New Brewer Owen Miller Is Evolving as a Hitter (Or at Least Trying To)

© Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What kind of hitter did the Milwaukee Brewers get when they acquired Owen Miller from the Cleveland Guardians on Wednesday in exchange for a player to be named later or cash? Statistically speaking, the answer is someone who put up uninspiring numbers in his first full big-league season. The infielder, who recently turned 26 years old, logged a .287 wOBA and an 85 wRC+ in 472 plate appearances. After starting strong — he had a 1.043 OPS on May 8, and had delivered a number of clutch hits — Miller provided only a modicum of value with the bat.

In terms of his overall development as a hitter, Miller has evolved — intent-wise more than production-wise to this point — from the player who Eric Longenhagen described prior to the 2021 season. Ranking him No. 14 on that year’s Cleveland Top Prospects list, our lead prospect analyst wrote that the former third-round pick out of Illinois State University had a “minimalistic swing [that] enables him to make high rates of contact, while the strength in Miller’s hands generates doubles power.”

Miller stroked 26 doubles this past season, but only six home runs, and he had 93 strikeouts to go with 32 walks. By and large, he remains a work-in-progress — albeit one who can provide value with his versatility while continuing to work on his offensive skills.

The newest Brewer talked hitting in an interview that took place a handful of months into the season, only to be placed on the back burner until now.


David Laurila: How would you describe yourself as a hitter?

Owen Miller: “I’ve kind of changed, I would say. When I was younger — coming up in college, and in the minors — I was very contact-oriented, with a very line drive approach. I was handsy, trying to manipulate my barrel. Then, over the quarantine period when we had time to work on things… I understood that there are things that elite hitters do as far as using their bodies more, and I started to make some swing changes off of that. Not really swing changes, per se, but rather adjustments.

“It’s more the thought process that goes into hitting. I went from just kind of throwing my hands at the ball to more of sequencing and using my hips, understanding that you’re going to get a lot more out of your swing by using your body better. So, it’s been about a year or two where I’ve really been trying to buy into the process of hitting, and thinking about it differently than I had.”

Laurila: This started during the COVID shutdown…

Miller: “Yes, at the alternate site in San Diego. I had a hitting coach there, Johnny Washington, who taught me a lot of different things. He’s actually one of the hitting coaches with the Cubs right now. I went from thinking of my hands at all times to thinking of my hips firing. It was about understanding bat path and keeping your barrel in the zone as long as possible. That allows you to hit the ball harder, and also kind of helps you to see the ball longer.

“[In 2021], when I made it to the big leagues, there were more adjustments that needed to be made. It’s a constant process of getting better, and understanding your body and your swing. Then, last offseason, I hit with Chris Valaika, our new hitting coach. We had really good conversations about my 2021 season, the successes I had, as well as my weaknesses. We talked a lot about staying in the ground — that ground-to-ground connection — and how when you’re swinging there has to be force in your front foot. If you’re not in the ground, it makes it pretty hard to hit, especially certain off-speed pitches.”

Laurila: How would you describe your bat path?

Miller: “I’d say it’s flatter on pitches that are up in the zone. On off-speed pitches, your path naturally has to come up a little bit. I want to match the plane of the ball. You hear that a lot with hitting, and obviously, the really good hitters can do it more consistently. That’s a huge thought that is always on my mind at the plate. Of course, when guys are throwing hard and have ride at the top of the zone, or they’re really sinking the ball, matching the plane is easier said than done. It’s about having barrel control to be able to match wherever the ball is coming in.

“I think that all good hitters have a very good foundation of hitting. Their natural tendencies, once they get in the box, are very good. I’m from Wisconsin, so would always hear things that Christian Yelich would say. He had a good foundation of hitting from when he was younger, and could do things like use the opposite field. Then, once you get more experience and start understanding better, guys start to hit for more power. That’s a step I still need to take.”

Laurila: You had a knack of coming up with timely hits earlier this year. Is that something that can be explained?

Miller: “For a lot of hitters, when you’re in that zone and everything is clicking, it’s almost like you’re not thinking. Everything is very locked in. When I look at video of those times, everything was in sync. Obviously, it’s a long season and there are going to be ups and downs. I’ve definitely had some of those this year.

“We’ve talked about mechanics, and there is staying in your lane, using your hands… but a lot of it is in your head, too. You don’t want to be on a rollercoaster ride. You need the right mentality, knowing that hitting is a process. I think that’s a huge part of hitting, and what makes hitters good. When you’re going through rough patches, you have the ability to get out of them, and when you’re in those good stretches, you try to stay in them for as long as possible.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 year ago

Regardless of the payout, the Brewers got themselves a good one: a utility floor with supersub probability. He’s shown flashes of everyday potential, though not at 1B.

Trouble is the Cleveland pipeline in the MI is deep.

Last edited 1 year ago by fjtorres