Milledge Putting It All Together

Milledge has more walks than strikeouts this year

For Major League All-Stars, a noticeable equation exists between dynamics and value as a player. When evaluating young talent, scouts typically use the term "five-tool" when deciding if a prospect has the ability to be a star on the field. These characteristics include: hitting for average, hitting for power, defense, speed and arm strength.

In the Mets possession lies a potential five-tool outfielder in Lastings Milledge. At just 20 years old, Milledge has begun his third year of minor league ball at yet another level of play.

His rapid progression and escalation through the system surely makes Mets brass and fans alike quake in anticipation of his arrival on the big stage.

In 2005, Milledge throttled in split time at Class-A St. Luice and Double-A Binghamton, hitting a combined .318 with 8 home runs, 46 RBI and while adding 29 stolen bases. These numbers coupled with his natural speed and ability to range from his centerfield position is what makes him a potential phenom.

His success duly warrants his top rating in the Mets farm system. Milledge enters his first season at Norfolk fresh off a tear through the Arizona Fall League where he hit a robust .330 while adding 5 home runs, 24 RBI and 7 stolen bases in just 24 games.

Playing in Arizona clearly paid off for Milledge as he streaked to another hot start, hitting .344 before tonight's game versus the Clippers. Rising through the system can weigh down on prospects. It has done the opposite for the young outfielder.

"It's about confidence," said Milledge. "I've been seeing the best pitches from better pitchers and I know I'm coming out here knowing I can compete and that I belong."

Confidence and reading pitchers and what they are throwing has expanded Milledge's abilities at the plate. Coming into 2006, coaches and evaluators in the organization wanted him to improve his plate discipline and improve upon a dreadful career ratio of 166 strikeouts to 62 walks.

So far this season, Milledge has posted a respectable 18/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio which aids in his growth as a hitter.

"It's been a couple areas that have helped me," Milledge said of his more patient approach at the plate in 2006. "Hitting the pitches that I know I can handle in the zone and a strong eye for balls I don't want."

"It's a credit to earning walks, they're helping me out. Also it's maturity. I've got to grow as a player and right now it's happening. You learn to take walks with maturity and playing the game all year."

Hitting Coach Howard Johnson echoed Milledge's sentiments. "Discipline will come with experience," added Hojo. "Most young guys are more aggressive than patient, but he's doing a great job of making the adjustment. He's got to keep improving his strike zone recognition, get his walks and accomplish what has to be done in certain situations."

Yet, there is a delicate balance between patience and aggressiveness at the plate. A path that will take time, Milledge knows that understanding that balance will only come with game experience and understanding his own capabilities.

Power is a part his game that fans and coaches alike expect to develop. There is an inherent pressure for Major League outfielders to reach a standard of 20+ home runs and 90+ RBI. Some have been skeptical about what his future power numbers will hold but Milledge keeps a wait-and-see approach and believes that critics should as well.

"Power is going to come with maturity and the growing that I still have to go through," Milledge told us in Columbus on Thursday night. "I still have a lot of stuff to learn about the game. There is still a long time to go, so we'll see how things shape out in the future. People that want to see me hit home runs will have to wait too."

When asked if he sees big power out of his centerfielder, Johnson responded, "I don't see why not, he has all the tools to do it. He's an exciting offensive player. His power will keep coming and he's got to learn to be more patient in certain spots."

Milledge already possesses tremendous gap power, but at only 20 years old, his viewers should maintain that patience that he asks of them. With his growing body will come greater strength and his crisp gappers will get over the fence.

Coach Johnson predicts him as a career leadoff man or out of the number two hole, even with great power, due to perhaps his most valuable tool, speed. His ability to swipe bags combined with power will make him an extremely dangerous player.

With many young players, the tendency exists that as power numbers increase, stolen bases decreases. To dominate the sport, base running is an area that Milledge should never forfeit. His coaches infuse in him the belief that it is his job to get on base and make things happen with his legs.

Johnson hopes he holds onto such lessons and it is the reason why he believes Milledge will never be a middle of the order guy.

Always possessing the ability to make consistent contact and with an improved patient approach at the plate in 2006, Lastings Milledge is beginning to put it all together to become that potent force at the top of the lineup many believe he can be.

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