Brad Miller expects to play center field for the remainder of the Mariners’ season
HOUSTON — Brad Miller says he is a shortstop. Sure, he won’t play the position much over the next five weeks, but he won’t allow that belief to be taken from him. Not yet.
He said it the first time he lost the starting job in June as he was learning to be a supposed “super” utility player who could play outfield, shortstop and wherever else he was needed.
He said it again earlier this week in Houston, a day after Mariners starting center fielder Austin Jackson had been traded. Both acting general manager Jeff Kingston and manager Lloyd McClendon confirmed Miller will play center field the majority of the time in Seattle’s remaining 28 games.
The conversation started with the mention that he’s always maintained he’s been a shortstop, even through all the changes.
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“I am,” he said. “Yeah, I am.”
And yet, he knows what he believes isn’t what’s going to happen. He accepts that. Call him stubborn, but don’t label him unwilling.
“That’s clearly what I’m going to do,” he said. “It’s pretty clear, so, yeah, that’s my thing. I’ve got to be professional. I’ve got to go out there; this is something new to me, it’s obviously a challenge because I’ve never done it before. So go out there and just keep playing.”
The challenge doesn’t sound complicated.
“I’m playing a position I’ve never played before,” Miller said of center field.
He’s been told how his athleticism and versatility make him ideal for the outfield. He’s heard scouts tell him he projects better in the outfield. He knows there have been discussions about moving him there permanently.
But he’s still played only five games in center field and 17 in the outfield. To him, it’s not as simple of a transition as people think.
“I wish it was easy, but you know, that’s the thing, people can speculate and blah, blah, blah, ‘He’s this, he can do that,’ ” he said. “Well, I’ve never done it. So that’s the challenge. I know I can play shortstop because I’ve done it. But center field, I have no clue. So it’s very foreign to me.”
Miller always has been willing to work. From the time the Mariners selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft, Miller has been tireless in his preparation. He’s logged thousands of hours trying to improve his footwork and consistency at shortstop. Now he’s doing the same in the outfield. It’s the job. And it’s part of being a professional.
“Yeah, no doubt, but you know it is exciting kind of going out there and seeing what I’ve got, because that’s part of it,” he said. “You’ve got to prove it to yourself that you can go out and handle it. Obviously, I’m in the lineup and I’m playing and I’m swinging. So that’s it, and obviously this is what I’m doing right now and I’m going to try to do the best I can at it.”
Why make this transition?
The Mariners have a void in center field entering 2016. Jackson will be a free agent this offseason, so he probably was gone anyway. The internal options at center field are minimal, with James Jones the best candidate.
The Mariners had considered switching young infielder Ketel Marte to center field to take advantage of his speed. And that could still happen under a new general manager. But Marte has played well at shortstop since being called up, earning him a chance to stay there the remainder of the season.
That meant Miller would move back to the outfield. There are signs he can handle the position well.
Monday, Miller chased down a deep fly ball. At full sprint, he tracked it and ran it down for a pretty catch.
“I’m really just trying to keep my eyes on it, not really turn my head from it too much,” he said. “Every ball, honestly, is new for me. I was running, I knew he hit it pretty well and the cool thing about this place (Houston’s Minute Maid Park) compared to Chicago is you know you can just run. I wasn’t worried about a wall.”
And there are times when he looks every bit the newbie.
In the victory Tuesday, Miller couldn’t quite make a catch at the wall in left-center and admitted if he would have taken one more step before jumping he would have made the catch. He also nearly collided with right fielder Nelson Cruz on a ball into the gap. Both players called for the ball, and their gloves actually hit before Cruz grabbed it. Miller also rushed a throw that went behind a runner, allowing him to move up a base.
No amount of pregame work with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke can prepare Miller for the unpredictability of the game.
“I think the toughest thing is just to read them, the reads off the bat,” he said. “I can get a lot of fungos from Andy, but there’s some balls that you can’t replicate. Like (Avisail) Garcia, he hit just a topspin liner at me, and you’re not going to see that unless it’s in the game. So just getting the reps there in center field is cool, because I can still see the pitches and I can still be in the game. Whereas at the corners, you’re pretty blind out there. A lot of room to run out there and talk to yourself and think, but I’m having fun with it.”