COLLEGE BASEBALL: SECOND TO NONE HART PRODUCT MILLER A STANDOUT AT DIV. II CAL STATE L.A.
During his career as a Hart High baseball player, Mike Miller held his own among a group of future Division I college players. He was the team's third-leading hitter and a solid outfielder, but he did not receive the interest from colleges that his teammates did.
When his former teammates Billy Susdorf, Eric Posthumus and Phil Tognetti headed to Division I programs, Miller settled for Division II Cal State Los Angeles. Miller did so well this spring as a freshman for the Eagles that he earned a chance to spend the summer among the Division I players he had hoped to play with on a regular basis. Miller left Thursday to play for a Minnesota-based collegiate wood-bat team.
``It feels like it's going to be a challenge, but I think I can play with them,'' Miller said. ``I think I could have played D-1. They're all D-1 players, so this'll prove if I can play with them. This will provide a good test for me. This is another step up.''
Just getting into the league was a significant step.
``Most Division I guys can get their fifth catcher in before we get anyone in,'' Cal State L.A. coach John Herbold said. ``People are under the impression that if you aren't Division I, you aren't any good. There's a lot of snobbery involved. We fight it all the time. There's plenty of good players in Division II. Mike's one of them.''
Miller earned the starting center-field job at Cal State L.A. and went on to be named All-California Collegiate Athletic Association. He led the conference in stolen bases, stealing 29 in 32 attempts. His average of 0.59 stolen bases per game ranked 17th in the nation in Division II.
Miller also had 10 outfield assists, ranked third among the Eagles with a .330 batting average and tied for the team lead with 37 runs scored.
``The guy can play,'' Herbold said. ``Joe Butler, a scout with the White Sox who went here, found out about Mike. He said if he hadn't graduated from here, he would have drafted Mike. He's a major-league prospect. That's not saying he'll make it in the major leagues, but he is a prospect.''
Being a star player was a new role for Miller.
``I liked it like this,'' Miller said. ``It was a lot of pressure being a freshman and playing every day and trying to impress everyone, but I liked it. I think it made me play better.''
His performance soared after Herbold pulled Miller aside early in the season, told him to relax and assured him he would remain in the lineup. A move to the leadoff slot in the batting order sparked the base-stealing spree for the player who had only seven total stolen bases in his two-year varsity career at Hart.
``In high school I had a different role,'' Miller said.
Miller batted .442 with 23 RBI as a high school senior, but was overshadowed by .500-plus hitters Chris Gagnon and Susdorf and a trio of dominant senior pitchers.
``At first I was disappointed,'' Miller said of not being able to play at a Division I school. ``But once I came to Cal State L.A., I was happy, it was a good program.''
Herbold is quick to point out that there are at least 20 current major- leaguers, including former Cal State L.A. player Jay Gibbons, from Division II programs.
``Sometimes people go unnoticed,'' Herbold said. ``Not everybody has to go to a big superpower. A lot of people don't get to go to some superpower. That right fielder from Cuba, he doesn't care where you went to school. All that matters is how well you play. ... Major-league players come from everywhere.''
Name: Mike Miller
Team: Cal State L.A.
Local tie: Hart High
Quote: ``There's a lot of fish in the sea. Some of them take longer than others to get pulled in. This guy is a prospect.''
- Cal State L.A. coach John Herbold on Mike Miller.
MILLER FILE (see text)