The Marlins made a point to acquire athletic players that could play key positions in last week’s MLB draft.
But could they have already found a valuable piece for their outfield even before their first draft under new leadership?
Brian Miller, a Competitive Balance Round A selection taken by the Marlins 36th overall in last year’s draft, certainly fits the profile for the prototype player the Marlins are looking for these days, and is having one of the most consistent seasons of any of the club’s prospects.
Miller, a 22-year old center fielder out of the University of North Carolina, has hit .325 in Jupiter this season for the Marlins’ Single-A affiliate recording 79 hits, which leads the Florida State League. Miller (6-1, 186 pounds) has stolen 19 bases and thrived as a No. 3 hitter.
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“Brian is another college performer who’s stepped into our system and hit the ground running,” Marlins President of Baseball Operations Mike Hill said. “He hasn’t missed a beat. He has a ‘top of the order’ skill set. He plays great center field defense and has gap to gap power.”
Things looked bleak when the Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich this offseason.
Through the Ozuna and Yelich trades this offseason, the recent Major League Baseball draft, and moves made toward the end of last season, the Marlins may have even more athletic outfield talent than they did a year ago.
Lewis Brinson, acquired in the deal for Yelich, has become one of the game’s best defensive center fielders despite his hitting struggles.
Monte Harrison, who replaced Brinson recently as the club’s top-ranked prospect according to MLB.com, has the same five-tool potential that could make him an everyday productive outfielder.
Magneuris Sierra, their No. 6 prospect acquired in the Ozuna trade, has speed that ranks among the baseball’s best outfielders and projects as a potential leadoff hitter with prolific base-stealing skills.
Miller, who projects as a possible prolific top of the order hitter and likely table-setter the Marlins have lacked since trading Dee Gordon, could make the jump to the majors within the next two years if he continues to track the way he has so far this season in Jupiter. Miller is ranked the team’s No. 10 overall prospect according to MLB.com.
“Brian just has that knack to find the barrel and get his hits,” Jupiter manager Kevin Randel said. “His speed plays a factor in a lot of that. He can put the ball in play. He has a good approach at the plate, a fluid swing. He’s kind of been our most consistent hitter and when he gets on base he can cause a little havoc.”
Miller hit .332 during his three-year college career at North Carolina and kept it up at the Marlins’ low-A affiliate in Greensboro last year hitting .322 with 42 runs and 21 stolen bases in 57 games.
Miller has been focusing on his route running on defense and has made progress at the plate in terms of strike zone discipline and pitch recognition.
“I’ve always trusted my swing, but that can never be good enough,” Miller said. “I’ve tried focusing on swinging on good pitches in good counts.”
The Marlins will soon begin layering their newly-acquired talent from this year’s draft throughout their farm system.
Connor Scott, the Marlins’ top pick in this year’s draft and 6-4 speedy lefty that’s been compared to Yelich for his defensive skill, is one of seven outfielders the Marlins selected in the draft.
In addition to Scott, the Marlins announced they signed four more picks this week - Davis Bradshaw (Meridian College in Mississippi), Connor Grant (North Greenville University), Milton Smith, Jr. (Meridian CC) and Harrison Dinicola (Texas A&M Corpus Christi).
They are still working on signing University of Kentucky switch-hitter Tristan Pompey, their third-round pick who had the second-most hits in the nation this past year, as well as 31st round pick Steve Scott, a lefty from Vanderbilt University.
Braxton Lee, acquired from the Rays for Adeiny Hechavarria, has already played eight games in the majors, and 20-year old Brayan Hernandez (acquired from Seattle in the David Phelps trade) will start his season Monday at Batavia, the Marlins’ short season Single A squad.