by Will Overton
If you asked even the most devout of baseball fans to name all of the guys who hit 30 HR’s last year, Brad Miller is probably one of the last guys who they are going to mention. It’s hard to blame them, last year brought a surprising league wide power surge and there were 38 guys league wide who hit 30 or more. Also, the Rays were in obscurity for much of the season and Miller flew under the radar along with them.
Miller is still flying under the radar now, and that might be a mistake for fantasy owners. Miller was at one point a pretty hot name prospect when he first came up with Seattle, but he struggled to put it all together. The Mariners finally sent him to Tampa Bay and Miller suddenly became a very useful fantasy asset for the Rays.
Not only did Miller hit 30 HR’s, but he was able to drive in 81 runs while scoring another 73 runs. Miller’s .243 average leaves a bit to be desired, but his nice walk rate helps make up for it, and really a .243 average isn’t as detrimental to a fantasy team as it used to be.
So now that we have established that Miller’s season was very underappreciated last year, we have to now question whether the success he had last year is sustainable or not. Despite flying under the radar in my opinion, Miller is no longer a last round pick in 12 team leagues and so the investment is a bit higher.
Miller’s flyball rate was a bit higher last season while his line drive rate actually went down, but neither of these were significant moves one way or another. Miller has always had power upside, in 2013 he hit 20 HR’s between the minors and big leagues. Miller is also coming into this season at the age of 27, and while that isn’t the great indicator it was once thought to be, it is about the time a guy starts to take another step as a power hitter.
I am not convinced that Miller has the upside to hit many more than the 30 HR’s he hit last season, but I do think history and the outlier numbers of last season indicate that 25 – 30 HR’s is sustainable for Miller.
Another big reason for Miller’s success last season had to do with his spot in the batting order, where he hit either second or fourth for much of the season, two of the most optimal spots in a lineup for fantasy value. All indications would be that Miller should be hitting in the upper half of the lineup again this season, and while the Rays haven’t added a whole lot, their young players are improving and the offense should be even better this year.
The last thing that you should consider when trying to decide on picking Miller, is that he is slated to be the Rays starting second baseman now that Logan Forsythe has been traded. Last year Miller split time between first base and shortstop and will start the season eligible at both positions, but soon will add second base to his eligibility. Miller’s positional flexibility, especially flexibility that includes second base, is a really nice boost for a guy with 30 HR upside.
Miller should not go overlooked when you are doing your draft prep and I absolutely believe he is a top 140 player. Miller is still young enough to where he may not have hit his ceiling and the opportunity for success is there. I’ll be buying on Miller in drafts this year.