Owen Miller is carving out a career for himself in Cleveland. His younger brother Noah Miller is about to be selected in the first round of the MLB Draft.
When Owen and Noah Miller were growing up, their backyard was large and pristine, so they turned it into a makeshift baseball field. The deck and surrounding pine trees became a home run line. The trampoline became the backstop. Finally, they’d wrap a Wiffle ball in duct tape and start playing two-on-two games.
The games, which started over 10 years ago, featured Owen and cousin Natalie against Noah and cousin Matt. They would last for hours and be highly competitive, with Noah often charging the mound when Owen hit him with a pitch. But since Owen was 12 and Noah was 6, he would often get beat up since “he was six years older than me.”
“We’ve had some pretty heated battles where we’ve lost and … let’s just say it gets intense,” Owen said in a recent phone conversation.
Owen, now 24, is a utility player for the Cleveland Indians. Noah, 18, is expected to be selected in the first or second rounds of the upcoming 2021 MLB Amateur Draft, with increasing buzz his call might come in the first round.
They grew up in Fredonia, Wisconsin, population 2,459. Their father, Tom, would spend most mornings hitting Owen ground balls and throwing batting practice at a park about a mile down the road. Tom and his wife, Rose, would travel across the country for baseball tournaments when Owen was in sixth and seventh grades. It was here, along with those Wiffle ball games in the backyard, where some of his best memories were made and his love for baseball grew.
But it wasn’t until Owen went on a trip to Cooperstown, New York in a 12u tournament where his goal of playing in Major League Baseball came into focus. He planned out his next steps, connecting with RJ Furgas from Hitters Baseball and getting into the weight room, with both Owen and Tom quickly realizing that “this could be something that I could set goals for and turn into reality.”
Noah, meanwhile, watched from afar and picked Owen’s brain as much as he could. He was blessed with a gifted arm and elite hand-eye coordination. But inside the Miller household, nobody dreamed of a future professional baseball career for Owen or Noah. Some thought Owen was better suited for basketball than baseball while Noah was short and lanky as a kid, only for both to emerge on the radar of scouts as they moved through high school.
“He’s my No. 1 hitting coach,” Noah said. “He vastly improved my game. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without Owen.”
Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images
By car, it takes an hour to get from their home in Fredonia to Hitters Baseball in Racine, WI. Owen made the drive most days in the offseason, with both he and Furgas spending each Wednesday and Sunday in the indoor facility to escape the bitter cold Wisconsin winters.
Furgas worked with Owen in the batting cages to perfect his swing and in the weight room to “get his body right.” The number of reps he got in the offseason, especially during the winter while most players in the midwest had limited opportunities, allowed him to see immediate results both offensively and defensively once he started his freshman year of high school.
“If you can hit and play the infield, you can make a mark in college,” Furgas told him.
Those words resonated with Owen and before too long, Furgas connected him with college coaches around the country. He committed to Illinois State University in 2016, where he hit .328/.368/.498 in 235 at-bats, and started excelling against some of college baseball’s top competition.
Owen started to notice scouts attending each of his games in his sophomore and junior seasons, with there being as many as 20 at some games. He had hit at least .325 in each season, ending the 2018 season with a .384 average in 229 at-bats, as buzz grew that he could go in the first few rounds of the 2018 draft.
Owen attended multiple pre-draft workouts, including one with the San Diego Padres a week before the draft, with a team official telling him after the workout, “You really opened some eyes today.” After he was not selected in the first two rounds, that same official called the morning of the second day of the draft and informed him, “We’re going to draft you with the 84th pick.”
Owen was skeptical. He had heard stories of teams informing players that they would be selected, only for the teams to go in a different direction. But when it was the Padres’ turn to pick, they selected Owen. His living room, packed with family, erupted.
“It was surreal,” Owen said. “It was something I’ll never forget.”
Having a brother in the majors has been an incredible developmental advantage for Noah Miller
Behind the scenes, Noah studied Owen’s every move. He always watched baseball at a higher level. Everything that coaches told Owen, he would relay to Noah. While Owen was getting this information at ages 18-21, Noah was getting it when he was 12-15. And despite being undersized, Noah thrived on the baseball diamond not just because of his natural ability, but because of Owen.
In the winter before his junior season, Noah began to fill out. He was suddenly around 6-feet and 190 pounds. Like Owen, he worked at Hitters Baseball, and noticed scouts attending his games as he thrived at the plate and at shortstop alongside second baseman Brady Counsell, the son of former major-leaguer and now Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell.
“What his hitting philosophies are, I’ve incorporated them into my game,” Noah said. “He’s learning all this stuff in college and he’s telling me all this stuff and I’m learning it when I’m 12-13. It 100 percent had an impact.”
Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images
It did not take long for Owen to move through the Padres’ organization.
He was promoted to Low-A Fort Wayne less than two months into playing in short season in Washington. He played in the Double-A playoffs later that year and continued there in 2019, where he hit .290/.355/.430 in 507 at-bats, earning an invitation to Fall League and eventually major-league spring training in 2020.
Owen quickly grew close to teammates Hudson Potts, Taylor Trammell, Buddy Reed, Ryan Weathers and Cole Wilcox. Most of them had spent the entire 2019 season in Double-A with him. But when the Padres started making trades in 2020, going all-in to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League, almost everyone Owen had gotten close with had been traded.
He wondered if he was next. He knew it was a possibility with the Padres having Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer in the infield. The day of the trade deadline, Owen was informed by a member of the Padres’ front office that he had been traded to Cleveland for right-handed pitcher Mike Clevinger.
“I was preparing for it,” Owen said, “and it was still a big surprise.”
After the trade, Owen reported to Cleveland’s alternate site and remained there for the rest of the season. He was once again invited to major-league spring training in 2021 and following a month of exhibition games, was optioned to Triple-A Columbus.
Owen, now Cleveland’s 16th ranked prospect, quickly impressed. He hit .406 with a 1.067 OPS in his first 16 games in 2021 and played everywhere defensively. So after a game on May 22 against the Toledo Mud Hens, he was summoned to manager Andy Tracy’s office.
“He called me after the game in Toledo and was like, ‘You feel pretty good in left field?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah.’ He’s like, ‘How do you feel about first base?’ and I’m like, ‘I feel pretty good.’ He’s like, ‘What about DH so you can give your legs a rest tomorrow?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, that would be pretty good.’ He’s like, ‘In Cleveland?’ And I’m like ‘What?’ He goes, ‘You’re going to the big leagues, man. Congrats.’”
Owen called everyone in his family — parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles — to share the news. But his debut coincided with Noah’s high school graduation, which meant Noah and the entire family had to make a decision: attend the graduation or go to Owen’s MLB debut. It was a unanimous decision to attend the debut.
“Easiest decision I’ve ever made in my life,” Noah said, laughing. “Sit through an hour of graduation or see my brother’s debut in Cleveland. As soon as I heard the news it was like, ‘We’re going to Cleveland.’”
The family left the house at 2:30 a.m. and started the seven-hour drive to Cleveland. They arrived in time for the game and settled into their seats down the third-base line. At one point during the game, they honored Noah’s graduation on the scoreboard in left field. There was only one problem. He missed it.
“I was getting hot dogs,” Noah said, laughing.
After the game, the family met Owen on the field and were finally able to hug him and take pictures. They then turned around to head back to Fredonia so Noah could continue his preparation for the MLB Draft.
Credit: Miller Family
That preparation has included working out and picking Owen’s brain since he went through this process only three years ago.
His advice, simply, was to not ride the rollercoaster that the draft or game of baseball can provide. “I told him, ‘It doesn’t matter if our whole family is watching you play, 20 scouts watching you play, there’s a general manager of a team at the game. It’s baseball,” Owen said. “You’re going to strike out. You’re going to make errors. It’s baseball. It’s a game of failure.”
That preparation has also included continuing to play baseball, where he’s honed his skills daily with coaches and Brady Counsell, who committed to the University of Minnesota. Noah models his game after San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford, who he considers the best defensive shortstop in the sport.
Both Noah and Owen have continued playing Wiffle ball games in the backyard in Fredonia with Natalie and Matt, with Brady joining during quarantine this past offseason. The games, Noah said, were “the wildest.” He sometimes imitates random batting stances, with Jose Bautista being his favorite, and mimics Bautista’s bat flip when he hits a homer off Owen.
It was not long ago that Noah was trying to follow in his brother’s footsteps. But now that he is on the doorstep of getting drafted, it’s sparked a moment of reflection of their journey and how those Wiffle ball games in the backyard growing up have both led them to professional baseball.
“My parents and Owen have been there with me through it all,” Noah said. “It’s pretty cool.”