Making the Case for the Cubs’ 26th Man: Ian Miller
Who should be the Cubs’ 26th man for the 2020 season?
As a preface, COVID-19 has brought baseball to a screeching halt. However, when baseball returns, there will be a 26th man on the roster, unlike years prior. This article provides an analysis of who the 26th man could be when baseball resumes at some point in 2020.
With the new roster rules this season, each team is allowed to carry one extra man, at any position, for the 2020 season and beyond. This new rule opens the door for endless possibilities for the Cubs. There are arguments that Steven Souza is the 26th man, though I’d beg he’s on the roster even if it’s only a 25-man roster. Some people have said Zack Short or Robel Garcia may make their way into the conversation as well. However, based on Spring Training performance to date, I’d argue for non-roster invitee, OF Ian Miller to be the 26th man.
Ian Miller was drafted in the 14th round of the 2013 MLB Entry Draft by the Seattle Mariners (pick #417 overall). The young Philadelphia, Pennsylvania native played his college baseball at Wagner College in New York, a FCS school (formerly Div. I-AA), and worked his way into the big league conversation. He spent time last season with the Minnesota Twins.
In almost every other season since 2013, Miller has earned promotions to the next level. He quickly left rookie ball and made the A-Short team in 2013. In 2014 he began in A-Full season ball and was in AA by 2015. By the mid-season point of 2017, Miller had reached AAA.
Throughout his minor league career, Miller has done a few things notably well and consistently. He has always stolen bases, swiping more than 33 bags in every season except his first two back in 2013 and 2014, he has hit, averaging a .274 batting average over his minor-league career, and he has played good defense, averaging a .983 fielding percentage at all three outfield positions.
Miller strikes a resemblance to a Chicago legend who thrived on the South Side for four seasons en route to an 11-year career in the majors. If you can’t guess it, the answer is Scott Podsednik. “Scotty Pods” was a base-stealing fool over the course of his career. In 2004, as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, Podsednik stole a league-leading 70 bases (yes, you read that correctly). I’m not saying Miller is ever going to steal 70 bases in the majors, especially with the Cubs, but his skill set resembles that of Podsednik. He is fast, plays quality defense, and gets on base.
Miller provides an excellent option toward the bottom of the order on days he plays. Since David Ross is loading up the top of his batting order with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo batting one and two, there is a need for players in those seven and eight spots to get on base for the giants the second time through the order. Miller can hit for contact, steal his way into scoring position, and allow Bryant and Rizzo to increase their RBI totals with singles that score runs.
In the 17 Spring Training games before play was suspended, Miller batted .382 with 13 hits, ten runs scored, three doubles, six runs batted in, and a league-leading eight stolen bases, and that’s not just the Cactus League. The only area of concern is Miller’s 14 strikeouts. Ideally, if he is able to reduce the number of strikeouts going forward in Spring Training, he will be a viable option for the Cubs in the outfield.
Now, I fully understand that the Cubs outfield is crowded. Kyle Schwarber is undoubtedly the everyday left fielder, Ian Happ should be the everyday starting center fielder with Almora being his backup, Jason Heyward is the everyday right fielder, and Steven Souza Jr. is an insurance plan for the corner spots, but none of these players, aside from maybe Happ, have the skill set that Miller has. Carrying a sixth outfielder wouldn’t be a crime if he can get on base, steal his way into scoring position, play all three spots (as he has done over the course of his career), and score a lot of runs.
Cubs fans, we want to hear from you. Who do you think should be the Cubs’ 26th man? Let’s chat about it. Follow me on Twitter @rnldluce and we can talk through this together. However, I warn you, Ian Miller looks like a really good option right now.
All statistics provided by MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com