Mariners shifting Miller into utility role

Mariners shifting Miller into utility role

ANAHEIM -- Manager Lloyd McClendon feels Brad Miller can help the Mariners, he's just not entirely sure at what defensive position following Chris Taylor's callup on Monday to fill the primary shortstop role. But Miller, who has played shortstop throughout his college and professional career, worked in center field before the past two games and will now be groomed for a utility role.

"He's going to play all over," McClendon said. "My vision is hopefully to see him as a Ben Zobrist-type player. We'll see. Listen, this is not etched in stone. This is something we're trying and we'll see where it goes."

Changing positions isn't an easy decision for Miller to swallow. He sees himself as a shortstop. He was an All-American at Clemson, a second-round Draft pick of the Mariners in 2011 and outside of a handful of games at second and third base, he's played exclusively at shortstop in his first five years of pro ball, including the past two seasons in the big leagues.

"I was pretty frustrated," he said of his being taken out of the starting role. But he also understands this isn't his call.

"I'm a professional," Miller said. "This is my job, and they're my boss. So they say do this and that's what I do. It's pretty simple for that, obviously. You just have to be a professional about it and take everything in stride."

As for the potential of being in the lineup almost every day while moving around defensively like the A's Zobrist did for much of his career with the Rays?

"He's a great player, and he's invaluable," Miller said. "But I wouldn't want to pigeon hole myself into anything. I'm 25 years old, I'm still young in my career. Yes, a player that can play a lot of positions is very valuable. But also, a player who is an All-Star shortstop is very valuable. So that's kind of how I look at it."

The Mariners believe Miller is athletic enough to learn to play the outfield, the question is whether he can do it while remaining at the Major League level. McClendon said he did that in his own career and that Miller is a better athlete.

McClendon also said Miller will still play shortstop at times and could see some work at first base in the future. With center fielder Austin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list for the next two weeks, Miller might remain with the club for now and work with outfield coach Andy Van Slyke, but nothing is set in stone.

"I think that's a legitimate question," McClendon said when asked why Miller is remaining with the big league club instead of being sent to Tacoma to play outfield in Triple-A. "I think he adds value to this club and he can help us win ballgames at this level. I say that as we speak. I don't know what's going to happen in a week or 10 days from now. Who knows? Taylor could get hurt and he's playing short every day again. You just never know."

Van Slyke, a five-time Gold Glove outfielder for the Pirates in his playing days, said Miller has some positive traits, but will need time. Miller runs well, but his outfield experience consists of about a week of games while on a summer All-Star team as a teenager in Florida.

"I see high energy, which is great in the outfield," said Van Slyke. "But I equate it to watching a pony being born. You have to watch them run before you can train them. So what I'm doing is just letting him do his thing right now and see how he reacts. I don't know what he does correct or incorrect yet until I hit him balls, so I'm going to let him do what he does naturally first. If there's no correction, then he's a born outfielder and never knew it."

The Mariners have already been working to convert veteran second baseman Rickie Weeks to a left-field role this season, but Van Slyke said that's a different situation.

"Rickie is a little older," said Van Slyke. "We're just trying to get Rickie to be as comfortable as he can and try to keep the ball in front of him."

Greg Johns is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB as well as his Mariners Musings blog. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.