Ben Miller had a decision to make.
Following a 2016 season, in which he finished .317/.388/.457 with six homers and 46 RBIs, the Pittsburgh Pirates called in the 32nd round of the MLB draft.
It’s an opportunity almost every young baseball player dreams of: playing pro ball. Miller wasn’t drafted out of high school, but he turned himself into a formidable prospect in his first three years of school.
“It was a cool experience hearing your name called on draft day,” Miller told the Omaha World-Herald in February. “It’s something I’ve been dreaming about my whole life.”
Instead, Miller gambled; he turned down the offer and returned to Nebraska for his senior year.
While it only took him a few days to realize he wanted to come back to NU for a final year, Miller knew he had to deliver if he wanted another crack at baseball’s highest levels. And after weeks of struggling at the plate, Miller’s finally hitting a stride as Nebraska heads into the final month-and-a-half of 2017.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything different particularly,” Miller said, following NU’s 8-4 series-clinching win over Maryland April 9. “Batting practice, hitting in the cages - it’s all the same. It feels the same.”
After NU’s win over Kansas State at Hawks Field on March 28, Miller’s average sat at a dismal .176. He couldn’t find gaps, wasn’t hitting for power and looked like a player many teams would pass up come June.
Then, Miller’s switch flipped.
In nine games since, Miller hit 19-for-39 (.487) with two homers, 12 RBIs and seven runs scored. His 10-for-13 (.786) performance against Maryland last weekend - with two separate four-hit games - was enough to earn him Big Ten Player of the Week honors.
The mid-season fix was patience, as much as anything else.
“I don’t think I lost too much confidence [early in the year],” Miller said. “I obviously wasn’t getting the hits, but I thought I was hitting the ball well earlier in the year. I was just hitting them right at [players].”
And while four-year players have plenty of confidence in any situation, that experience helped Miller stay patient through the first six weeks of the year.
“Being a four-year guy, I think I kind of understand that that’s how baseball works,” Miller said. “I didn’t let it get to me and I don’t think I lost confidence. A few years ago, the young me probably would have a little bit, but I think I’ve handled it pretty well.”
Miller isn’t surprised things finally started falling his way, and almost everyone around him feels the exact same.
“Like I said, from the second I’ve been with him, the man can flat-out hit,” coach Darin Erstad said. “He’s the least of our worries. He’s going to get his hits. Where it’s going to end up, I don’t know, but when he goes on runs like this and he’s seeing the ball really well, it’s just fun to watch.”
Miller’s current line of .283/.362/.425 is quickly trending back toward his career line (.299/.371/.422), and his OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) is back to .787 - right below his career average of .793.
Beyond that, his Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) now sits at a career-high .142, 20 points better than his career clip of .122.
So while the first six weeks were the worst of his collegiate career, the last two have arguably been his best. At the snap of a finger, Miller’s become one of the most dangerous bats in the Big Ten.
“I wouldn’t say [the ball] looks that big,” Miller said. “Once you think you have hitting down, it’ll come back and bite you in the butt. I’m just going to keep competing and trying to [play well].”