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Speedy prospect Miller provides OF option

25-year-old had best offensive season in Minors in 2017
MLB.com @gregjohnsmlb

SEATTLE -- There was some irony in the fact Ian Miller was named the Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year Award winner by the Mariners this past season.

It would have been far more fitting if the honor was named after Ichiro Suzuki, one of Miller's favorite players growing up and the kind of speedy and impactful leadoff-type hitter that the 25-year-old envisions himself being.

SEATTLE -- There was some irony in the fact Ian Miller was named the Ken Griffey Jr. Minor League Hitter of the Year Award winner by the Mariners this past season.

It would have been far more fitting if the honor was named after Ichiro Suzuki, one of Miller's favorite players growing up and the kind of speedy and impactful leadoff-type hitter that the 25-year-old envisions himself being.

Miller was selected as the Mariners' top offensive Minor Leaguer after hitting .307/.355./.393 with four homers, 35 RBIs and 43 stolen bases in 124 games between Double-A Arkansas and Triple-A Tacoma.

Miller is the club's No. 22 prospect, per MLBPipeline.com, but the Mariners chose not to protect him from the upcoming Rule 5 Draft by leaving him off the 40-man roster last week.

That's just more motivation for a youngster who was drafted in the 14th round of the 2013 Draft out of Wagner College in New York and is attempting to join right-hander Andrew Bailey as the only players from the Staten Island school to reach the Major Leagues.

"I like to think I've been an underdog a little bit," Miller said. "Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. But if I don't play with a chip on my shoulder, then I don't play very well. So it's kind of just a mindset I need to take every day onto the field, and try to play ticked off, play with attitude."

The Mariners are looking for speed and defense in the outfield and aggressive baserunning. They could have a potential weapon in Miller soon enough. He stole 49 bases in 52 attempts in 2016 for Double-A Jackson, then went 43-for-48 in '17.

But the challenge for Miller has been providing enough of an offensive threat to be regarded as a legitimate prospect. He took a step in that direction this past season with the best offensive production of his career thus far.

"The last couple years, I didn't put up the numbers I wanted to," Miller said. "I knew I had this in me, but it just felt like the wheels were spinning in the mud a little bit. I was showing some defense and some running numbers, but I wasn't bringing the bat. This year, I went into it a little more.

"I wasn't going to just try to steal 50 bases or have a great percentage. It was all about the bat and trying to prove I could swing it a little. Everything else just kind of fell into place."

Miller is aware that the current Mariners regime focuses on productive at-bats, good on-base percentage and top speed and defense. Now, he just has to keep proving he can produce.

"It's just trying to maintain confidence every day in my game, and believing that the Seattle Mariners could use that," Miller said. "That's what is keeping me going every day."

Miller is again spending the offseason in Peoria, Ariz., so he can work out regularly with the Mariners' trainers and staff. Last winter, he worked on developing a stronger approach at the plate, and it paid dividends.

"The previous couple years, I just relied on speed, trying to put the ball in the infield and run," Miller said. "So I stayed the whole offseason in Arizona and worked on it. Not driving the ball out of the park, but hitting low line drives and just refining my mechanics.

"I didn't want to just rely on my speed to try to hit .300. I wanted to try to have some extra-base hits, and if I got hold of a couple and they went out of the park, that was cool. But it was just really focusing on bringing the bat this year and establishing that I could hit."

While Miller isn't going to draw many comparisons to Griffey, he did a pretty good Ichiro impression in 2017. And now, he'd love nothing more than to take the next step and get a chance to follow those fleet footsteps into Safeco Field sometime in the future.

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.

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