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Lastings Milledge: The Mets' Wanted Man
Last year was at times tumultuous and productive for Milledge, a 20-year-old outfielder who grew up about three hours from Tradition Field in Bradenton, Fla.
He heard his name mentioned in dozens of trade proposals and even pictured himself walking into Fenway Park, a soon-to-be-discarded Mets bag over his shoulder, before talks about Manny Ramirez ultimately fizzled.
"I watched it every single night, Baseball Tonight," Milledge said. "I was all up on it. I feel like I need to know everything that involves my career. I want to know what the rumor is, where I'm going, possibilities, who I'm getting traded for.
"I like to know all that stuff. It's not like I'm getting released or anything. As long as I can play the game, I'm fine. Just being in the same category as Manny Ramirez – come on. The guy's a Hall of Famer. Let's be real here."
Following a successful half-season at Double-A Binghamton in which he hit .337 in 48 games, Milledge then was a standout in the Arizona Fall League, where he cemented his status as one of baseball's top prospects.
With his socks pulled high and shaggy black hair peeking from under his cap, Milledge already appeared to fit in with the Mets this spring, impressing manager Willie Randolph.
"He's got quick hands," Randolph said. "He attacks the ball very aggressively, and you like his speed. He's just a very effortless runner. He hit [a] triple and it looked like he was coasting."
Players in the system had long ago spotted Milledge's potential. Brett Harper, a teammate at two levels last season, said he believes Milledge could develop into a "phenomenal" Major League player.
"He knows he's good, but he doesn't act like he's better than anyone else," Harper said. "He always goes out and has fun and laughs and does his job. You never know what's going to happen -- is he going to hit a triple or steal two bases in an inning? He can drag bunt or hit a homer, maybe. He's got a lot of different tools. He's just electric."
The experiences of last season, Milledge said, taught him a number of valuable lessons, but none more important than realizing the amount of faith he holds in himself.
The story of Milledge's season could have gone much differently; as late as May 8, Milledge was lost with Class-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League, batting .175 and mired in an extended slump. Somehow, he didn't panic, waited out the dry spell and, by midsummer, was headed north to join Binghamton.
The mind-space once occupied by possible trade destinations, Milledge said, has now switched to thoughts of Shea Stadium and a Major League debut that could take place as soon as this year.
"I have a good opportunity to play at the big-league level," Milledge said. "But you can't determine the future. Who knows what I'm going to be? You can't put a stamp or a label on what I'm going to be until I actually get there."
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