CLEMSON -- The revelations for Brad Miller came on the balmy practice fields of the Cary, N.C., baseball complex last summer.
The Raleigh suburb is where Team USA trains, and the Clemson shortstop was invited to the elite team in large part because of his bat. But it was his glove with which Miller was primarily concerned.
Defense was holding Miller back from becoming the valuable two-way player he has become this season, helping Clemson to 15 wins in its last 18 games as the No. 22 Tigers (29-15) open a series with Gardner-Webb today.
Miller committed 32 errors in 69 games last season, owning a poor .894 fielding percentage. The errors caused Clemson coach Jack Leggett to temporarily move Miller to DH last season, and Miller's grounder-between-the-legs gaffe at the Auburn Super Regional last season nearly cost Clemson a College World Series trip.
"I definitely had some bad habits," Miller said. "If you don't sit back and correct them, they are going to keep coming up. You have to have a plan of action, a better plan in practice. … The big thing for me was playing on the USA team, fielding with some of best players."
The plan began with Miller watching talented Team USA shortstops Nolan Fontana (Florida) and Jason Esposito (Vanderbilt), hoping to pick up some- thing to improve his defense.
When he watched Fontana, he saw balance and accuracy.
"The thing about (Fontana) is his feet are always in right position," Miller said. "His throws are always accurate and strong. He's always on balance, always throwing off his back leg ….no matter what type of (ground) ball, what placement, his throws are always strong and accurate."
When he watched Esposito he saw aggressive, confident play.
"He always plays the ball," Miller said. "He doesn't let the ball dictate … he always gets it on the hop he wants."
Miller decided he must improve in two areas: he had to have a better base, meaning better footwork from which to make accurate throws, and he had to be more aggressive attacking balls in play rather than passively allowing them to play him.
The study, the thousands of reps have paid off this season as Miller has committed only eight errors and improved his fielding percentage 50 points.
"I continue to work," Miller said. "I continue to work on footwork. I'm trying to be aggressive out there, just trying to make plays and continue the process."
Miller, who was a 39th round pick by the Texas Rangers out of high school, hopes the improved defense will lead to a high draft position, though the junior said he hasn't heard much from scouts this spring.
The scouts know Miller has always been able to hit and Miller leads Clemson in batting average (.437), on-base percentage (.535), slugging (.595) and is tied with a team-best 18 steals. He is the program's best shortstop since Khalil Greene.
"He's playing very well, playing with a lot of confidence," Leggett said recently. "He just has a presence about him. … It's tough to put anyone in Khalil's category, but he's one of the better ones I've seen recently playing shortstop."