In the fifth round of the 2008 draft, the Orioles reached a bit for a local player in shortstop Greg Miclat of the Virginia Cavaliers. Miclat, who was considered a glove-first shortstop prospect by most evaluators, ended up signing for an overslot bonus of $225,000 - less than Miclat said he wanted, but more than one would expect for a projected 7th to 10th round pick. Clearly, the ACC academic honor roll honoree and economics major Miclat knew what he was doing.
Despite his reputation as a strong defender, Miclat had battled shoulder and arm injuries his sophomore and junior years, and had spent nearly as much time at first base and DH for the Cavaliers as he had at short, where he had been named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American. But Miclat recovered enough from his injury to start at short in 116 games for the Shorebirds and Keys in 2009, although the rust was evident from his 28 errors. But his defense wasn't the main concern for Miclat in 2009 - his hitting was, as he managed an OPS of just .570 in nearly five hundred plate appearances. Those kinds of numbers don't translate to utility infielder at the major league level even if you have Mark Belanger's defensive skills. Not a few people thought that Miclat would end up a low minors bust.
Instead, what happened is that Miclat had the fourth highest on-base percentage in the Carolina League (.402) prior to his midseason promotion to Bowie. Miclat has leapfrogged Pedro Florimon as the most advanced Orioles shortstop prospect and could conceivably be the heir to Cesar Izturis in 2011. How did Miclat turn it around?
Unfortunately for the Orioles, a big part of Miclat's turnaround has been an improvement in his luck. In 2009 with Delmarva, Miclat had a BABIP of .285, over .100 worse than his performance the year before in short season ball. With the Keys in 2010, Miclat's numbers have gone nearly all the way back up to a robust .368. With an identical line drive percentage of 12.8% in both 2009 and 2010, Miclat isn't making better contact, he's just getting luckier. A plus runner with 37 steals in 47 chances in less than two full minor league seasons, the good news is that his current BABIP is closer to what we can expect for him going forward, but we cannot discount that good luck has played a major part in his strong 2010 campaign to date.
But while his batting average is boosted by luck, his on-base percentage is less so, and here is where Miclat has really shined. Miclat has always had great control of the strike zone, and as a college sophomore struck out only 15 times in 209 plate appearances while drawing 39 walks. He showed his zone control even in his tough 2009 campaign, striking out 83 times in 481 plate appearances, and drew 45 walks while only batting .226. He has improved on this in 2010, with 20 walks to 27 strikeouts with Frederick. For his minor league career, he has walked in over 10% of his plate appearances and his strikeouts have decreased every season.
At 22 years old in the Eastern League, Miclat is now youngish for the level and will be experiencing the biggest test of his career so far. At 5'9" and 180 pounds, Miclat will never develop much power, and his on-base percentage has been higher than his slugging every step of his career. And like every shortstop in the Orioles' system in 2010, he still needs to work on his defense, particularly his throwing, as his 13 errors in 47 games can attest. Still, for the Chesapeake, VA. native, the surge in his stock in 2010 has to be a delight. He may not project to be an All-Star, but the diminutive fifth-rounder is back on the radar of the Orioles once again. And for those of us watching the minors, Miclat is an object lesson in the importance of plate discipline, which is still widely undervalued at the minor league level.
Statistics courtesy of First Inning, Baseball Reference, and Minor League Splits.