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You Can't Overlook Owen Miller Anymore

Sep 13, 2018 6:04 PM
Blake Dowson (Photo by Tim Campbell)

Owen Miller had his mind made up, basically the minute he stepped on Illinois State’s campus his freshman year in 2016.

He was going to be the Redbird’s starting shortstop. Not down the road, but right away. He was going to make sure he put in the necessary work to get drafted in his first year of college eligibility, after his junior year. And he wasn’t going to get drafted any later than Day 2.

If those sound like pretty lofty goals, it’s because they are.

“Going in [to Illinois State] that was what I wanted,” Miller said. “I knew if I put in the hard work and was able to develop as a player, I had a good chance.”

For RJ Fergus, owner of Hitters Baseball, Miller’s summer travel ball team while he was in high school, all of that made perfect sense. Miller, a Mequon, Wisconsin native, was the best player on the field every time out, according to Fergus.

What made no sense to him and everyone else involved in the Hitters organization was that not many college programs seemed to see that in Miller at the time of his recruitment.

In Miller, Fergus saw the best player that had ever played for the Hitters. He didn’t see how every college program couldn’t see it.

“The guy I was coaching with at the time, we couldn’t figure it out,” Fergus said of Miller’s recruitment. “When he plays, he’s Mr. Consistent. He ran a 6.8 60-yard dash. He threw 84 miles per hour across the diamond. He didn’t do anything but barrell up the baseball. I couldn’t figure out why nobody was on him. After he blew up at Illinois State, everyone was saying they made a mistake.

“But at the time, everyone was telling me, ‘Hey man, you just have a man crush on him.’ And I said, I have man crushes on guys that can flat out play.”

That’s exactly what Miller did at Illinois State. He played in 162 games for the Redbirds - all starts - collecting a .345 average over that span with a .383 on-base percentage and .511 slugging percentage. During his draft-eligible junior year, his slash line was .384/.433/.537. His strikeouts went down each season and his fielding percentage went up. Those numbers were good enough to earn him a First-Team All-Missouri Valley Conference nod, as well as First-Team All-Region and Third-Team All-American honors by ABCA/Rawlings.

“This dude has been so consistent,” San Diego Padres area scout Troy Horner said of Miller. “As a freshman coming in and handling his duties and swinging the bat like he did, and then to do it again as a sophomore, all while handling the shortstop position, he proved none of that was an issue. With all the expectations coming into junior year and to outperform those, I was very impressed.”

In fact, he was impressed enough to take Miller in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft, with the No. 84 overall pick.

Third round. Day 2 of his junior year draft. Just like he had planned. In fact, Miller said he hadn’t even thought of what round or what signing bonus offer would be a theoretical cutoff point that would sway him back to Illinois State for his senior year.  

“But at the time, everyone was telling me, ‘Hey man, you just have a man crush on him.’ And I said, I have man crushes on guys that can flat out play.”

“I never really thought about that,” Miller said when asked, like even the thought of that was ridiculous.

Miller has high aspirations for himself. He’s also a realistic person. It’s cool when those two things meet up for a person and a dream is realized. As much as getting drafted was simply part of the plan, getting that call still makes a player all sorts of giddy and excited.  

“I had talked to a lot of teams and filled out a lot of draft things. Obviously, I was hoping I would be drafted earlier rather than later,” he said. “But really, whatever team that felt the most highly of me was going to be great. The Padres were really high on me. I ended up going to a pre-draft workout for them, and I hit really well for them and they came away impressed.”

For Horner, the on-field performance was one thing when it came to Miller. Sure, it’s easy to like a guy that almost hits .400 his junior year and plays a great shortstop. What made him love Miller was everything else that he brought to the table.

Miller sought Horner out during the pre-draft process. He got in his car and drove to Horner, just to talk things through. That’s not normal, in the best way possible.

“The biggest thing for me was meeting with him. In 20 years, I’ve never had a player drive to me and talk to me about the game and the intricacies and talk to me about his swing the way Owen did,” Horner said. “I thought to myself, ‘This is Big League stuff right here.’”

That’s high praise for a kid coming out of college. And Horner was just about as high on Miller as anyone else, but even he couldn’t foresee what Miller would do in his first professional season this summer.

In 49 games with the Tri-City Dust Devils, the Short-A Padres affiliate, Miller hit .335 with a .835 OPS. Those numbers earned him a promotion to the Single-A ballclub, the Fort Wayne TinCaps. And after hitting .336 with a .864 OPS with Fort Wayne, Miller, the man with a plan, got promoted to the Double-A San Antonio Missions for their playoff run.

His plan never involved that. At least, not this summer. After all, as he pointed out, he just transitioned over to using a wood bat again after using metal all spring at Illinois State.

Not even Horner envisioned a start like this, which has earned Miller a spot on the Padres’ Top-30 Prospect List, according to MLB.com.

“I would never have dreamt he would end up in Double-A this summer...Owen has answered the call,” he said. “There’s no way I would’ve imagined that.”

Miller has taken all of it in stride. He just gets ready for the next day’s game. He said the professional schedule doesn’t really get to him; he has experience playing in the Northwoods League, where they play a schedule of 70 games over the summer and take a lot of long bus trips. He said the elite pitching he’s seen in pro ball hasn’t been too overbearing, mostly due to his all-fields approach at the plate.

So what does get to him? Does anything bother him?

“I’ve been looked over at times and it’s led me to work even hard and want success more,” Miller said. “I don’t think that will ever go away. Even in pro ball, I see it. I just keep working hard.”

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