Rancho Cucamonga, California —— Talk to him a few minutes, and you get the feeling that Jalen Miller isn’t fazed by much.
The San Francisco Giants’ #23 prospect, a middle infielder from the Atlanta suburbs, is exceptionally calm, with an ease about him and a quiet self-assuredness that makes you forget he’s still only 20 years old.
But there’s one thing that still makes him shake his head, even now two full years after the Giants made him their third round draft pick out of Riverwood International Charter School in Sandy Springs, Georgia: Jalen Miller is a professional baseball player.
“You remember those ice breakers you’d use to have in high school, where they say, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’” Miller mused in an interview with Baseball Census before a road game for his San Jose Giants in Rancho Cucamonga. “Being a professional baseball player was always my answer, but still, you don’t know if it’ll actually come true. But in the locker room, I’ll walk in sometimes and it’s like, wow, I’m really playing pro ball. You never really know what’ll happen down the road. I’m just glad life has taken me down this path, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
If Jalen Miller is almost incredulous in casual conversation about being able to play professional baseball, he sure isn’t acting that way on the field. The Giants tested him from day one, skipping over short-season ball entirely to place him at Low-A Augusta as a 19-year-old, and now in High-A San Jose at just 20. Consistently three years younger than his competition, Miller has been forced to play up against wiser, more experienced guys his entire pro career—but it hasn’t left him overwhelmed.
“I’ve been picking everybody’s brain who has been here before,” he said about almost always being the youngest guy on the roster. “Anybody who is older than me, even the college guys who were drafted in my same draft class, they’ve seen a lot more baseball than me. Why not pick everybody’s brain? But honestly, I love the [Giants’] aggressiveness [in promotions]. Just keep me going. I’ll keep producing and working as hard as I can.”
The fact that he’s already picking brains is a good sign for Miller, because as fast as he’s moved through the San Francisco Giants’ system, he’s still faced challenges along the way. He’s a slick, athletic middle infielder with the natural ability to fit as an everyday second baseman at the highest level one day, but his bat remains a work in progress. The quicker and better he can figure that out, the higher his eventual ceiling will be—and it starts with trying to find some consistency across a full season.
Three weeks into this summer, Miller was red-hot at the plate, slashing .303/.370/.455 through April 24 and looking far different than he had his first two summers in pro ball. Fast forward a month, though, and things have been a bit tougher; entering Tuesday night in Lancaster, Miller is slashing just .247/.286/.356 in May, and overall hitting .242/.291/.354/.645 across 38 total games in High-A. Pitchers are beginning to find holes in his swing, and he already knows how critical it is he adjusts quickly.
“In high school, I was always athletic enough to adjust to the pitching there, and even in the low minors, but recently now people are starting to find holes,” he admitted. “One of the biggest adjustments is the breaking ball. Last year in the South Atlantic League, I’d let the breaking ball get to me a lot. I was swinging at a lot of stuff in the dirt. But early this year, I’ve been able to take more of those pitches in the dirt and wait for a fastball deeper in the count. And the flip side of that, when I do get the fastball early in the count, I need to jump on it. I can’t miss it, or else I’m going to see a breaking ball in the dirt.”
As it goes with most young players that are pushed hard early in their careers, off-speed stuff has been Miller’s bugaboo. But again, picking other players’ brains may pull Miller out of that hole once and for all.
“Michael Morse and Mac Williamson were here earlier on this year [on rehab assignments], and talking to them a lot, they stressed that once you get that one pitch, you really can’t miss it,” Miller noted, acknowledging how critical it is for him to leave breaking balls alone and feast on fastballs if he’s ever going to find success at the plate. “And there’s no guarantee you’ll get that one pitch in every at-bat, so you need to take advantage when you get it once or twice in a game. You have to cash in on them.”
That seems obvious, maybe—swing at fastballs, they’re easier to hit—but for a guy like Miller who has long suffered the urges to lunge at breaking balls and hit pitches he can’t drive, it’s a revelation. There are mechanical changes, too, of course; the infielder has improved his ability to keep his weight back, leaving him less likely to leak forward and lunge at unhittable pitches. He’s also far more proficient at finding the barrel this year, in part thanks to a strong spring that’s carried into the summer season. But above all, it’s the simplest lesson to learn: except for the rare hanging breaking ball, why not just leave off-speed stuff alone and wait on fastballs?
That’ll help him immensely with the other aspect of his offensive game that must quickly change: working his way out of prolonged slumps. Long plagued the last few years by extended cold stretches, Jalen Miller is slowly but surely figuring out how to snap a cold streak, even if it just means one little single to keep his head above water.
The San Francisco Giants’ prospect was able to snap an 0-for-15 stretch over four games earlier this season before it snowballed into something worse, and since then, he hasn’t gone more than two games without a hit. That may sound pedestrian, but it’s a big focal point for Miller right now to cut down on prolonged slumps and battle through them faster.
“When I started to slump the last few years, it was really tough for me to minimize the slumps,” he acknowledged. “But now, instead of going 0-for-30 or whatever, when I’m 0-for-15, I don’t press too hard. When I’m struggling, I’ve finally learned to not let it get in my head. Just keep telling myself that a hit is going to come, and even if I’m hitting it right at people, I know I’m doing something right.”
“I read an article a while ago where Joey Votto was in like an 0-for-22 stretch or something like that, and they asked him about it,” Miller remembered. “He kind of said, ‘why don’t we just let it play out and see what happens,’ and that really stuck with me. He wasn’t worried about it. He knew it was a small portion of the season. So I’ve really taken that attitude where, if I’m not getting hits for a stretch, I don’t have to worry. I know the hits are going to come.”
As he continues to figure it out at the plate, Jalen Miller should only continue to rise and be tested against more older, experienced players. One thing is for sure, though: the San Francisco Giants prospect won’t be fazed by any of it.
In this Jalen Miller / San Francisco Giants feature: