Miller mentoring his bullpen competition

MESA, Ariz. -- When it comes to Trever Miller, the Chicago Cubs may have found more than a left-handed reliever for the late innings.

Spring training is barely two weeks old and already the veteran has emerged as a leader among a group of players he is just getting to know.

Miller, who will turn 39 in May, has provided inspiration for some of the younger pitchers in camp. Fellow newcomer Andy Sonnanstine remarked that Miller’s obvious fitness level means that nobody has excuses for not being in great shape.

“[Sonnanstine] gave me a new title this year,” Miller said. “He said, ‘You’re a young kid’s worst nightmare because you are in impeccable shape, you can run for days, you work really hard in the weight room.’ So they have no excuses.”

Regardless of his commitment to fitness, his lasting impression remains to be seen. The Cubs do need some late innings to be filled from left-handers in the wake of Sean Marshall's departure, but Miller will have to earn his spot as a non-roster invitee to camp.

“He’s doing well,” manager Dale Sveum said. “He’s the ultimate professional. He came in in phenomenal shape and he’s throwing the ball well. It’s just one of those things where it all comes down to what happens against that other team with all this competition that is going on in camp.”

Listening to Miller, he seems to relish the camp battle despite the fact that his main competition for lefty bullpen spots includes 26-year-old James Russell, 27-year-old John Gaub and 27-year-old Scott Maine.

Those guys are barely older than the players Miller coaches in the offseason near his Florida home. He provides instruction to players from youth baseball all the way through the college level.

“It’s very therapeutic and it’s a way for me to give back,” Miller said. “We can give back financially obviously; we make a lot of money. But I like to give back to the kids all the knowledge I have gained by playing this game for so long. I think it’s a travesty if you don’t.”

To Miller, not passing along the keys to the game is the real travesty, not something like missing out on a World Series title by just a few months. After 2 ½ years in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, Miller was traded last July to the Toronto Blue Jays.

While the Cardinals went on to World Series success, Miller’s path was rocky. He was released by the Blue Jays less than a month after the trade and landed with the Boston Red Sox only to be around in the midst of their collapse.

Miller wasn’t around the Red Sox long enough and hadn’t established the relationships necessary to make a difference on clubhouse morale with Boston. With the Cubs, though, he can see himself assuming a role of leadership.

“I’m more ‘lead by example,’” he said. “If a guy is doing something I don’t like, quietly tell him. If he’s doing something I love, I’ll praise him out loud in front of everybody. That’s how it should be done. But I like to come in and do my work.”

If things don’t work out this spring Miller could be back to baseball instruction sooner than expected. As rewarding as it is, though, at least one more season in the major leagues is his goal.

To get there he will probably have to beat out two pitchers a decade younger. Yet he won’t stress about his competition in his own clubhouse, saving those feelings for when the season starts.

“I come in and do what I do; I get myself ready to compete for a championship season wherever I am,” Miller said. “I never stop training. I always keep in shape and I always keep my eye on the prize which is winning a World Series wherever I am. So if I come in and do my thing and have confidence -- that I should be able to make this team and help the Cubs attain the goal of winning a World Series.

“If you start looking backward or try to measure things out then you’re not taking care of your own business and the results aren’t at the plate where they need to be.”

Spoken like a guy who could teach youngsters a thing or two about the game of baseball.