Sunday, October 7, 2007

A Shift at Shortstop in Baltimore Provides a Spark

Roger Miller knew that the Baltimore front officer considered him their shortstop of the future. He just didn't realize how quickly the future could become today.

Miller, acquired from Colorado before season four for prospects, started the year out as an athletic center fielder with a lively, albeit streaky and impatient, bat. Though he doesn't walk much, he has a knack for driving in runs and has some pop in his bat, after sending 30 balls out of the park in his first season with Baltimore. He'd begun to develop a reputation as the type of outfielder that could gun an ambitious runner out. He'd amassed 10 outfield assists in 140 games in season four and already had 9 outfield assists in 98 games in season 5.

None of this comes as any surprise to those who have followed Miller. Many of his closest observers will quickly tell you he's a natural. Unlike most young players, Miller needed little pampering that comes with the often sheltered life of a prized prospect in the minor league systems. Miller made his major league debut as a 21 year old and has been an everyday player since that first step onto major league grass.

But none of that meant anyone, even his biggest proponents, thought he was ready to play shortstop this year. In fact, many had begun to think, if not outright advocate, that he remain in center field for as long as possible based on his sterling defensive play. Furthermore, Baltimore had an all-star at shortstop, the steady, dependable Gary Ohman, who'd been selected to the all-star squad for the first time in season five as a 31 year old.

However, Ohman suffered from one of the cardinal athletic sins: he's injury prone. That, combined with Baltimore's early season offensive woes, would lead to Miller's insertion at shortstop after Ohman went on the DL for the second time in as many weeks after the all-star break.

Many were concerned with Miller's being able to make the transition defensively from Center field to shortstop, the most important defensive position on the field. Yet Miller hasn't missed a beat, having committed only five errors to this point in 38 games for a .978 fielding percentage. More importantly, Miller's move from Center to short has allowed room in the order for Vladimir Estrella, the rejuvenated former star from San Fran, as well as boosting significantly the offensive production at shortstop.

"No, I didn't think it would happen this soon", Miller says, "but, you know, I'm happy it did. The team seems to be responding and we're winning more now than we did earlier in the season when we were struggling."

When asked about Ohman, who isn't even on the playoff roster now, Miller responds, "Yea, it's hard for him, he told me so himself. And I think he's having a tough time with it. He's a competitive guy. But we can't dwell on that. It's not about one guy, it's about winning. If the guys in the front officer and the coaching staff feel like we have a better chance to win with me at short and Vlad in the lineup then that's what we've got to go with. It's working so far."

Baltimore's hopes for a deep playoff run this season and in future seasons will hinge on it working well into the future.

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