The game of baseball is a brutal sport. Most would think it is not, but the daily grind of the game can be tough on even the fittest player. No position is more grueling than being a catcher, and the Padres have a very decent prospect in Ryan Miller.
In talking to Ryan, I got a sense right away that he has what it takes to be a manager one day. Even at the age of 23, he seems wise beyond his years as far as the game of baseball is concerned.
Miller is highly regarded for his athleticism and strong arm behind the dish. He is above average defensively right now, but still recognizes his deficiencies and even discusses with me that he needs to receive the ball better and that is something he is currently working on.
Spending the winter in Australia was great for his development and Miller had a breakout season with the bat as well. He showed great pop this winter league hitting 10 home runs and 16 doubles in almost 50 games while collecting a .305 batting average.
The 14th round pick in the 2013 draft of the Padres was a Junior College All-American out of San Bernardino Valley College in California. He won two consecutive gold gloves in college and has developed even more in the minor league system for the Padres. I was excited to speak with this young man and we had a very pleasant conversation.
Tell me a little bit about your time in the Australian Baseball League. What was that like?
It was my first time being in Australia and was probably one of the best experiences of my life. Being in a new country and meeting a bunch of new guys was great. That is the big leagues of baseball out there (for Australia) so everyone is out there trying to win a ball game. The team clicked right away and it was fun. We finished in second place and had a good season. My manager in the Australian league was Michael Collins who is a coach in the Padres organization. I had someone who had seen me play and he new my style. He is an ex catcher too and that helped me.
What is your favorite aspect of being a catcher?
I would say the mental aspect of the game. Last spring training the Padres had me focus on that mental aspect and being in the moment. You constantly assess a batter and know your pitcher and you are thinking of the mental side of the game. It is fun for me to be in control of the game and being mentally there. You can never let your mind skip a beat and must constantly be prepared for the next challenge.
You mentioned coach Collins, but were there any other coaches that really took you under their wing and helped you in the professional level?
Collins has been a huge part of my career lately. I spent spring training with him, then spent Low A-Ball with him, then to High A-Ball with him and now Winter Ball in Australia. It has been a blessing to have someone who caught in the upper minor leagues and even in the Padres organization help me out. You only have a certain amount of time with the roving catching coordinator so it is nice to have someone who is with you for the whole season. In between innings if he sees something, we go over it and work on it. It is great to have someone like him. People have even called him my dad, because of all the time we have spent together recently. He has taught me a lot and it means the world to me coming from someone who has been there.
I know you are only 23, and have a long career ahead of you but, would you consider coaching or managing in the game when your playing career was over?
I’m going to play baseball as long as I can and until they tell me I can’t play anymore. But when that day comes I would love to be a coach or manager or catching instructor. If that didn’t work out I could go back to school and get my degree and coach somewhere. Baseball is a game I love. I have been around it since I was two years old. I would have no problem doing it everyday.
Growing up did you have a favorite player or team?
My favorite player of all time was Chipper Jones. When I grew up I was mainly a third baseman and a pitcher. From what I read and saw he was a class act and I looked up to him. I switch hit a little in high school, but stuck to right handed since I was more consistent.
How close were you to signing with the University of Nebraska?
Darin Erstad and his assistant coach came out and watched me a little bit and then went back home to Nebraska. They became interested and asked me to fly out there. I did and toured the facility, met some guys and stayed a few nights there. My last day I went up to his office and they gave me an offer. I told myself I can’t turn this down and I signed a letter of intent with them. I knew going into the draft that I was going to be selected and I figured I should pursue my dream now instead of trying to go to college. If I didn’t succeed now then I could always go back to school at a later time. That is kind of what the Padres offered me in my contract. There is some scholarship money in there if things don’t work out in baseball. That was a big part of the contract. I wanted school money in the deal.
Did you notice a big difference in play during the four games that you played at the Double-A level?
As soon as I walked in the clubhouse there was a different vibe. You are close to the big leagues there and everyone knows you are one call away. The pitchers pitch to the hitters weaknesses and pay attention to each hitters tendencies. They are more consistent with their secondary pitchers. I thought it was much easier to catch there in that regard.
Tell us about your defense and how much pride you take in it.
I take a lot of pride in my defense. I remember my first game at rookie ball. They told me my first job was to take care of the pitching staff. To block balls in the dirt, throw guys out and manage the game. That stuck in my mind and everything I do defensively I try to be the best at. I like to be trusted behind the plate so my pitchers can throw something in the dirt and get people out.
What would you describe as your biggest strength in the game right now?
My offense came alive when I was in Australia. In less than 50 games I easily out performed my previous best power numbers. My defense is what I am known for but I am feeling more comfortable with my offense.
What would you consider your weakness, or something you need to work on?
My weakness is receiving the ball right now. By that I mean I need to frame better and not let the momentum of the baseball move my glove.
Are there any players within the Padres system that you bonded with in particular?
River Stevens. We played together at short season, at High-A and we lived together when we went to Australia. I got to really get to know him and we have been texting each other. I’ve gotten really close to him.
Tell me about the most impressive pitcher you have caught so far on the professional level.
I caught Aaron Thompson. He has been up and down with the Twins so far in his career. I caught him in Australia and you can tell from a High-A player to a big league guy. He would first pitch strike low and away players like nothing. He would also throw this cutter and have two or three different versions of it. Hitters couldn’t do anything with his stuff. It was amazing working with him. He told me he liked throwing to me because he could trust me with his stuff in the dirt. That meant a lot to me. A big leaguer trusting me was really cool.
Give us a name of Padres pitcher that is under the radar right now. Someone who maybe doesn’t have the best numbers but is bound to have success.
Zech Lemond. I caught him in High-A. He didn’t have the greatest of seasons but he has great life on his two-seem fastball. He has great secondary stuff too. He would just leave it up a lot. I think he has the potential. If he finds out what he is doing wrong and makes the adjustment, he could shoot up through the system.
Any message for the kids trying to make it to the pro level?
I would say to stay determined. Other than that keep making goals. Never stop working.