Not a Rookie: Lastings Milledge
Lastings Milledge was drafted in the first round by the Mets in 2003, out of high school in Palmetto, Florida. He went 6-for-26 (.231) in his pro debut in the Appy League, too small a sample size to mean anything. Scouts praised his athleticism, speed, and power potential, though concerns about his ability against breaking balls, and some off-field incidents during his high school days, dropped him to 12th overall. I gave him a Grade B- in the 2004 book, noting his high upside but writing that he was a definite wild card who could develop in any number of ways.
A broken finger limited Milledge to 87 games in 2004. He hit an excellent .337/.399/.579 with 23 steals in 65 games in the Sally League, but just .235/.319/.432 in 22 games in the Florida State League, hurt at the higher level by shaky plate discipline. I gave him a Grade B, noting that he had B+ pure talent but needed more polish to reach his ceiling.
Milledge hit .302/.385/.418 with 18 steals in 62 games for St. Lucie in '05, then .337/.392/.487 in 48 games after being promoted to Double-A Binghamton. This gave him a career record of .313/.382/.485 in 204 pro games heading into 2006. His strike zone judgment still needed work, but his bat was so quick that it wasn't hurting him much. I gave him a Grade A- in the 2006 book, but wrote that he needed another full year in the minors and that he would likely struggle if rushed.
As you know, he split '06 between Triple-A and the majors, and indeed he struggled at times for the Mets. '07 was an injury season, though he ended up putting up better performance for New York than in '06. Currently he stands at .257/.326/.414 in 350 career at-bats, with 11 homers and a 25/81 BB/K ratio.
For the future? My opinion about him really hasn't changed. He has immense potential. He still has weaknesses that his natural talent covers, at least against minor league competition. He is still very young, turning 23 in April. He has flashed the skills to go with those tools, and my personal opinion is that he has a better chance to flesh out those skills than a lot of tools guys. The main thing he needs is to stay healthy.
2008 predictions for Milledge
James: .286/.350/.463, 21 steals in 538 at-bats
Shandler: .287/.338/.455, 13 steals in 390 at-bats
ZIPS: .276/.360/.462, 7 steals in 392 at-bats
Weighted Mean PECOTA: .290/.359/.480, 15 steals in 380 PA
Me (Technical): .285/.338/.459
Me (Gut Feeling): .315/.363/.478
On pure stats my expectation is in line with what other people project. However, for some non-objective reason, I think Milledge could break out in a big way this year, with a big batting average spike. It's just an instinct, one of those impossible to explain gut feelings. Anyway, I put the Gut Feeling projection up there along with the technical projection.
In the long run, I think Milledge will have several seasons where he is one of the best players in the league, but will also have several seasons where he is somewhat disappointing, perhaps due to injuries. Another "gut" thing, I think these seasons will be mixed up rather than a nice glide path...one bad one, one good one, a bad one, a bad one, then two good ones, that sort of thing. In short, I think he will be an occasionally outstanding, but somewhat frustrating player, who 20 years from now will be able to look back on an overall very fine career.
PECOTA comps are interesting, ranging from Rondell White to Dwight Evans (not enough walks for that in my view) to Jesse Barfield to Ruben Mateo to Chet Lemon.