PEORIA, Ariz. — With a mixture of pride and sheepishness, Brad Miller stuck out his hands for inspection.
“They are gross,” Seattle’s shortstop prospect said grinning.
Gross to some people, perhaps, but to others there is a blue-collar beauty in the craggy collection of calluses, blisters and scars on his palms.
They are a working man’s hands.
But Miller’s mangled mitts didn’t come from slinging shovels of dirt or operating heavy equipment.
No, they came from hours of hitting baseballs without batting gloves.
In this day of gaudy gloves of every color and style, Miller goes without — bare hands and a smile.
“I really like the feel of it,” he said. “I’ve never really used them. Everybody told me once you get into pro ball you are going to have to start using them, but I like the feel. I just feel more connected with the bat.”
The no-gloves look seems fitting for Miller. From the bare hands on the bat to the absence of wrist bands and jewelry to the high socks he wears, Miller is old school. There is no pretension to his game.
“I admire it,” said Chris Gwynn, Mariners director of minor league operations. “It doesn’t make the player. But when you look at the complete package and then you kind of get to all of it — he’s a throwback guy”
The term “throwback” gets thrown around a lot, probably
more than deserved. But watch Miller attack the game with energy and joy and it’s fitting. It’s not tough to envision him playing in the early 1960s with a dust-covered, baggy wool uniform and his hardened hands around an old ash bat.
In all his years of baseball, Miller wore batting gloves for just a short period of time – a 15-game stretch during his freshman year at Clemson in 2009.
“We had these cool batting gloves,” he said. “They were these sweet white and purple gloves. So I was going to wear them.”
It didn’t feel the same.
“After 15 games, I was batting like .200,” he said. “I was like all right, I’m going to go back.”
He has stayed that way ever since. It didn’t matter that the Mariners’ second-round pick in 2011 switched to the skin-searing friction that comes from swinging wooden bats. Pain be damned, he wasn’t changing.
“No gloves, nope,” he said.
Without gloves, he put together a monster first full season in the minors. In 137 games between Class A High Desert and Double-A Jackson, Miller hit .334 (186-for-557) with 40 doubles, seven triples, 15 homers and 68 RBI. He posted a .410 on-base percentage and a .510 slugging percentage, while stealing 23 bases.
“I think the coolest part for me was getting to play so many games,” he said. “I got to play in close to 140 games. That was awesome. Just being able to get on the field and learn through all of it. That’s a lot of innings at shortstop, a lot of at-bats and a lot of time on the field.”
The first full professional season can seem like a marathon for young players. Many will wilt in the heat of August.
Not Miller. He kept succeeding and soaking up experience.
“That was the best thing for me, just learning how to play every day, learning how to control everything and get out there no matter how you were doing and get your work in,” he said.
If there was one knock on Miller’s season, it was in the field. He committed 36 errors at shortstop.
But Gwynn thinks there were reasons for the struggle.
“A lot of it was the field,” Gwynn said. “A lot of them were fielding. The High Desert infield was not a great place to field and then you can lose your confidence. The guys there worked with him and got him to relax and just play.”
Otherwise, Gwynn was quite pleased with Miller’s first full season.
“He plays hard,” Gwynn said. “He plays every day. He has leadership skills. He’s hungry. He’s an athletic kid. He loves to play, He’s smart.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Miller will be in Seattle this season. He’s far from a finished work.
“He still has a lot to learn,” Gwynn said.
As with most middle infielders in the Seattle organization, Miller knows he will also have to play some second and third base this season – most likely at Jackson.
“You need the ability to play everywhere,” Miller said. “We are all shortstops but the ability for us to play second or play third is huge. I think it makes you a better shortstop, you understand where a second baseman wants the ball, you appreciate what he’s doing over there. You get a feel for the whole field.”
It’s that attitude that impresses Gwynn and many others who are responsible for developing talent for the Mariners.
“Knowing Brad for a year now, I’m confident in him,” Gwynn said. “He’s a good a player and he’s going to contribute, sooner than some people think.”
After his first season of success and an invitation to the major league team’s spring training camp, don’t expect Miller to change. He will still play the same way. There won’t be any wrists bands or accessories. There certainly won’t be any batting gloves. There will just be an effort and a joy on the field that harkens back to black and white days.
“They’ll see a player that’s going all out,” Miller said. “They’ll see a guy (who) can do whatever you need, an all-around player who will do anything to get the job done. Hopefully, they will see a guy who you can tell enjoys what he’s doing and he’s leaving it all on the field.”Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish