Scouting The Waiver Market: Jai Miller

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

I gotta say, I was surprised by how many people sent in mailbag questions about Jai Miller over the weekend. You folks really don’t miss a thing. Anyway, Miller is a soon-to-be 27-year-old right-handed hitting outfielder that the Athletics designated for assignment on Friday after acquiring three 40-man roster players from the Nationals in the Gio Gonzalez trade. He had a huge year for their Triple-A squad, hitting .276/.368/.588 with 32 homers and 16 steals (in 16 attempts!) in 475 plate appearances before getting a late season cup of coffee, but now he’s waiver fodder.

The Yankees are lacking upper level outfield depth, so players like Miller will surely pop up on their radar whenever they become available. Does he made sense for them though? That’s what we’re here to find out. Let’s start with his negatives…

The Cons

  • As good as Miller was in Triple-A this past season, it was his fourth straight full season at the level. He posted a .357 wOBA in 2008, a .375 wOBA in 2009, a .351 wOBA in 2010, and then a .410 wOBA this past year. You have to wonder if his huge year is the result of tangible improvement (more on that later), or just repeating the level yet again.
  • No stranger to strike three, Miller struck out 179 times this season, or 37.7% of his plate appearances. In 1,750 career plate appearances at the Triple-A level, he’s struck out 550 times, or 31.4%. For comparison’s sake, Mark Reynolds struck out in 31.6% of his plate appearances this year, the worst rate in the majors. Putting the ball in play is not his forte.
  • Miller appears to be out of options, meaning he must clear waivers to be sent to the minors next season. These things are tough to know for certain unless you’ve followed the guy’s entire career closely, so don’t hold me to that.

The Pros

  • Miller has definite power in his 6-foot-3 and 205 lb. frame, though his 32 homers and .312 ISO this season are career highs by far. During his three previous Triple-A stints, he hit 19, 16, and 18 homers with .205, .224, and .264 ISOs, respectively. As you can see here, he’s able to drive the ball out of the park the other way, at least on occasion.
  • All those strikeouts are due in part to his propensity to work deep counts. Miller walked in 11.4% of his plate appearances this season and 10.4% of the time during his Triple-A career. It’s not a mind-blowing walk rate, but it’s absolutely above average.
  • The 16-for-16 thing this year might be an aberration, but Miller had stolen 31 bases in 43 chances (72.1% success rate) in his prior Triple-A seasons. He wasn’t the highest percentage base stealer prior to 2011, but he is capable of swiping the occasional bag.
  • Miller can man all three outfield spots and is a fantastic defender, with Baseball America even calling him a potential Mike Cameron clone in their 2010 Prospect Handbook, the last time he was prospect eligible.

Interestingly enough, Miller showed almost no platoon split in 2011 and hasn’t throughout his minor league career, so he’s not necessarily a platoon candidate. Given the considerable increases in his strikeout rate and power production this year, there’s a chance he altered his swing or approach in some way. We won’t know that for sure unless we talk to the guy (or his hitting coach) because minor league data is so limited. The power spike in 2011 could be a fluke, but he could be pulling a Nelson Cruz circa 2008 for all we know.

Based on what we know, we can’t definitively say that Miller would be better use of a 40-man roster spot than Justin Maxwell, another right-handed hitting outfielder that is out of options. Miller is 13 months younger than Maxwell though, and he also isn’t coming off major shoulder surgery. If nothing else, he’s the healthier choice. Because he’s been designated for assignment and outrighted off the 40-man roster before, Miller can elect free agency if he clears waivers this week. It would make more sense for the Yankees to wait the process out to see if he becomes a free agent, then pursue him on a minor league deal if he does. I wouldn’t call Miller a priority on the waiver wire, but he would be an interesting pickup for the Triple-A outfield if everything falls into place.

Fan Confidence Poll: December 26th, 2011

2011 Record: 97-65 (855 RS, 657 RA, 102-60 pythag. record), won AL East, lost to Tigers in ALDS

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Christmas Day Open Thread

Saturday: Happy Holidays from all of us at RAB to you and yours. Rather than leave you with a generic photo of a Yankees ornament, I’ll leave you with the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises. The first two movies kicked ass, and it sure looks like the third one will as well.

Once you finish watching that three or four times, use this as your open thread throughout the day. The Jets and Giants are playing at 1pm ET on FOX, and there’s plenty more NFL games to watch today well. Talk about whatever you like, and enjoy the holiday.

Sunday: Why yes, I am just going to recycle this thread. I hope all of you are having a very merry Christmas, and if you don’t celebrate Christmas, then happy Sunday. The NBA season starts today, and the Knicks-Celtics are on TNT right now. Enjoy.

Joba Update: Two weeks of rest following bullpens

Via the man himself, Joba Chamberlain has been throwing bullpen sessions for a few weeks now and his arm is feeling great following Tommy John surgery. The plan now is to rest for two weeks, then resume throwing after the new year. Joba seems to be just a bit ahead of schedule based on Mike Dodd’s classic TJS article, and he’ll likely start throwing breaking balls very soon. Maybe the Yankees will get him back in late-May rather than mid-June, but I’d rather get him back in mid-August if meant moving him back into the rotation…

Report: Yankees considered pursuit of Beltran

Via Bob Klapisch, the Yankees toyed around with the idea of pursuing Carlos Beltran as a free agent earlier this winter. They consider him an upgrade over Nick Swisher, but they ultimately passed because of Beltran’s balky knees. Klapisch’s source likened the situation to Hideki Matsui, who was allowed to leave after 2009 because of his knee problems.

Back in October we heard that the Yankees were discussing Beltran in team meetings, but that was so early in the offseason it was hard to believe it was anything more than due diligence. Beltran parlayed his bounceback .389 wOBA, 4.7 fWAR season into a two-year, $26M contract with the Cardinals late last week. Given the return for similar players, it’s hard to believe Swisher would have landed the Yankees anything more than a pair of decent prospects in a trade. Certainly not a quality starting pitcher without adding prospects into the deal.

Open Thread: Foobaww

(Photo via Iowa State Athletics on Twitter)

There’s no baseball to be played in Yankee Stadium these days, but there will be college football. The 2011 Pinstripe Bowl will be played one week from today, featuring Rutgers and Iowa State. I know we’ve got plenty of Rutgers alum around here … are any of you planning on going? I heard the previous games at the Stadium were a blast, but college football isn’t my thing and I can’t imagine shelling out big bucks to watch two schools I didn’t attend play a bowl game.

Anyway, here is tonight’s open thread. All three hockey locals are in action tonight, but if you’re like me, I suspect you’ll spend most of the night trying to improve your 20 gift-wrapping tool (on the 20-80 scouting scale, of course). You folks know what to do, so have at it. Anything goes.

Yanks hit with $13.9M luxury tax bill

Major League Baseball sent out its luxury tax bills on Thursday, and the Yankees owe $13.9M for the 2011 season. That’s down from $18M last year and $26.9M in 2009, and is their smallest bill since paying $11.8M in 2003, the first year the luxury tax was in place. For luxury tax purposes, the Yankees’ final payroll in 2011 was $212.7M. Checks to the commissioner’s office are due on January 31st.

The Red Sox were the only other team hit with a luxury tax bill this year, and will have to hand over a $3.4M check thanks to their $189.4M final payroll. Since the current system was put in place eight years ago, the commissioner’s office has collected a total $227.1M in luxury tax payments, and $206.1M (90.8%) of that has come from the Yankees. The Sox, Angels, and Tigers are the only other teams to have paid over the years. If you’re curious about where the luxury tax money goes, Maury Brown says the first $2.5M goes into the legal fund, then 75% of what’s left goes towards players benefits and the final 25% goes into the growth fund.