Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Mets prospect Lastings Milledge
By John Sickels
Special to ESPN.com
New York Mets
Position: OF Height: 6-1 Weight: 185 Born: 4/5/85 Bats: Right Throws: Right
The Mets drafted Lastings Milledge in the first round in 2003, 12th overall, from high school in Palmetto, Fla. From a baseball family (his father and two brothers were professional players), Milledge was well-known to scouts due to his performance in high school and on the international circuit. At one point, he was considered one of the top five players available in the '03 class. But he dropped to "just" 12th overall due to concerns about his bonus demands and accusations of poor behavior in high school (see below). Milledge played quite well in the South Atlantic League in '04, demonstrating a broad range of skills. His game still has some holes, but his ceiling is very high, and he is the best prospect the Mets have right now.
Milledge is an excellent athlete, owner of all five of the baseball tools. His speed and strength both rate as much better than average. On offense, he generates excellent bat speed due to lightning-quick wrists. He shows power to all fields, and his home run production should increase as he matures. There was some concern about his ability to hit with wooden bats, but he hit well enough last year to ease those worries. Defensively, Milledge features a right field arm and center field range. He does not always run good routes, but he has enough speed to outrun most mistakes of judgement. His speed also plays well on the bases, and he should be good for 20-plus steals annually. For all his talents, Milledge does have some weaknesses. His plate discipline is unimpressive, and he will chase pitches outside the strike zone too frequently. He has enough bat speed that this didn't hurt him much in the Sally League, but it may be an issue at higher levels. He can be inconsistent with the glove, and will have to show that he doesn't just rely on his natural ability to cover for lack of polish. In high school, Milledge was dogged by an allegation of inappropriate sexual activity with a female minor. But no charges were ever filed, and the Mets had no qualms about signing him after conducting their own investigation into the matter. Milledge's work ethic and attitude in pro ball have been just fine.
Milledge had no trouble with the South Atlantic League last year, hitting for average and power and stealing 23 bases in just 65 games. A promotion to St. Lucie in the Florida State League uncovered weaknesses in his game, namely erratic plate discipline and a lack of consistent patience. This should be fixable with more experience. While Milledge will probably never draw tons of walks, even slightly improved strike zone knowledge would let his talent blossom. Given a normal development curve, he projects as a .280-plus hitter with double-digit home run and steal production all the way up the ladder. Milledge has the physical ability to be a superstar, if he can develop the skills to go with his tools.
A broken finger suffered during a spring training drill limited Milledge to just 87 games in '04. In the long run, he has the kind of tight, lean, wiry-strength body that might be vulnerable to muscle pulls and cramps. But that's speculation at this stage. His athleticism is first-rate.
What to expect
Milledge has the best overall potential of any prospect in the Mets farm system, and one of the highest pure physical ceilings in the game overall. If he can develop the skills to go with his tools, he can be a star. Will he develop those skills? The early returns are mostly positive, but we need to see if he can hone the strike zone. He doesn't need to draw 100 walks a year, but even adequate plate discipline would make him a special player.
John Sickels is the author of The 2005 Baseball Prospect Book. The book ships on Feb. 1, and can be ordered only at Johnsickels.com. He is also the author of Bob Feller: Ace of the Greatest Generation, which can be ordered online or at your local bookstore. He lives in Lawrence, Kan., with his wife Jeri, son Nicholas and two happy cats.