Owen Miller is in Cleveland and playing baseball. This was the plan all along of course, but now it’s actually happening, and we get to see another piece in what could be a tremendously beneficial Mike Clevinger trade over the next couple of years. The type of trade that builds a team for the next decade.
A cloud hangs over his arrival with the loss of Franmil Reyes for nearly two months, which just means Miller has to perform well, and much sooner. His importance to the team couldn’t be more obvious. Luckily, he’ll have his chances.
As others have noted elsewhere throughout the last couple of days, Miller has superlative bat-to-ball skills, can play almost anywhere on the infield, and has hit at every level.
What’s he here to do for Cleveland?
Look, it’s not unkind to say this is a bad-hitting team right now, even before Reyes hulked out and hurt himself. They rank anywhere between 23rd and 26th in baseball in most offensive stats, and the teams around them are already out of any kind of playoff race. They have four hitters rating out to an average or better hitter in wRC+, and while I do expect Cesar Hernandez to turn it around sooner or later, that’s just not good enough.
Anyway, we don’t want average, we want things like what José Ramírez or Franmil Reyes have done this year. The eventual goal is a good, deep, consistent lineup that makes it tough on pitchers every single night.
Is that what Miller is? That’s the hope, right? He’s hit at every level, and in 61 plate appearances at Triple-A Columbus, he’s posted a .455/.508/.691 line. You could quibble about the relative lack of walks (8.2%, which would rank third on Cleveland right now), or the career-high 21.1% strikeout rate, or the prodigiously unsustainable .575 BABIP. He’s always been luckier than average though, with an all-fields approach and a lightning-quick swing, so it's not a huge bummer.
In short, he hits. He’s hit everywhere, he hits the ball everywhere whether in the zone or around the field, and he’s done everything he can to force himself onto the team. At the end of the day, even if he’s just average, he’s also just 24, and if he’s going to get any more polish it’s going to have to be at the major-league level. He’ll likely slot sixth or seventh in the lineup to debut, but I have no problem seeing him travel higher and higher throughout the year, especially if Hernandez continues to struggle.
Andrés Giménez was sent to the minors on Tuesday, so there’s room on the roster. Where will Miller play though? The likely choice is shortstop in the near term since he’s played everywhere around the diamond. He profiles best as a second baseman and will likely find himself there next year after Hernandez departs, but for the moment we’re going to have to deal with, as MLB.com puts it, “steady but unspectacular” at short for a little while.
Obviously, it’s a far cry from what we’re used to, whether the most of six years of Francisco Lindor or even now with Giménez and Amed Rosario. Plus, the pitchers will probably miss the added range and the subtracted seeing-eye singles. With the ever-growing database of information on hitters, though, Miller being sure-handed and able to make plays on the balls he can get to is probably enough.
I don’t think the expectation is superstardom. He makes a lot of contact, more of a line-drive guy than anything. So the dream is obviously a Dustin Pedroia type that piles up 50 doubles and 15 dingers. That type of player is all but dead these days, but who knows? Perhaps this is the first in a long line of Cleveland hitters that force defenses to not shift because they go all over the place with the ball and drill doubles off the wall all day. I’ll go ahead and ignore his 47.6% pull rate so far in Triple-A, since he’s also going oppo a ton, too.
The realistic goal is a solid, above-average bat in what, maybe the two-hole, playing second every day for the next decade. Maybe he grabs an All-Star nod or two and ultimately helps Cleveland continue to contend and stay versatile over his time with the club. It’s players like that — not just J-Ram or Reyes or whoever — that makes the machine go, hopefully, to win titles.
In this stealth rebuild year, Miller, along with his trade-mate Josh Naylor, and hopefully Giménez when he figures it out, are taking their first steps to be that backbone of the team for the 2020s.