances, slightly worse than he had at lower levels of competition yet still superior to most of his peers. His swinging strike rate was fifth-best among all Marlins MiLB qualifiers.
The Carolina Baseball product was rarely mentioned here on Fish Stripes during a season in which he wasn’t able to sustain hot streaks for extended periods. Miller went 5-for-5 on Apr. 20, immediately followed by a 6-for-39 slump. He only had one month (July) with an OPS above .700.
Miller made it up to Double-A initially in 2018, and towards the end of that campaign, he was plagued by a slew of pop-ups. As Minor Graphs by Prospects Live illustrates, he was able to cut down on many of those automatic outs last year, thus increasing his average fly ball distance.
Check out this no-doubter!
ICYMI: Watch Brian Miller's first Double A homer to give the Shrimp 1-0 lead. pic.twitter.com/0jRuXRY9hd— Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp (@JaxShrimp) April 19, 2019
But generally speaking, Miller struggled to barrel up the ball in 2019. His game power still grades out as a 30 on the 20-80 scouting scale, according to both MLB Pipeline and FanGraphs. The latter reports his average exit velocity was 85 miles per hour, approximately the same as fellow outfielder Víctor Mesa Jr., who is six years his junior. Every Marlins major leaguer made harder contact than that (among those with at least 50 batted balls tracked by Statcast).
Off The Field
Miller is happily married to his wife, Michelle. On his Instagram account (@b_millz05), you’ll find plenty of updates about their date nights and travel. The Millers are parents of a black cat named Sutton.
In December, Brian hosted a baseball clinic for the first time in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
“I love waking up every morning knowing I get to play baseball that day,” Miller told Fish Stripes in an interview two years ago. He’ll be living the dream again very soon as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training.
But what’s in store for him during the regular season?
It does not bode well for Miller’s future with the organization that the Marlins used their top two 2019 draft picks on college outfielders JJ Bleday and Kameron Misner, investing the majority of their total draft bonus pool in them. Last summer’s acquisition of consensus top-100 MLB prospect Jesús Sánchez buries him further on the depth chart. Even Víctor Víctor Mesa, for all of his question marks, is more likely to stick in center field in the majors thanks to his arm strength and instincts.
In the aforementioned article about Miller, I likened him to Scott Podsednik, who had several quality seasons as an everyday MLB outfielder in large part due to his baserunning prowess. That career projection now seems overly optimistic considering the gradual decline in Miller’s base-stealing success rate, from 77.8% (Low-A, 2017) to 76.0% (High-A, 2018) to 75.0% (Double-A, 2018) to 71.0% (Double-A, 2019). Times have changed since Podsednik’s peak—teams are now obsessed with efficiency, prioritizing outs over the extra 90 feet, so runners only receive the “green light” is they’re all-but-certain to make it safely.
Despite the relatively negative tone of this piece, Miller still has an opportunity to prove himself. Whether it’s back in Jacksonville or with Triple-A Wichita, he ought to receive semi-regular at-bats as a LF/DH and backup CF. The reported Matt Joyce signing adds more congestion to the 2020 outfield mix, but Miller could break through to the active roster near the end of the season if he demonstrates the consistently great on-base skills from his Greensboro and Jupiter days.