Nary an eyebrow flinched when the Cubs picked up 27-year-old outfielder Ian Miller on a minors deal, probably because he has a .697 OPS across 3,011 minor-league at-bats. It looked like nothing other than a cheap organizational depth move for a guy who could provide a little speed late in the season. But as Miller is proving in camp, he could be of value as a member of the Opening Day roster.
Miller, who just turned 28, racked up 243 stolen bases in the minors and is making the most out of regular playing time with the Cubs by swiping an MLB leading eight through Sunday. The steal has become something of a lost art with the power surge across the league, but the Cubs have always been enamored of athletes with an extra burst and might see the 26th roster spot as a way to get a jump on their typical late-season addition of a speedster.
“I take a lot of pride in my speed,” Miller told The Athletic ($). “It’s why I’m here. I understand that’s why I’m here. I had a pretty good opening meeting with Rossy. They just told me they want to see me run, try and create some runs in unconventional ways. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
But it’s not just a matter of being able to snag an extra base or score from first on a double, as Miller is batting .375 (12-for-32) with three doubles. He’s only hit 18 homers in the minors, 11 of which came last season as the Super Happy Fun Ball was introduced to the Pacific Coast League. Prior to that, he’d never hit more than four in a single season and tallied a grand total of one during his first four professional seasons.
If he can sneak a liner into the gap, though, that speed could help him rack up the doubles and give the boppers at the top of the order more chances to cash in RBI opportunities after the lineup turns over. In a vacuum, Miller makes a ton of sense.
“He’s definitely exciting to watch, especially a guy on a team where we don’t have that really in our game too much,” David Ross said after Sunday’s loss in Vegas.
The circumstances in Chicago are conspiring against him, however, as there isn’t a whole lot of need for a lefty-batting sixth outfielder. As things currently stand the favorites for all three outfield spots would bat from the left side against right-handed pitchers, so Miller’s playing time would be squeezed in a big way. Unless Albert Almora Jr. falls apart and forces the Cubs to option him to Triple-A to start the season, there may not be room.
Then you’ve got the crowded infield situation, which figures to take precedence when it comes to the bottom of the roster. Daniel Descalso is playing himself out of the placeholder dictated by his guaranteed $2.5 million deal, but that void will likely be filled by Jason Kipnis or Nico Hoerner. And what about carrying Josh Phegley as a third catcher? This is hardly a simple decision.
Ross has said repeatedly that he wants to let the spring play out to see which players possess skillsets that can best help the team this season. Even if Miller is something of an incongruous fit from a positional standpoint, he does give the Cubs an extra dimension they wouldn’t otherwise possess. The same can’t be said for either Decalso or Kipnis, both of whom boast veteran leadership as their most desirable qualities.
Maybe I’ve got some unrequited affection for Tony Campana knocking around or something, but I’d love to see Miller make the roster and then make some noise with his legs.