Darrell Miller Jr. '12 Wins Pioneer League Batting Title
By Logan Ratick
Idaho Fall Chukars
IDAHO FALLS, ID --- For the second year in a row, an Idaho Falls Chukars catcher won the Pioneer League Batting Title. In 2016, Meibrys Viloria won the MVP award and the batting crown with a .376 average. In 2017, Darrell Miller, Jr. led the Pioneer League with a .376 batting average of his own.
"It feels great," said Miller, Jr. after the completion of the season. "Honestly, I can't believe I did so well."
Darrell Miller, Jr. comes from a phenomenal athletic family. His father, Darrell, Sr., began his professional baseball career for the Idaho Falls Angels in 1979 before making it up to MLB with the California Angels between 1984 and 1988. His uncle, Reggie (former UCLA Bruins and Indiana Pacers guard) and aunt, Cheryl, are both Basketball Hall of Famers. Despite coming from such a well-known family, Darrell, Jr. had to work very hard for his success.
While the Southern California native was at UCLA during his freshman year in 2013, Miller tore a hamate bone in his hand and had a pisiform bone removed from his wrist. He a tore a labrum in 2014 and missed his entire senior season in 2016 due to the same injury. Darrell kept on fighting to overcome these injuries.
After high school, Miller, Jr. was selected in the 34th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies. Following four years at UCLA, Miller, Jr. went undrafted. In 2017, the Kansas City Royals saw Miller's potential and took a chance on him by signing him to a minor-league deal.
Before the short-season began, Darrell Miller, Jr. was assigned to the Idaho Falls Chukars of the Pioneer League. He got off to a hot start to begin his professional career with a 13-game hitting streak and did not look back (other than about a ten-day span in July where he missed some time due to a lower body injury that resulted from a slide into second base for a double in Ogden).
Darrell Miller, Jr. was named the Pioneer League All-Star starting catcher for the first half of the season for the annual Pioneer League-Northwest League All-Star game in Hillsboro, Oregon in late July. He was one of three Chukars (Robby Rinn and Amalani Fukofuka) in the starting lineup.
"There is no comparison anymore," said Miller, Jr. before an early game in Billings in early August regarding whether or not he or his father got off to a better start in their career in Idaho Falls. "I already have him beat in doubles and average. I think [Darrell, Sr.] submitted. It's all fun and games. We always like to mess around and compete each other but he's just happy to see me doing well."
In 1979, former Major Leaguer Darrell Miller, Sr. played 60 games for the Idaho Falls Angels. He hit .268 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, 6 home runs and 34 runs batted in. Miller, Sr. also stole 5 bases and scored 35 runs.
In 2017, Darrell Miller, Jr. won the batting title with a .376 average in 48 games. He recorded 18 doubles, 5 home runs and 43 RBI with an on-base percentage of .459 and 45 runs scored.
Throughout the season, Darrell Miller, Jr. reflected on what it was like to start his professional career in Idaho Falls just as his father did back in the late 1970's.
"I picked the number 32 because it was my Dad's number," said Miller, Jr. said of his uniform number before a game in June. "It's so cool to be able to follow in my Dad's footsteps and to be able to carry on the family tradition of catcher-catcher. It's not like I think about it too much, but I love it. It's really cool to be able to say I got to start my career in the exact same place."
Darrell Miller, Jr.'s closest competitor for the batting title was Grand Junction's Shael Mendoza, who hit 12 points lower at .364. Despite playing in 48 games of a 76-game schedule, Miller, Jr. finished tied for fourth in the league with 18 doubles. He finished tied for first with a .459 on-base percentage. Miller, Jr. was named a Pioneer League All-Star for the second half of the season as a Designated Hitter.
Darrell Miller, Jr. helped anchor a Chukars offense that finished third in the Pioneer League with a .300 team batting average and third in the league with 832 hits, while tied for second with 168 doubles.
"This season, I tried to get this guys to jell and be on one page," said Chukars hitting coach, Damon Hollins. "I just try to get them to believe in what we're about as far as fastball ready and competing your butt off with two strikes and it worked well for [Darrell]]."
Only three Chukars had five-hit games in 2017: Travis Jones, Tyler Straub and Darrell Miller, Jr. In fact, Miller, Jr. did so twice: on June 22nd at Grand Junction and on July 26th at Missoula. He also recorded three four-hit games.
Interestingly enough, Miller, Jr. hit .333 when he was the designated hitter as opposed to .459 when he was at catcher to go along with four of his five home runs. His numbers were just as good on the road as they were at Melaleuca Field.
Aside from his ability to rebound from injuries and a terrific character, what may be most impressive about Darrell Miller, Jr. is that he can excel in clutch situations. He hit .431 with 8 doubles and 41 RBI with runners on-base, and .516 with 5 doubles and 18 RBI with runners in scoring position and two outs. Miller, Jr. hit .439 with 6 doubles and 2 home runs to lead off innings.
It's safe to say Darrell Miller, Jr. overcame a ton of challenges to get to where he is today. This season, Miller, Jr., a man who considers himself lucky enough to play a game for a living, made his own name for himself in a family of highly regarded athletes. He just finished his rookie season with the best batting average in the Pioneer League; a league that has more than 100 offensive players.