High school catcher Miller excited by options
Committed to go to UCLA, talented youngster eager about Draft
Darrell Miller Jr. is coming up on a decision that will impact the rest of his life. Miller, thought by many analysts to be one of the top high school catchers in the country, is already committed to UCLA but openly admits that he might be swayed by the right offer in June's First-Year Player Draft.
"It's kind of an honor," he said of the dilemma occupying his mind. "I never thought I'd be in this position that I'm in right now, maybe going to UCLA and maybe a chance at the Draft."
In truth, though, Miller has been waiting for this moment for most of his life. The backstop is the scion of a celebrated athletic family that includes father Darrell Miller Sr., a former big league catcher, as well as iconic basketball players in aunt Cheryl and uncle Reggie Miller.
Miller Sr., now employed as Major League Baseball's vice president of youth and facility development, helped nurture his son's talent along with one of his professional projects. Miller Jr. sharpened his tools at the Urban Youth Academy in Compton, Calif., where he got to grow along with the facility and measure himself against several other viable pro prospects.
Miller Jr. wasn't able to play in last Saturday's UYA Alumni Game due to a sprained ankle, but he values the time he's spent and the relationships he's forged at the Academy. And as far as his father is concerned, Miller Jr. has made the most of his passion for life and for the game.
"The great thing is to have a son that really loves the game and wants to play. It's all a dad would ever want," said Miller Sr. of his namesake. "I just want him to stay healthy and I want what's best for him in life, and to have a balance still, to be a contributor to society in other ways: To be a good dad, to be a good brother, to be a good uncle, to be part of society. I'm really glad because my son's a good young man. He's got a strong spirituality, and he understands what the game is really about."
Miller Jr., young and gregarious, is capable of ticking off a long and detailed scouting report of the best pitchers he's caught while playing at the Academy, and he can recall playing with some of the region's best prospects as far back as his Little League years.
And now that he sees some of them being drafted, his hunger is increased. Miller isn't shy about wanting to be better than his peers, to be the best he can be by his own measurement.
"That's where they are, and if they're there, I compare myself to them," he said. "I feel like I'm at the same level, and I try to be better than them so I can go higher. It's great to see them succeed, and it pushes me to do better than them. ... They push me. They're my role models."
One of Miller's great strengths, that intense drive and motivation -- the innate willingness to find competition no matter where he looks -- is no doubt a product of his upbringing. Miller, with a little prodding, will openly discuss the pressure he feels from having such a famous last name.
"It's just there, unfortunately and fortunately," he said. "My dad was never really one to push me to play baseball. He let me play all three sports, and he wanted to let me feel it out. I made the conscious decision to play baseball. I quit football my sophomore year and quit basketball my junior year.
"You get the questions, 'How is it having Uncle Reggie and Aunt Cheryl?' That runs in your genes. You're expected to succeed. You're expected to go to UCLA, and in that way, it's kind of a bummer, because you're just doing what's expected. ... Sometimes I feel it kind of [minimizes] all the hard work I've put in, but then again, having that expectation has pushed me to meet that expectation."
When it came time to choose a position, however, Miller Jr. took his time moving around the field. The youngster tried multiple spots in the infield to take advantage of his athleticism before ultimately deciding to play catcher, the same position his father mastered as a professional.
"He had no other choice," joked Miller Sr. "He played shortstop and third, he pitched, but he always kind of knew that catcher would be his thing. We just started late. We let him play everywhere else, because catching's a tough position, and you don't want to start him too early."
With the end of his prep years upon him, Miller Jr. is thrilled with whatever life brings him. He loves the idea of playing at UCLA -- where uncle Reggie starred before his eventful tenure in the NBA -- but Miller Jr. is also happy to consider the prospect of signing early and turning professional.
In fact, he may even be leaning that way, if he can be a first-round selection in June. Miller Jr. said that if some team meets his wish list, he'd likely think long and hard about signing.
"I'd be a little too tempted," he said. "I want to play Major League Baseball. That's my dream. And if it comes through going to college, then that's how it's going to be. But if I got where I wanted to go -- I got the bonus I wanted and it would be a good chance -- I'm going to play [pro] baseball."
But then again, he has the rest of his senior year to live out and he may think differently in June. Miller Jr. wants to enjoy the time he has left in high school, and when you ask him about his five-year plan, he'll quickly remind you that he's just a kid -- albeit a tremendously talented kid.
"I want to get out of high school," he said. "I want the future to happen now. I really wish I could just skip five years and see what happens. It all just comes down to what opportunities I'm given. I'm going to do the best I can do within these five years, and hopefully my best gets me where I want to go."
The question turns, inevitably, to how his famous uncle will react if Miller Jr. spurns UCLA and elects to turn professional. And in that respect, both father and son think alike.
"That's not his say," said Miller Sr. "I mean, we'd wish he was at UCLA, but we'll see. The Draft is a funky thing and we'll have to let that play itself out. I think Darrell really wants to go to UCLA, and he really wants to play pro ball, and I'm not quite sure what's going to come first."
"I think he'd live with it, because he knows being drafted would be a great opportunity and then college is after that," said Miller Jr. of his excitable uncle. "He'd live with it, but I think he'd be a little disappointed. It's my decision in the end. ... [Cheryl] would probably be a little happier -- 'Good. Don't go to that school' -- because she went to USC. But it will all work out. I know it will."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. Ben Platt contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.