Catching up with the Top 10 Mets prospects

Lastings Milledge has been as good as advertised.

With the 2006 season's one-third mark firmly in the rear-view mirror, it's time to take a look back at Inside Pitch Magazine's Top 10 Mets prospects and how they've fared since their preseason selections.

1. Lastings Milledge, OF

Before the season, we said: "Milledge still has less than 800 at-bats in his minor league career, and even as advanced as his contact hitting ability is, he could use more seasoning to work on patience. Though the Mets could rush Milledge to the Majors in 2006, the smarter play would be to give Milledge one more year and let him gain useful experience at the Triple-A level first."

Obviously, Milledge has done everything the Mets have asked of him this season and then some. Beginning the season at Triple-A Norfolk – which, it's easy to forget, was considered by some as a sign the Mets would be challenging the former No. 1 pick – Milledge batted .291 in 182 at-bats for the Tides before Xavier Nady's appendectomy created an opening in New York.

It didn't take long for Milledge's five-tool talent to shine through at the big league level, and for his on-field demeanor to prove controversial. Perhaps marked even before his debut by reports of an aggressive slide against the Braves' Triple-A club, Milledge's hand-slapping show of exuberance following his June 4 home run off the Giants' Armando Benitez probably won't be replicated.

That display has since been chalked up by manager Willie Randolph as an explosion of youthful exuberance, filed away and not to be discussed any longer. The new topic: Milledge is stating his case to create a tough decision when Nady comes off the disabled list in the near future.

Milledge is not a finished major league product by any means, still ironing out the kinks both on offense and defense, but what 21-year-old is? Still, Randolph doesn't sound convinced that Milledge will spend the rest of the season on the Mets' major league roster.

"The kid's playing well and doing OK," Randolph said. "He's getting a nice little taste of what we're doing. Those things, we'll deal with later on. We might keep a pitcher, we might not. When Nady comes back soon, that's going to cloud the issue. ... He's handled himself pretty well for the most part."

As evidenced by the Mets' recent six-game winning streak, Milledge doesn't appear to be hurting the team's performance much. Regardless of whether or not he winds up back in a Norfolk uniform before summer's end, Milledge has already made his presence felt. He has the promise to continue doing so for years to come.

2. Carlos Gomez, OF

Before the season, we said: "A high-risk, high-reward player, Gomez is a special talent to be challenged. He'll open up 2006 with St. Lucie and there's a good chance he could see some time with Binghamton this year. If he realizes his potential, Gomez probably needs just two more full minor league seasons before contributing at the major league level."

No one could have predicted that Gomez would prove electric on the back fields of the Mets' complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., quickly endearing himself to Binghamton Mets manager Juan Samuel with his speed and raw skills. Samuel lobbied hard to put the 20-year-old on his Double-A roster -- to St. Lucie manager Gary Carter's chagrin -- and used him as the team's leadoff hitter.

But Gomez's adjustment to Double-A hasn't gone ideally. Gomez batted .195 (24-for-123) at the top of the order for Binghamton and hit just .211 overall in 45 games for the B-Mets before being sidelined with an upper back injury that affected him while swinging the bat.

The one ringing positive in Gomez's game has been his speed -- Gomez creates problems for pitchers whenever he's on base, with the constant ability to turn a walk or single into a double and sometimes a triple. He was successful in 16 of 19 stolen base attempts before being placed on Binghamton's disabled list.

3. Brian Bannister, RHP

Before the season, we said: "Bannister is probably ready for the major leagues right now. His presence helped the Mets agree to deal Jae Seo to the Dodgers, and allowed them to shop Kris Benson all winter. A strong spring could vault him into the rotation, but more likely, he'll begin as Norfolk's ace and fill the same role Seo did in 2005, making his way to New York in the event of an injury or trade."

Bannister indeed had that strong spring to make the Mets' rotation out of camp, but nobody counted on a strained right hamstring that would remove the promising right-hander from action. Bannister was injured running the bases in his fifth start for New York on April 26 at San Francisco, pulling up while scoring a run in a 9-7 Mets victory, and re-injured the leg in the first inning of one rehab start for Triple-A Norfolk.

Now at the Mets' training facilities in Port St. Lucie, Fla., Bannister is proving Randolph's original words - "You just never know with hamstrings" - prophetic. The team has no timetable for Bannister's big league return and, by trading for Orlando Hernandez and calling up Alay Soler, seemingly has little need to rush him back. When he was healthy, Bannister went 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in 28.0 innings, but walked 17 batters and often had to pitch his way out of self-created tough situations; uncharacteristic of Bannister's minor league career and a sign he'd tried to be too fine with his pitches.

4. Philip Humber, RHP

Before the season, we said: "Chances are that Humber won't be ready for game action until May or June, at the earliest. Once he returns, he'll likely begin at St. Lucie so officials can keep a close eye on him before making his way back to Binghamton. He'll now likely need all of 2007 to finish polishing his game, and the injury has pushed his Humber's Major League ETA back."

As expected, the Mets have treated Humber deliberately. He still has yet to pitch in an official minor league game, but has seen mound time in extended spring training contests, working from the three-inning mark into 12-out range. Humber remains on track to join the St. Lucie Mets later this summer, where he's likely to stay for the remainder of the year.

5. Mike Carp, 1B

Before the season, we said: "Using a hot mini-camp and a strong spring training to latch on with Hagerstown did wonders for Carp's ETA towards reaching the majors. Carp will open up 2006 in St. Lucie, and he won't even turn 20 until the All-Star Break. He'd be on pace to reach Shea Stadium by 22."

Carp's long-slumbering bat seems to be stirring, as the first baseman carried a seven-game hitting streak into action Wednesday. His adjustment to the Florida State League wasn't quite as seamless as his explosion at Hagerstown in 2005, but Carp hung in there through a rough April and remained Gary Carter's regular cleanup hitter. Through 63 games at St. Lucie, Carp was batting .269 (61-for-227) with five home runs and 34 RBI. Of Carp's 61 hits, just 17 were for extra bases.

6. Ambiorix Concepcion, OF

Before the season, we said: "The Mets may have jumped the gun by placing him on the 40-man roster, but his talent is special. Concepcion needs to be challenged, and while it seems likely that he's destined for St. Lucie in 2006, he could see time in Binghamton at some point this year."

Late in 2005, Concepcion - his bat having warmed with the summer months - admitted that the experience of playing in the biting cold that is Maryland in April had significantly affected his numbers and his psyche. Luckily for Concepcion, Florida's Treasure Coast harbors no such challenges, and Concepcion proved much more comfortable en route to his selection as a Florida State League All-Star.

Through 65 games for St. Lucie, Concepcion was batting .306 (79-for-258), stroking 20 doubles, two triples and driving in 31 runs. Mostly batting as St. Lucie's No. 3 hitter, Concepcion had just one home run, but was successful in 18 of his 26 stolen base attempts. The question remains how Concepcion will be able to handle the cold weather at Double-A Binghamton in 2007, but the most important fact is that Concepcion indeed appears ticketed for promotion, rebounding from a 2005 campaign that seemed to hurt his prospect value some.

7. Shawn Bowman, 3B

Before the season, we said: "Bowman's recovery [from a back injury] is a huge factor in determining his timetable. He seems confident he'll be back at some point in 2006. When he does return, he figures to see time with Binghamton, but don't count out a return trip to St. Lucie."

Not only did Bowman return to St. Lucie, but he also found himself back on the Mets' disabled list after again fracturing the L-5 vertabrate in his upper back. Bowman had appeared to be on the right track, hitting in five straight games for St. Lucie, but his back gave out with a swing against Sarasota on May 13. The defensively-gifted third baseman was hitting .252 (30-for-119) and has indicated he is leaning toward having season-ending surgery.

8. Jesus Flores, C

Before the season, we said: "Even with the down year [in 2005], Flores is arguably the most complete catching prospect in the Mets farm system. He compares himself to Ramon Hernandez and hits with enough power to project as a solid starting catcher in the big leagues someday. Flores needs to rediscover the All-Star talent many believed he had prior to the 2005 season. He should see significant time with St. Lucie in 2006."

Consider Flores' All-Star talent re-discovered. The prospect shook off his disappointing season at Hagerstown and has done a nice job behind the plate for St. Lucie, handling pitchers well and appearing eager to improve his game after some tough love from Carter. At the plate, the muscular Flores has shown the ability to pop the long ball, slugging 11 homers in 203 at-bats, and also had stroked 19 doubles to help him to a .266 (54-for-203) average.

9. Jamar Hill, OF

Before the season, we said: "Hill's slow start in 2005 and his high strikeout totals could land him back in St. Lucie in 2006, but that seems unlikely because of the presence of Ambiorix Concepcion and Carlos Gomez. Hill should open up with Binghamton next season and probably needs about two more full seasons in the minors."

With Gomez making the jump to Double-A, Hill found himself back in St. Lucie. Unfortunately for the outfielder, not much has changed with the new year: Hill still strikes out too much, whiffing 46 times in 141 at-bats this year. Through 41 games for St. Lucie, Hill was hitting just .255 with four home runs and 14 RBI. He'd also only walked seven times.

10. Anderson Hernandez, 2B

Before the season, we said: "It should be an interesting year for Hernandez, who could be one strong spring away from becoming the Mets' second baseman. Hernandez will most likely be the starting second baseman for Norfolk and be on the shuttle to Queens as an emergency call-up."

When April dawned, it looked like we'd given Hernandez too little credit, as the athletic 22-year-old took over for the injured Kaz Matsui and played strong defense. The problem was Hernandez's offense, which seemed to make little progress at the big league level from the end of 2005. Once Hernandez went down with a bulging disc, he and his .146 average were ticketed for Triple-A, where he'll now have to jump Jose Valentin and Chris Woodward to get back a starting job in the big leagues.

Inside Pitch's pre-season prospect reports did not rank players who had yet to appear in one professional game. As such, leading prospects like RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Alay Soler and OF Fernando Martinez -- all of whom likely would have been Top 10 candidates -- were not listed.

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