Jalen Miller aims to make most of Braves homecoming

Richmond Flying Squirrels second baseman Jalen Miller (1) throws to first base during an Eastern League game against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on May 29, 2019 at The Diamond in Richmond, Va. The Atlanta Braves selected Miller in the 2020 Rule 5 draft. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)
Richmond Flying Squirrels second baseman Jalen Miller (1) throws to first base during an Eastern League game against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies on May 29, 2019 at The Diamond in Richmond, Va. The Atlanta Braves selected Miller in the 2020 Rule 5 draft. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images)

Credit: Four Seam Images

Credit: Four Seam Images

Shortly after finishing a workout in Kennesaw, Jalen Miller was standing in line at a Jimmy John’s when he received unexpected news: He was one of three players selected by the Braves during the minor league portion of the Rule 5 draft.

“I was just waiting to get a sandwich, and I started getting tweeted at, texted by my buddies,” Miller said. “It was crazy. My buddies, my family being excited, just playing for your hometown team. I went to school five minutes from Truist (Park). Just going to tailgates at Turner Field growing up, that was fun. It’s a dream come true.”

Miller, a 24-year-old infielder, has a pedigree. The Giants selected him in the third round of the 2015 draft out of Riverwood International Charter High School in Sandy Springs. Miller has since hit .235/.291/.352 across five minor-league seasons. He spent the 2019 campaign in Double-A, where he hit .216/.287/.332. While he showed increased power — Miller hit 25 homers over the 2018-19 seasons after hitting 11 across the three previous campaigns — the overall lack of offensive production led to his availability in the draft.

“I definitely wish I could’ve been hitting better these last few years,” Miller said. “Just coming up with the Giants, I was happy to be there. But when I first got there, and even when I left, we were going through a lot of changes. It was hard to get a footing with me being so young at the start, just different mentalities and everything. I think I was just letting too many people in and wasn’t really doing my own thing, what I should’ve been. I think that’s where I’ve grown these past few years with the Giants. A little more success, just taking in what I can handle and not everything at once.”

Modest offensive improvement will put Miller on the right track. He’s worked on his swing, adjusting his hip movements and building more forearm strength. He wants to tap further into his power and make more consistent contact. In the meantime, he’s happy with his recent defensive strides and feels he’s a weapon on the base paths. Miller has stolen 66 bases in his minor-league career, including 27 in 135 games in 2019.

“My athleticism plays, especially on defense but also on the bases,” he said. “I think I’m fun to watch there. Defense, I’m usually in the right positions at the right times. I really take pride in my defense, especially these last two years. Just my athleticism I think is really fun to watch. Hitting wise, get some consistency in me and start hitting for a little bit of pop and I think it’ll be fun on that side, too.”

It’s an oft-used sentiment, but sometimes a change of scenery can make a difference. The Braves see a player who provides solid organization depth with the potential to perhaps develop into a contributor. Miller gets the chance to jumpstart his career where his earliest ambitions were dreamt.

Miller’s family had season tickets down the first-base line at Turner Field, where he made countless memories as early as the 2000 All-Star game. Miller’s favorite player was Andruw Jones — someone he’s excited to soon meet — followed by Chipper Jones and Rafael Furcal. But it isn’t just the past that’s familiar. Miller is longtime friends with two of the Braves’ rising prospects: outfielders Trey Harris and Drew Waters, who also are from metro Atlanta.

“I grew up playing with Trey Harris since we’ve been 11 or 12,” Miller said. “He was one of the first guys I called. Drew Waters and I have been lifting together since he was 14 and I was 16, maybe. Every time we see each other we talk about that and how excited we are to get going. I think the new influence of being so close to home and just seeing familiar faces on the field that you grinded with even before you were in pro ball, that motivates and excites me a lot to get going.”

The reality is Rule 5 draft picks rarely register on the radar at the time of selection; minor-league Rule 5 picks almost never do. But Miller’s baseline talent creates intrigue, and his story will be one worth monitoring when he resumes his bid to ascend the minors.

He hopes that his journey’s final destination is about five minutes down the road from where it began.

“Being able to watch the Braves on TV, especially what they did in the playoffs last year, it’s really cool,” Miller said. “I’m excited to be in that type of environment. It looks like everybody is having fun out there. They’re all together. Just talking to Trey and Drew, it seems like it’s that way throughout the minors, too. So I see where all that energy comes from. You see how everyone continues to progress and do well. I’m just excited to be part of that culture now.”

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