In speaking to several of the young prospects in the Padres’ system, It doesn’t take long to gather a real sense of who they are.
My immediate impression of the Padres’ third-round selection (#84 overall) Owen Miller, is that he is not messing around. He came to the system to play the game of baseball and that is exactly what he intends to do. Miller is fully prepared to make a difference in the organization. He loves the game and it shows.
We first talked about draft day and his reaction to the whole experience. “It was pretty cool. Draft day was one of the days I will never forget… I celebrated with my family… It was a dream come true.” Starting his professional career was truly what he wanted. There really was no thoughts of returning back to Illinois State for his senior year.
Owen steered the conversation towards the Padres. “Right before the draft, I did a workout at Petco Park. I got to meet a bunch of people throughout the (Padres) farm system. I talked with a lot of people. I did very well there and that is probably one of the reasons they picked me.” Apparently, the young shortstop was very impressive, as the Padres wasted no time in selecting him.
We spoke about San Diego and his thoughts of Petco. “That was actually the first workout I did and the first time I got to hit in a major league stadium. San Diego was beautiful. I had never been out to the city before. Seeing everything was a great experience.” Miller powered a few homers out of Petco that day during the workout and described that feeling as “awesome”. He truly enjoyed his time in America’s Finest City.
Owen Miller finished his three years at Illinois State with a .345/.383/.511 slash line (.894 OPS) in 162 games and 713 at-bats. He played in every inning, of every game his entire career there and was recognized by his peers as a leader. I wanted to know a little bit about his time in college. “I had a great three-year run at Illinois State. I was happy to play there. We didn’t have the greatest of success, but I was really able to develop there as a baseball player. I made life-long relationships there. I really want to thank the coaches there that made me better.” He realizes that everything happens for a reason. Playing ball at that school got him to where he is today. Owen is extremely grateful for that.
Paul DeJong played at Illinois State. The current St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop was a senior during Miller’s freshman year at the school. The two know each other well, as the elder player has helped pave the way for Miller in a sense. “I met him my freshman year. He introduced me to his agent (who is mine now) and they helped educate me about the draft process. I heard from Paul a lot. He was a great mentor and a great guy to talk to. To see someone from Illinois State have the success he has makes someone like myself realize I can also have success at the next level.” Scouts took notice of DeJong and he paid dividends right away. Players from the ISU Conference should not be taken for granted as skill for the game can be found in numerous places.
I noticed that Owen played a little in the Cape Cod League. I was curious about his thoughts on the well-known wood bat league on the East Coast. “I was out in the Cape for a little bit. I didn’t get an opportunity to show my skills there. Coming from a small school, I wasn’t given much playing time.” He was sat in favor of players from larger schools and that certainly motivated this young man. Everything happens for a reason and the time he spent being “big-timed” in a league like that fed his passion for the game.
Swinging a wood bat can be daunting for some teenagers so I asked Owen about his experience. “It’s a little bit of an adjustment moving to wood bats. The bats are weighted a little differently and it is difficult to find the right size. After a week or two into the season, I generally get comfortable swinging the wood bats. I talked to some guys on the team and found something that is comfortable for me.” Miller is no stranger to adjustments. I get a sense that he is relieved to start his pro career and begin exclusively using wood bats. After some trial and error, he told me that he found a combination that suits him currently.
Every single season at Illinois State, Owen Miller increased his walk percentage and decreased his strikeout rate. He showed improved patience at the plate while displaying gap power. I asked him about his approach at the plate and what he tries to do in hitter’s counts (2-0 and 3-1 counts). “I have always been a big believer that you only hit as good as your approach is. I always try to stay to the middle of the field. If you stay towards the middle and try to hit it there you can react on other pitches. This spring, I was able to strike out a lot less as I was on more pitches trying to hit it up the middle. I have never been a guy who bought into the launch angle stuff. I just try to hit the ball as hard as I can and use the whole field.” This is an excellent approach for a young hitter. He will go far with this simple approach to his mechanics and thought process.
The Tri-City area is not exactly the rain and trees you expect when you think of the state of Washington. We laughed about the desert climate and how it was certainly different from what he thought it was going to be. His first professional experience has been fantastic though. He has no complaints. “I have been having a blast so far. The fan base here is awesome. We get a lot of support, and our host families are great. I think we have really good chemistry with this team. A lot of these guys have known each other for a few years. We mesh together as a group pretty well.” This young group in Tri-City has been brought together in the last month and you already get a sense that they enjoy each other’s company. That really bodes well for the future of the franchise as these young men are huge parts of it.
The brotherhood of professional sports in an awesome thing. Owen is now a member of the baseball fraternity and I wanted to know if he had bonded with any teammates early in his pro career. “Some of the college guys I was drafted with. Luke Becker and Dwanya Sutton-Williams are good friends. Guys I am working with on a daily basis in the infield are also friends.” Only a month into the Dust Devils’ season and the friendships being formed are certainly vital. Like the Padres, you want these young men to enjoy playing the game together. It makes the daily grind that much easier if you have teammates you enjoy spending time with.
In trying to get a sense of who Owen Miller was, I spoke to several scouts and baseball evaluators. They all had one thing in common. They generally used the word “gamer” when describing the young shortstop. I asked Owen about that word and how he viewed himself as a player. “I have definitely heard that word used to describe me before. I think it is just because we live in a world where everything is so showcased. Throwing the ball hard and hitting long home runs in batting practice doesn’t mean you are a good baseball player. I have always been labeled as a guy who gets the job done. Nothing flashy about it. I hit the ball hard and I make the plays. I’m going to do that as long as I can.” This is an awesome quote from this young man. His simple approach to the game excites me for his future.
During a long baseball season, it can be difficult to stay on task. More often than not there is an outside force that assists these players during the grind of the season. I asked Owen about what motivates him and this is what he communicated to me. “It’s a passion for the game. I have always had a love for the game of baseball since I was a little kid. My dad passed that on to me. As I get older, I realize that there are guys who are playing who don’t love the game. It’s fun to play the game. I love watching it and playing it. I always want to be the best I can be. I go out each game and try to be the best player on the field that day.” He approaches baseball as a game and nothing more. Prospects can make the mistake of letting the game get too big for them, which has a drastic effect on their skill level. Owen Miller will go out each day and grind. He will have the proper mind-set on the diamond. What else can you ask of a minor league prospect?
Speaking of the grind. Owen has issues taking days off as he constantly works on getting better. “I just got my first true day off in a long time last week. It was strange not playing.” Last Wednesday was a painful day for Miller riding the bench. He did use the time to enjoy a different aspect to the game. It may not have been his choice, but he made the best out of the situation and further advanced his knowledge of the game by viewing it from the dugout.
He was drafted as a shortstop and is currently playing the position in Washington. I asked him if he has his heart set on sticking at the position and he gave me a very honest response to the series of questions. I did not expect anything less. “Honestly, I played short only (in college), but I can play anywhere. The Padres have told me I’ll play short this whole year, but next year is up in the air. It is about my bat helping the team win. If I’m playing second or third or short- it doesn’t matter to me. I can be a utility man if they need me to be that. Where ever they need me.” With that mind-set, he could advance rather quickly in the system. Owen Miller has put up a .341/.385/.471 batting line for the Tri-City Dust Devils so far in 2018. The 21-year-old is someone to keep your eye on. Do not expect glitz and glamor though, as he simply makes the plays he is supposed to and hits the ball extremely hard. The San Diego Padres wouldn’t have it any other way.