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On Monday, Milledge broke his right ring finger squaring to bunt in a game for Triple-A Syracuse. He's due to be examined by a hand specialist, but the best case scenario has him missing several weeks.
The injury comes weeks after opening the year as Washington's starting center fielder. However, when the Nats stumbled out of the gate, losing their first seven games, management looked to make an early change. Milledge was an easy target as was swinging his way into oblivion ... Collecting just four hits in his first 26 plate appearances and striking out 10 times. It took just seven games for Milledge to play his way out of a starting role in Washington.
Optioned to Syracuse to work on his plate discipline and defense, Milledge wasn't getting the message. In 83 plate appearances for the Sky Chiefs, Milledge had 16 strikeouts against just three walks and was hitting .253/.277/.316 at the time of his injury. The power, the average, the promise ... It's all unfulfilled.
The Nationals don't want to give up on Milledge and they shouldn't. At 24, there's still plenty of time for him to regain his footing and become a productive major leaguer. But for him to do that, he'll need to recognize his weaknesses (bad plate discipline, the slider, etc.) and work to correct them. While he will almost certainly never fulfill the promise he flashed as a young minor leaguer, but if he can get back on track, there's no reason he can't have a productive career. Or he could go the other way where he doesn't work to make the necessary improvements and he becomes a journeyman who bounces from organization to organization, looking for playing time. The injury comes at a time that finds Milledge at a crossroads.
The broken finger isn't the end of the line, but it's certainly a big step back. Time is running short.
Patterson put together a pretty good season in the majors when he was 23; Milledge did the same at 22. But both regressed after their good seasons, and neither has played well in the majors since.
I don't mean to suggest that they failed for the same reason. I don't know why they failed (or in Milledge's case, have failed to this point). I simply mean to suggest that while any group of young players is going to improve over time, and that you'll never go broke betting on young players with exceptional track records, they do not all develop as they're "supposed" to, any more than every brilliant high-school student is a crashing success in his chosen field 10 years later.