Eric Milton Prospect Retro
Eric Milton was drafted by the New York Yankees in the first round in 1996, 20th overall, from the University of Maryland. He signed too late to pitch in '96. He was considered a completely legitimate mid-first-round pick, on the basis of above average stuff for a lefty, solid command, and some remaining projection. I did not give letter grades to initial draftees back then, but in retrospect I would probably have given him a Grade B at the time based on his scouting reports.
Milton began '97 with Tampa in the Florida State League, going 8-3, 3.09 in 14 starts with a 95/14 K/BB in 93 innings. Promoted to Double-A Norwich at midseason, he went 6-3, 3.13 in 14 starts with a 67/36 K/BB in 78 innings. Note slippage in his walk rate after he moved up to Double-A, although his other numbers remained strong and he was certainly very effective at Norwich. I gave him a Grade B+ in the '98 book, comparing him to Andy Pettitte in terms of how he could develop. He was expected to pitch Triple-A in '98 and emerge as a candidate for the Yankee rotation in '99.
That timetable moved up in February '98, when he was traded to the Twins along with Christian Guzman in exchange for Chuck Knoblauch. Milton was impressive in spring training, and opened '98 in the Twins rotation. Not surprisingly, given his lack of experience at the higher levels, he struggled, going 8-14, 5.64 with a 107/70 K/BB in 172 innings. He flashed ability but was inconsistent. ..his season was actually quite similar to Frank Viola's 1982 campaign, when another Twins lefty was rushed to the majors ahead of schedule.
Milton went 7-11 in '99 but he cut a full run off his ERA and his K/BB ratio improved sharply. He was a mainstay in the Twins rotation 2000 through 2002, until getting injured in '03. His fly ball and gopher ball tendencies became increasingly pronounced, and he's never quite lived up to expectations. . .certainly he hasn't been Viola or Pettitte.
In his case, I don't think he suffered particularly in the long run for having skipped Triple-A. I think he's a guy who basically peaked at age 23-25, and my guess is that he'll remain at his current level of effectiveness for the remainder of his career.