PEORIA, Ariz. — It may not be a total coincidence that Seattle Mariners shortstop prospect Brad Miller keeps drawing comparisons to Kyle Seager.
Mention Miller around Mariners front-office types and they’ll immediately cite similarities with Seager: his slightly underrated status, his competitive streak, his ability to flat-out hit and his quiet leadership intangibles. And Miller is more than OK with it, considering he got a firsthand education on all things Seager before he even knew the Mariners would be drafting him.
Not only did he play against Seager while attending Clemson, he also served as host to Seager’s younger brother, Corey, when he made a campus recruiting visit to the school two years ago. During that visit, Miller, 23, met Seager’s dad, Jeff, and picked his brain about the things that helped Corey’s older brother on his path to the professional ranks.
“He was just talking about Kyle’s experience to that point,” Miller said. “I think he’d only been in pro ball for a little bit. He was just telling me what he was going through, but it was cool to meet those guys.”
Corey Seager was a touted high-school shortstop at the time and Miller was pretty certain during the visit that he wasn’t going to play college ball. That proved accurate once the Dodgers made him their first-round pick (18th overall) last June.
The pair saw each other briefly last weekend when the younger Seager — in the Dodgers’ minor-league camp — came over to pose for photos with his brother before the Mariners and Los Angeles played a Cactus League game.
Seager’s father can well remember Miller, who took the pair on a tour of Clemson, answered their questions and sat with them at a Tigers football game.
“He really impressed me just by his whole demeanor,” Jeff Seager said. “Just his attitude and the way he spoke to Corey and to me, you could tell this was a very polite, very impressive young man.”
The pair chatted about games in which Miller and Kyle, who played for North Carolina, had faced each other. Miller was a freshman at the time and says he looked up to Seager and current M’s second baseman Dustin Ackley, both juniors for the Tar Heels prior to being drafted.
“Anytime they compare me with Kyle, that’s a huge compliment because I was a little freshman playing against him and Ackley when they were big juniors and ‘the guys,’ ” Miller said. “When I got to college they were definitely guys that I was like ‘Wow, those are guys I need to model my game after just because they do things the right way.’ It’s definitely cool now being in the same dugout as them.”
Seager’s dad agrees his son would be a good player for anybody to try to emulate.
“Kyle is a very sharp kid,” his father said. “He’s also a very quiet competitor. You won’t hear any rah-rah out of him. You certainly won’t hear any boasting out of him.”
He said he raised his three ballplaying boys — middle brother, Justin, is a junior at UNC Charlotte — to be self-motivators.
Miller’s understated path to the pros had more in common with Kyle Seager than Corey. Miller wasn’t drafted until the 39th round out of high school by the Texas Rangers. He played at Clemson before being taken in the second round by Seattle in 2011.
The college stint saw Miller major in sports marketing and develop a keen interest in the thinking side of baseball. He’s a huge fan of the Michael Lewis best-seller, “Moneyball,” and keenly follows many of the moves by Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane.
“It’s interesting to see some of the things they talked about in ‘Moneyball’ go into practice,” Miller said. “The whole thing about how valuable outs are, about the sacrifice bunt and playing the odds with that.”
Miller’s intelligence is one of the reasons the Mariners are so high on him: knowing the best big-league shortstops are quick thinkers who coordinate the other infielders. And his infield mate in spring training, who everyone keeps comparing him to, agrees with the early reviews.
“You can see that side of him when he’s out there on the field,” Kyle Seager said. “He’s always asking us about stuff and eager to learn.”
Like Seager — taken in the third round in 2009 — Miller has quickly vaulted his way up the team’s minor-league food chain. He hit .339 with a .936 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) in Class A last season, then .320 with an .882 OPS during a 40-game promotion to Class AA Jackson.
Though he’s also played third and second base to build versatility this spring, Miller’s progress has the Mariners contemplating the future of former first-round shortstop pick Nick Franklin. That the Mariners nearly traded Franklin to Arizona in January’s aborted Justin Upton swap further confirmed suspicions the team now views Miller as their future shortstop.
Miller hit his first Cactus League home run and a run-scoring double last Tuesday in a loss to the Diamondbacks, raising his spring batting average to .241 as he soaks in his first big-league camp. That’s only kept the Seager comparisons coming, something Miller can understand.
“I enjoy getting out there and running around and getting after it,” Miller said. “I like playing hard. I think that’s what I enjoy.”