Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Lastings Impression
By Ben Valentine

Prospects are funny things. If you’re a guy like me, then any young player with upside is always intriguing. If you’re the New York Yankees, then they’re just a chip to use in acquiring your next big name showpiece for the Boss. And of course, prospects are just that; potential. One never knows who is going to be the next David Wright, or the next Alex Escobar.

So naturally, in this “win now” atmosphere of New York, Lastings Milledge doesn’t garner the appeal of one Manny Ramirez. And right now he shouldn’t; at 21 years old and down at AA Binghamton, the kid hasn’t proven anything. But that doesn’t mean the Mets should be willing to deal him, even if it is for Ramirez.

A very nice analysis of why that deal would be a bad one for the Mets was done over at the Roto Authority. Since it was so well done, I won’t repeat it here; just encourage you all to check it out. Instead, I’ll just explore the Milledge conundrum.

The kid has emerged over the last year not only as one of the Mets top prospects, but one of baseball’s as well, earning a place on the US Olympic Qualifying team. It is somewhat surprising considering he still has issues with plate discipline and has yet to display real power. Still, Milledge is getting all the attention of the national minor league scouts as David Wright, Jose Reyes and Scott Kazmir did. So one has to be optimistic that he compares favorably to those three. Speaking of that, I’d be a bad writer if I didn’t at least provide you with some numbers.

High A: 232 ABs, .302/.385/.418/.803, 15 2B, 4 Hrs, 22 RBI, 18 SB, 13 CS, 19 BB

AA: 193 ABs, .337/.392/.487/.879, 17 2B, 4 Hrs, 24 RBI, 11 SB, 5 CS, 14 BB

Arizona Fall League: 87 ABs, .322/.388/.586/ .974, 4 2B, 5Hrs, 21 RBI 5 SB, 2 CS, 8 BB

What does this tell us? Milledge seems to be getting better with every stop he makes on the minor league trail, which is a pretty good sign. He is the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League and after missing some time with an injury, came back to smoke the pitching. Considering he is facing players who could well be on major league rosters next year, that isn’t bad. Of course it is just 87 at bats, so the small sample size must be taken into consideration. Still, he hit five home runs, suggesting the power he is supposed to have is there. In addition, Milledge did hit 32 doubles in 425 ABs between A and AA, with 15 of those coming in the pitcher friendly Florida State league. Doubles are a good indicator of future power, so the optimism surrounding the Mets center field prospect seems legit. And given his quick development this year, he may be just a year away.

But the Mets already have a centerfielder. In fact, they have two on their 25 man roster already; Carlos Beltran and Mike Cameron. The reality is that while Cameron probably will be traded, Beltran in all likelihood will not be. So that leaves Milledge blocked for the foreseeable future. So should the Mets deal the kid while his value is so high, or do they think about moving him to another outfield spot, hoping he develops 20 HR power soon?

Outside of Beltran, the Mets outfield is far from a certainty. Cliff Floyd is coming off the second best season of his career, but is always a huge injury concern. Another year older, it would be foolish to expect him to repeat his 2005 season. As stated before, Cameron may or may not be here next year. Victor Diaz looks like he has a live bat but also is an absolute joke in the field.

I don’t believe Milledge is ready for the show yet in 2006. He still is raw from most reports in the field and he needs to do a better job at learning when to steal bases. But that being said, because of the uncertainty, I feel the Mets would be foolish to trade Milledge. He has the greatest upside of all of those players and could be legitimately better than any of them by 2007. He also is cheaper than all of them but Diaz. His plate discipline is an issue, but he already has more of than Jose Reyes and no one would be expecting Milledge to lead off. Odds are even if he were called up as late as 2007, he’d find himself lower in the order. In addition, the days of Met busted prospects seem to have ended with Alex Escobar. Reyes, Wright, Diaz, Kazmir, Heilman. All have had success at the big league level over the last few years and all were products of the Mets system. That doesn’t guarantee anything, but it isn’t as if the Mets have struggled in developing players lately.

The Mets are finally developing a core from within. They would be wise to keep it and trade the excess off their roster. The good news here is they might just be looking to do that. According to a report in Wednesday’s Newsday, GM Omar Minaya is potentially looking to deal either Kris Benson or Steve Trachsel. Hopefully he will be successful in dealing one of not both, thus freeing up rotation spots for Jae Seo and Aaron Heilman, who are better and cheaper alternatives.

As for Milledge, he’s a prospect. That means he could turn out to be something special or especially bad. Either way, I’d like to find out about him in a Mets uniform, not a Red Sox one.

8 Comments:

Blogger RotoAuthority said...

Thanks Ben. Good to see someone wanting to exercise caution with a top top prospect. A lot of fans don't think that way - although most people at MetsBlog seem to agree with us.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

You know, I think about this and I go back and forth all the time. Yes, Milledge is a top prospect, cheap, young, etc. But the weird thing is that in your wildest dreams you'd hope that someday he could produce like, oh, I don't know, a Manny Ramirez. And I know they're styles are different, but I think you know what I mean. So, I'm not so sure trading Milledge for Manny is that bad of an idea. And when I say I'm not sure, I'm not being cute. I just can't make up my mind.

Trading Milledge for, say, an Aubrey Huff or a Jim Edmonds would be undeniably retarded. Those guys are a dime a dozen. But it's very rare that a team has the opportunity to add (arguably) the greatest pure hitter in baseball. You can acquire prospects forever (see: Tampa Bay), but sometimes, it's that final peice to put a team over the edge. Now, I'm a Yankee fan. We're at the opposite end of that. I wish we'd actually develop more prospects. But we're the extreme example here. The Mets are DEEP with young talent. Do you hold onto Milledge and take the chance that he'll be awesome in 2008? Or do you trade him for a proven player, who happens to be one of the best, to win now? You put Manny in that lineup and suddenly that team, offensively, is suddenly loaded with speed, OBP and legitimate power. Add a closer and a solid back end starter, suddenly the Mets are NL favorites.

So, I'm not sure trading Milledge is a good idea. But what's the worst thing that happens? You get Manny. That's a risk I could live with.

3:11 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Greg- The problem with trading Milledge for Manny is that Mets aren't trading for Manny circa 2001, 2004 or even 2005. They're trading for an aging veteran who can't play the field and who while is still a great hitter, is no doubt on the decline. So yes, Milledge may never become what Manny was, but he could very well be a better player than Manny in a few years.

Many people have pointed out this offseason in regards to Paul Konerko how Shea kills right handed power hitters. Manny's numbers would be hurt leaving Fenway and heading to Shea, plus he's already on the decline.

Would the Mets be better next year? Sure. But how about in 2007 and 2008? Remember, the Mets' best hitter is David Wright, who's just 22. Jose Reyes is 22. Beltran is 28. The only key Met who you'd say only has a year or two left is Pedro. This is a team built to win in a few years. So Milledge would fit right into that mentality.

Milledge for 2004 Manny? Sure. But Milledge for 2006-2008 Manny? No way.

5:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ben, Tom Glavine probably has 0 years left, but he's still more of a "win now" guy than a "win later" one.

No one's inside Minaya's head... but my gut tells me he wants to take a shot next year.

Jim Edmonds is not a dime-a-dozen player. He's no Ramirez, but he's a very consistent upper-tier hitter with a tremendous glove. For the record. Just tell the Yankees and the eight center-fielders they've tried over the last three minutes about Jim Edmonds being a negligible quanity.

A trade for Ramirez could make sense... in the context of the appropriate off-season. I do think Wagner and Ramirez would put the Mets right on the cusp.

The pace of Reyes' growth is still one of the most important questions for the Mets, to me. The kid just has to get on base more. A lot more.

I can't stop commenting lately.

--Bryan

8:32 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Bryan- Hey, keep up the comments. Makes it look like there's something happening around here.

I don't consider Glavine a key player. As far as I'm concerned, he's a 4th starter at best. His second half last year was a mirage. The Mets could find someone to put up his numbers at almost any time. Hell they've already got 4 other guys on staff who can give them what he does.

Edmonds is a tad overrated. Solid player, but I wouldn't trade for him, not that that's been rumored or anything. As I said in the post, the Mets already have two centerfielders, so he's not necessary.

Reyes' growth is key. If he could turn in just a .330 on base guy next year, he could be a great player with his incredible SB rate. But again, he's 22. So you have to be patient with him. Not everyone can be the phenom David Wright is.

Overall, I don't disagree that Omar wants to shoot for it next year, and that he wants Manny. So it wouldn't surprise me to see them acquire him. I am just of the opinion that the Mets shouldn't deal Milledge or any of their top prospects for him. With a few tweaks here and there, along with a better Beltran, the Mets could contend for the division next year without him and then be in great shape for 2007-2008 as Wright, Reyes, Heilman mature and potentially guys like Milledge, Petit, Jacobs and Humber come along.

11:20 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

Gotta comment on Edmonds... He's arguably The Best CF since Willie Mays retired. That's right. Since Willie Freakin' Mays. Yes, he's overrated, but so is Barry Bonds (he's so overrated that teams don't want any part of him and thus unnecessarily inflate his OBP), and Roger Clemens, and every other top tier player that has any sort of hype/mystique attached to him. Name another CF from the past thirty years that has given his level of offensive production for as long, then try to name someone with his defensive abilities to boot. I can't. Excluding 1999, a season cut short (I'm too lazy to search, but probably by injury), since 1995 Edmonds has AVERAGED 32 jacks per year and a .951 OPS. First ballot HOFer, easily.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Boy David, it's like you had to lure me out of my cave to comment...

Jim Edmonds was not better than Ken Griffey Jr. I think that's pretty damn obvious. But in case it's not...

Edmonds: 1995-2005 (excluding 1999)

Average year for that period: 142 games, 500 AB, 92 runs, 147 hits, 32 HR, 93 RBI, 76 BB, 128 K, .294/.383/.560/.943

Griffey: 1991-2000 (excluding 1995).

Average year for that period: 147 games, 560 AB, 107 runs, 169 hits, 43 HR, 121 RBI, 76 BB, 98 K, .302/.385/.596/.981.

Even if you could convince me that Edmonds was a better fielder (which I don't believe, they both were tremendous at fielding balls but Griffey had the better arm), the hitting numbers aren't even close.

David, you know I think highly of your baseball knowledge. But saying that Edmonds was the best CF of the last 30 years was just dumb.

2:36 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

The lesson, as always, is to not come home at 3am after a night drinking and try to argue about baseball. So Griffey's the obvious CF that I forgot in my haze. The general point still stands, though, that Edmonds is far more than just "a nice player" and by performance alone should easily be a HOFer. God knows, though, what will happen with the actual voting, as one of the top five 2B of all time, Ryne Sandberg, wasn't first-ballot.

2:45 PM  

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