It’s not every year you look at a .227/.283/.346/.628 full-season slash line and think progress, but San Francisco Giants middle infield prospect Jalen Miller likes where he is heading into the offseason. Still just 20 years old, Miller was challenged this summer with a big jump to High-A San Jose, and while his offensive output lagged at times catching up to pitchers two and three years more experienced, the prospect improved his stat line in most offensive categories compared to his first full season in 2016 at Low-A Augusta.
Go past the stats, and the story gets better; Jalen Miller can see the bigger picture, already understanding how his summer in San Jose could be the foundation for a long career ahead. It’s a mature outlook for a prospect who won’t turn 21 until December — but that’s just Miller, who’s consistently shown a mature outlook even as the Giants have repeatedly pushed him forward faster than most anyone his age in the system.
“I was pleased with the year I had. I know I got better, and I feel like I’m in a good position with the Giants,” Miller told Baseball Census in an interview this week. “I love that they’ve pushed me, and they’ve allowed me to fail, because I’ve learned so much about this game and how to make adjustments that I need to make. It’s made me stronger.”
Stronger for Jalen Miller in 2017 has meant far better pitch recognition compared to the previous summer. The statistics are trending in the right direction—walk rates slightly up, strikeout rates slightly down as one of the youngest players in the California League—but what’s changed most for the San Francisco Giants middle infielder is his ability to adjust, and then re-adjust, with a better understanding of his strike zone as pitchers start to get a book on him at the plate.
“Pitch recognition was huge for me this year, and I finally started really taking the time to learn hitter’s counts, and pitcher’s counts,” Miller said. “In the middle of the year, once teams learned I could hit the fastball, they really started to pitch me backwards. That’s the first time that’s happened to me, and I really struggled with it for a while. I had to make a lot of adjustments. Look back around July, I had a lot of strikeouts. That’s when they started pitching me backwards. But I made some adjustments and by the end of the year I was starting to figure that out.”
The numbers bear that out, too; Miller hit just .202 that month, with 26 strikeouts and only four walks across 84 at-bats in July games. Strikeouts were still something of an issue in August (21 whiffs in 75 at-bats), but he raised his average fifty points as he figured out how to make more consistent hard contact against pitcher’s pitches. It’s a small improvement for now, but this is player development: Jalen Millerwas forced to adjust on the fly, and early results trended in the right direction.
“The fact that I could make adjustments to pitchers after they started pitching me backwards, that was a big boost for me,” the infielder continued. “It reinforced that I need to stick to my approach and not deviate from it, even when I get pitched backwards next year. And even if I have some struggles early on, I have to keep trusting in what I do.”
“Even here at instructs [in Scottsdale this month], that’s a lot of what the hitting coaches have been working on with me,” he continued. “Trusting my approach, knowing what part of the field has the most pop for me, which area is my best for contact, which situations I need to shorten up, things like that. I was talking to Michael Chavis with the Red Sox about it recently. He had a phenomenal year this season, and that’s kind of what he really stressed. He went at-bat to at-bat never deviating from his plan, and his plan obviously worked. Things took care of themselves.”
Talk to him about hitting for a few minutes, and it’s easy to forget Jalen Miller isn’t a ten-year veteran. He sees the bigger picture, a remarkable trait in and of itself in a world of prospects who ride the highs and lows of every game like it’s the only one. And now with several years under his belt being thrown into the deep end against opponents several years older, the San Francisco Giants prospect just keeps getting better even through the inevitable stops and starts of development.
“My hitting coach this year, Todd Linden, he and I talked about this quite a bit,” Miller remembered. “He could tell when I was getting down on myself, and he’d pull me aside and tell me, ‘we know you were used to doing whatever you wanted at the plate in high school. Now you’re here and guys are better, but you need to realize you’re ahead of the curve right now.’ And that’s true, my class is just coming up to the draft this year, and they’ll start out in short-season with me a few years ahead already. That’s not meant to give me an excuse or anything, but knowing that I’m ahead of the game, that helps.”
“Besides, this is supposed to be hard,” he continued. “Everybody can’t just come out and be Bryce Harper at 18 years old hitting .300 at every level. I’d rather struggle now and figure out how to handle failure so when I do get to the big leagues, if I struggle, it’s not a major setback where they have to send me back to the minors. It’ll be something manageable. I’ll know how to handle myself to where I can stay steady through struggle.”
That’s Jalen Miller: twenty years old, going on thirty-five. Maybe he’ll make a good coach one day, but there’s a lot of playing time left in his career before that. In fact, the biggest news on that playing time front comes in something of a position change — or, maybe more appropriately, a position-solidifier. A shortstop in his rookie season back in 2015, Miller logged 28 games there again in San Jose this summer, but his long-term future points explicitly to second base. Now, he’s focused fully on it.
“I think second base is where I’ll have the most success in the infield,” the San Francisco Giants prospect said. “I really like second base. It was an adjustment coming over from playing shortstop for so long. The throwing angle is different, the footwork is different, double plays are a challenge, but I think I handled it well. And the only place to go from here is up. In a few years, I see myself as an everyday second baseman in the big leagues. I want to keep improving until hopefully I’m a Gold Glove second baseman one day with the San Francisco Giants.”
Ahead of the curve with the talent, time, and opportunity to prove it, Jalen Miller is well on his way.