CLEVELAND -- Owen Miller’s family was expecting to attend his younger brother Noah’s high school graduation on Sunday afternoon, but when he called Saturday night to let them know he was going to be making his MLB debut on Sunday, the family quickly altered its plans.
“[Tracy] was like, 'Hey, you feel comfortable playing left field?' because I played left the night before,” Miller said. “And I was like, 'Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable.' And then he was like, 'What about first base?' Because I played first base yesterday. And I was like, 'Yeah, that's going pretty good.' And then he's like, 'Well, do you want to DH tomorrow to give your legs a rest?' And I was like, 'Yeah, that would be good.' And he was like, 'In Cleveland?' And I was like, 'What?' And he's like, 'Yeah, you're going to the big leagues, man.'
“It's something I've always dreamed of.”
On Sunday, Miller batted sixth and went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts in the Indians' 8-5 loss to the Twins in 10 innings.
Miller has been raking at Triple-A Columbus, hitting .406 with a 1.067 OPS in his first 16 games this season. The club’s No. 16 prospect, as ranked by MLB Pipeline, is most comfortable at second and third but has also seen more time at shortstop and first base. But because the Indians didn’t necessarily have a role for him on the roster just yet, they hadn’t given him the call. But now, they do. The team will just need to determine where it best sees him fitting in defensively.
“There could be a situation where we’re able to get José [Ramírez] a day to DH or Cesar [Hernandez], something like that to keep guys’ bats in the lineup,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But I don’t want to heap too much on this kid either. When you first come to the Major Leagues, the game is so much faster and I want to let him adjust to that, too, without putting too much on him.
In Cleveland’s 5-3 walk-off victory over the Twins on Saturday afternoon, Reyes sustained a left abdominal strain after taking a healthy cut at a pitch during a plate appearance in the sixth inning. He was removed from the game in the middle of his at-bat and after testing and imaging on Sunday was placed the 10-day injured list. To clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Miller, the Indians moved catcher Roberto Pérez to the 60-day injured list.
Miller was part of the return in the Mike Clevinger trade with the Padres at last year’s Trade Deadline, along with Cal Quantrill, Josh Naylor, Gabriel Arias and Joey Cantillo. And he has had Cleveland fans’ attention since his scorching Spring Training campaign. In 24 Cactus League games, Miller hit .395 with a .932 OPS, three doubles, one homer and six RBIs.
“Spring Training is so hard,” Francona said. “You’ve heard me say it. We’ve talked about it. But watching him hit, he just knows how to hit. He’s a little bit of a throwback. He uses the whole field. He stays inside the ball. He just has a knack for knowing how to hit. It’s going to be really fun to watch. I hope he gets off to a great start. However he does, he’s gonna be a good hitter.”
Even though he was limited to exhibition games at the alternate training site during April, his bat did not cool down. As soon as the Triple-A season got underway at the beginning of May, he picked up right where he left off, going 20-for-40 (yes, a whopping .500 batting average) in his first 40 at-bats. It was such a hot start that people were even joking with Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti when the box score didn’t show Miller having a three- or four-hit night.
“Owen has gotten off to a great start to the season and has continued to position himself well for a Major League opportunity when it’s there,” Antonetti said on Sunday. “He’s continued to have a very productive offensive approach at the plate and he’s done very well defensively in bouncing around the diamond. He’s played third base, shortstop, second base and first base. Owen’s doing everything he can to take advantage of the opportunity he has and prepare himself for that Major League opportunity when it’s there.”
Now, the opportunity is here, and with a struggling offense that’s expected to lose one of its better hitters in Reyes, Cleveland can only hope that his bat can translate to the Major League level. Back in Spring Training, Francona projected that Miller would be able to handle that transition whenever it would come.
“We told Owen, he looks to me like he can hit good pitching,” Francona said at the end of camp. “That's a pretty big compliment, especially for a young kid.”
“I made a number of adjustments at the plate just to help me try to impact the baseball harder and just be a more complete hitter and stuff like that,” Miller said. “So, it’s just trying to be as consistent as possible and I know that I’ll always try to give the best at-bat possible and fight up there at the plate. And I hope that my bat can help this team win games.”