This week’s Prospect Time Machine takes a look at the 12th overall selection by the New York Mets in the 2003 first-year player draft: Lastings Milledge. The right-handed hitting outfielder was drafted out of Lakewood Ranch High School in Bradenton, Florida. He was projected to be part of the future outfield in Flushing, but things never worked out. Let’s take a look at his journey through the Mets minor league system.
Milledge was a highly touted amateur player during his younger years; his team was the national runner-up in the 1997 Little League World Series, and he won a Gold Medal in 2001 with Team USA when they defeated Venezuela in the International Baseball Federation’s AA World Youth Championship. He was so good that Baseball America named him the best 16-year-old player in the United States. After a successful high school career, he began his professional baseball career in the Mets organization with Kingsport in Rookie Ball.
He only appeared in seven games as an 18-year-old in 2003, putting together a .231/.323/.308 in 31 plate appearances. After that small sample, he was headed to the South Atlantic League with Capital City after being named the 89th best prospect by Baseball America. He fractured the metacarpal in his right hand in spring training, which cost him six weeks before he could take the field. He proceeded to make good on that pre-season ranking once he got on the field, hitting .340/.401/.580 with 13 home runs and 58 RBIs in 262 at-bats, earning him a late-season call-up to High-A St. Lucie.
Prior to the 2005 season, Milledge jumped 75 spots in BA’s player rankings, now considered the 11th best prospect in all of baseball. He hit .302/.385/.418 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 232 at-bats before getting summoned to Double-A Binghamton. After hitting .337/.392/.487 to finish 2005, Milledge was primed for the major leagues, and was carrying the honor of being baseball’s ninth best prospect, according to Baseball America.
A fun fact about Lastings was that he made his MLB debut on May 30th, 2006 at 21 years and 55 days old, the exact same age as former top pick and Met great, Darryl Strawberry. New York was hoping some of that magic would rub off on Milledge’s bat, but his antics on and off the field ended with him falling out of favor in Flushing.
The first instance was when he high-fived fans in the stands on his way to right field after belting his first big league home run at Shea on June 4th, 2006. Another one came in 2007 when he made an appearance in a rap video of a childhood friend that contained some not so nice language. He was never viewed as a solid guy in the clubhouse. If I had to compare how teammates viewed him to anyone on the current team, it would definitely be Jordany Valdespin.
In parts of two seasons with the Mets, Milledge put together a .257/.326/.414 line with 11 homers and 51 RBIs in 350 at-bats. The organization made the decision that they didn’t want to deal with his attitude, and traded him to the Washington Nationals on November 30th, 2007 for Brian Schneider and Ryan Church.
Milledge would receive a lot of playing time in Washington, but eventually was optioned back to Triple-A in 2009 after a slow start. Two months later, he was sent packing with Joel Hanrahan to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett. The Pirates didn’t tender him a contract for the 2011 season, making him a free agent. Milledge signed a minor league deal for 2011 with the Chicago White Sox. He made the opening day roster, but was designated for assignment a week later. He cleared waivers and elected free agency, but hasn’t caught on with a big league team since.
In 2012, he took his talents overseas to the Nippon Professional Baseball League and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows. He hit .300 in 125 games played, including 21 home runs and 65 RBIs. He inked a three-year deal with Tokyo starting this season, which will pay him $4.4 million.
It was a quick downhill spiral for the former first-round pick, and I’m sure he’s still looking for a chance to prove himself in the big leagues. He is only 28-years-old, after all. It remains to be seen if he’ll get that chance, but crazier things have happened. I mean, the Rangers just signed Manny Ramirez.