Earlier this week, the A’s claimed Jai Miller off waivers from the Marlins and optioned him to Sacramento. The only cost to the A’s is the price of a waiver claim. Miller isn’t replacing anyone on the 40-man roster as the A’s had an extra spot after transferring Josh Outman to the 60-day DL. While obviously not a game changer, it’s certainly not a bad move either, as Miller would have to be a heck of a bad player to be less valuable than an empty 40-man roster slot. Even if he turns out to be every bit as bad as the Marlins think he is, the A’s can easily drop him off their 40-man roster.
Let’s get this out of the way right now; Jai Miller isn’t good. Well, more accurately, Jai Miller most likely isn’t good (compared to current major league players). There is some hope here, despite how his early minor league career looks. He was drafted by the Marlins in the 4th round out of high school in 2003. He got into 11 games that year and hit .233. In 2004 he hit .205 and struck out 163 times in 390 ABs. In 2005 he hit .207 and struck out 139 times in 415 ABs. In 2006 he hit .209 and struck out 115 times in 334 ABs. Neither his age nor his league could hide the fact that he simply wasn’t translating the tools the Marlins saw in him into any kind of baseball skills at all. It’s not like he was excelling in other areas of the game, either. Through 2006 he didn’t post an OBP over .308 or a SLG over .351. He had stolen 52 bases, but had also been caught 26 times.
To this point it looked like he was closer to being out of baseball than to the majors. The Marlins for some reason though, kept advancing him and in 2007 he put up his first non-terrible season, hitting .261/.354/.438 as a 22 year old in AA. Moved to AAA Albuquerque in 2008, he hit .267/.349/.472. This line isn’t as impressive as it seems because of the extreme hitter-friendly environment of Albuquerque, but it certainly was an improvement over his early minor league seasons. He improved yet again last season, hitting .288/.358/.512 in his second go at AAA, this time in the Marlins’ new PCL affiliate in New Orleans. He impressed the Marlins enough to (temporarily at least) add him to the 40-man roster.
Despite the huge strides he’s made in the past three seasons he doesn’t profile to be a big league starter. He still strikes out way too much; his K-rate was only marginally better in his good seasons than in his terrible ones. Plus its hard to ignore how remarkably bad his first four professional seasons were. He’s reasonably fast, though not a burner, and plays a good corner outfield, but is a bit stretched in center. He is interesting, though. His improvement is quite remarkable and maybe he’s not doing growing as a ballplayer. After all, he is just 25. Maybe he can turn into a serviceable 4th outfielder or maybe he’ll never be more than organizational filler. Heck, his 90th percentile PECOTA projection has him hitting .253/.328/.475. Even if he doesn’t approach those numbers, right now he’s better than nothing—and given the start he had to his professional career, that actually does mean something.