Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
By Gavin Potter
Owen Miller was one of the seven players Cleveland acquired from San Diego at the 2020 trade deadline. Honestly, his addition to the trade package felt a little like a throw-in. Miller isn’t particularly young, none of his tools are spectacular, he was only rated a 45 FV (50 FV represents a future average regular MLB player) by the FanGraphs prospects team, and he is yet another middle infield prospect Cleveland has, in what feels like a sea of options.
As I mentioned, the FanGraphs’s team wasn’t particularly fond of him pre-2021, saying:
Miller is the latest in a long line of small, physically generic Midwestern college infielders…A minimalistic swing enables him to make high rates of contact, while the strength in Miller’s hands generates doubles power. It’s not an exciting, athletic style of hitting but on an inoffensive, fundamentally sound defensive shortstop, it’s a pretty interesting skillset. Barring a significant swing change, Miller’s offensive output will likely cap his ceiling near the 45 FV range…Miller is arguably polished enough to play in the big leagues in 2021.
Francisco Lindor was traded shortly after that eval, and that made the path to the majors easier for Miller. He started the 2021 season in AAA, but after 206 PA with a 132 wRC+, he was promoted.
Unfortunately, he struggled when he was promoted – despite how well he did in AAA. His debut included just 202 PA, slashing .204/.243/.309 (49 wRC+). Entering 2022, it seemed like Miller was an afterthought.
But, we’ve seen a totally different player so far in ‘22 – in his 95 PA, he’s tallied a .333/.400/.568 line. A good amount of his damage is because of how many doubles he’s hit. He has 27 hits, and 10 are doubles. His 10 (in just 24 games!) put him among the MLB leaders:
That being said, Miller’s 2022 profile screams regression. A small sample (95 PA), a high BABIP, (.387), and a much higher wOBA (.416) than xwOBA (.347). Also, several projection systems peg him as a low-90s wRC+ type.
Despite multiple indicators suggesting serious regression is coming for Miller, everything about him isn’t doom and gloom. Miller appears more comfortable in 2022 than he did in 2021.
He’s swinging at the first pitch nearly 7% less frequently, despite getting roughly the same amount of strikes. In general, he’s swinging at pitches 3.2% less often.
A more patient Miller is clearly a better Miller. His BB rate is up to 11.6% from 4.5% in 2021. Of course, swinging at more strikes (yellow), and fewer balls (red), makes his overall performance (wOBA, in blue) improve:
In addition to being more comfortable and patient, it appears Miller is embracing the launch angle movement, at least a little. According to StatCast, Miller’s average launch angle has doubled in 2022. Right now, it’s sitting at 12.5 degrees, and his ground ball rate is down (by 17.4%) and his fly ball rate is up (by 13.1%).
Having an athletic player (87th percentile sprint speed!), that’s versatile on defense (1B, 2B, and 3B in 2022) and no clear need to platoon is useful…even more so if he’s improving. With only so-so power, Miller probably shouldn’t be batting cleanup (like he has in 12 of 22 games he’s started so far in 2022), but as soon as Franmil Reyes returns to the #4 slot, that should be resolved.
The Guardians appear to know Miller isn’t their SS of the future, having only started him once there in 2021 and 2022 combined, but there’s no reason he can’t be a key piece going forward.