February 18, 2007
Having seen the positive development of David Wright and Jose Reyes as a METS fan one has to be extremely encouraged that the prospects in the farm system are starting to live up to their billings. While Wright and Reyes had outstanding years in 2006 with Reyes being the catalyst and sparkplug that this team needed both offensively, defensively and in stealing bases and Wright in driving in over 100 runs and slamming 26 homeruns and hitting over .300 the jury is still out on Lastings Milledge.
True Milledge is just 22 and he showed some flashes into what his major league future might be. His first homerun was off the San Francisco Giants flamethrowing closer (former METS closer Armando Benitez) and that certainly opened some eyes in his debut appearance early last summer. He has a laser for a throwing arm and speed to burn as well.
However unlike Wright and Reyes who came to the METS with very sunny dispositions, a zeal for the game and great work ethic Milledge’s has been questioned and perhaps righfully so. At times when he played the outfield whether that was left field or right field he looked very shaky and uncofmortable. It didn’t seem to matter if he played left field or right field he seemed to have trouble playing the angles or misjudging how hard or far the ball was hit in his vicinity. While I don’t expect Milledge to be the next Kevin McReynolds or Bernard GIlkey (two former METS who really played excellent defense in their heyday in the outfield although that would be really terrific) I also do not want to see the second coming of Kevin Mitchell (at least not defensively) either. This first round draft pick of the METS in 2003 seems to have as much talent as anyone the METS have drafted in the first round maybe even comparable up to a point like Daryl Strawberry.
Both Wright and Reyes while they made their mistakes in their first year or two seemed to have their collective heads on straight. They didn’t think they had to "carry the team" much as Milledge did. They both used their intelligence and their enthusiasm BUT in addition to this they also listened to their manager and the coaches, worked hard at their respective games and blended right in with the veteran players listening and learning from them as well. Not only did this make both of them almost instant fan favorites they also garnered the respect of their peers and their opponents also.
I believe that’s why even though the METS may really like the talent of Lastings Milledge they seem inclined to deal him for a top notch pitcher like Mark Buerhle of the Chicago White Sox or a pitcher of similar caliber. The METS also indicated that they weren’t completly comfortable with Milledge by their signing of 40 year old Moises Alou, holding on to Shawn Green and even their trade with the San Diego Padres in which they acquired outfielder Ben Johnson (a former number one pick of the Padres) in the Jon Adkins deal.
If the METS wind up keeping Milledge I hope that they have lit a fire under him with two and possibly three other outfielders who are currently ahead of on the depth chart (not to mention Endy Chavez who is already entrenched as the METS fourth outfielder unless he has a horrible spring) that it’s time for him to live up to the great talent and ability that he is believed to have. Milledge doesn’t need to "carry the team" as he said when he came up in 2006. All he needs to do is prove that he can start being a major lynchpin for this team starting in 2007 and beyond. However that doesn’t mean he has to do it all now to show that he is capable of being the major lynchpin. He just needs to settle down and improve.
Otherwise the METS may be wise to deal him before the season starts. Remember the METS have had other can’t miss position player prospects like Milledge (i.e. Alex Escobar, Gregg Jefferies, Butch Huskey, Shawn Abner (number 1 draft pick in the country in 1984, John Gibbons, now Toronto Blue Jays manager and countless others) that either teased us with flashes of brilliance or never even made it to the major leagues. While I have the patience to watch Milledge develop I believe I and other METS fans need to see a lot more earnest and sincere effort and production as we did with Wright and Reyes. The METS have been working hard the last few years to get to the ulitmate prize that is to win the World Series and it is now more imperative than ever that their prospects develop quickly.
Even though as a METS fan I believe we are tired of hearing about the Atlanta Braves (who have only one won championship) they contended for the World Series every year from 1991 until last year. They also won an unprecedented and ridiculous 14 divisional titles destroying our hopes of at least accomplishing this feat year after year after year. But more importantly what is true is that they dominated the NL Eastern division. They did this with a high level of talent, excellence, tenacity and consistency.
In addition to having solid, talented veterans they also did this by having mature, intelligent players who came up to the major leagues with great maturity and knowledge of how to play the came (i.e. Brian McCann, Adam LaRoche (now of the Pittsburgh Pirates), Brian GIles (now of the San Diego Padres). I know our General Manager Omar Minaya is at the very least seeking consistency and excellence for a number of years for the NY METS whether they win the World Series or not right away much like the blueprint that the Braves had and may still have again. I believe the way this will occur is by picking out not only the best prospects possible through meticulous scouting but by also carefully picking or weeding out the ones that while they may be immensely gifted to play baseball at this level will never live up to their potential simply because they may never be quite mature enough to showcase their abilities. While it’s definitely not easy to always determine who those players are I believe when players are drafted in the first round particularly in the first 1-15 slots in the draft I believe fans need to and have every right to expect to see their development relatively quickly. Otherwise why would you draft them in the first round if you didn’t think they could develop into stars or superstars? Beyond their talent and physical gifts these prospects need to have the right emotional makeup particularly in a demanding town like New York. Remember METS fans we are always looked upon as the #2 Avis option in New York with the Yankees normally grabbing every headline in this metropolis (except for the mid ’80’s and early 90’s). We finally broke a long drought in 2006 of being the little brother who had to sit in the shadows watching his older sibling grab all the praise and glory last year when we almost completly captured the attention of this demanding, media frenzied town back by getting to the World Series and playing longer in the post seasoon than the Yankees. Incidentally they haven’t won a World Series since they knocked us off in 5 games back in 2000. Maybe that’s the curse of beating the METS or so I’d like to believe in my somewhat twisted mind. Just kidding!
If we want to at least be on equal footing with the Yankees then we need to win a World Series while we are showing signs of being really good. That means at least being consistently good (if not great as the Yankees have been in this town) and being even smarter in our trades and drafts now and in the future than our competition.
That’s all for now from the FAN FOR LIFE! (a.k.a. Steve Ferguson)
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