Sunday, September 6, 2009

L-Millz: Prelude

He's hitting cleanup for the Pittsburgh Pirates these days, but that says more about the quality of the Pirate lineup than it does about the quality of the player. But Lastings Milledge is raking right now, and the Pirates are benefitting from looking past the silly things that have been whispered and written about him during his brief professional career.

Milledge was acquired by Pittsburgh at the end of June, rescued from a Washington Nationals organization that decided seven games in 2009 said more about the player than 138 games did a season before. Washington badly mishandled Milledge in 2009 - they tried to change his approach at the plate before the season started and banished him to Triple-A when he didn't take to it quickly enough.

Things got worse from there - Milledge broke his hand while in Syracuse, which washed away most of the first half of the season. He was only beginning to make his way back when the Pirates traded Nyger Morgan to Washington for him as part of a four-player deal. Now Morgan's season is over, ironically from a broken hand, and it is Milledge who looks like a budding star again.

Milledge had two more hits for the Pirates last night, and has a .328/.378/.448 line with Pittsburgh in 32 games. The power still isn't there yet - Milledge has just eight doubles and two home runs in 155 plate appearances this season. If he isn't going to hit 25 home runs a season (and at this point it looks like he's going to be more of a 10-to 20-homer type), Milledge is going to need to hit 30 or 40 doubles a year to still be a regular at this level.

He seems to have settled in as Pittsburgh's left fielder, however, and should be the Opening Day starter in 2010. Perhaps a full season without being bad-mouthed and jerked around by his organization will finally allow Milledge to reach his full potential.

His minor-league track record suggests future stardom - he hit well at every level of the Mets organization despite being young for most of the leagues he was in. There is still work to be done - Milledge is not a good baserunner, nor a particularly good fielder. These are things that can be taught, or at least improved upon, if someone is willing to work with him.

I've written a lot about Milledge before, because I think he got a raw deal in New York. I think that raw deal was largely a product of overreaction to Milledge's real or perceived maturity issues. I also think that race had something to do with it; too much was written about cornrows and saying bad words in hip-hop tracks to make me think otherwise.

I still believe in Lastings Milledge, and I still believe that he's going to be a star in this league for years to come. As the 2009 Mets stumble to the finish line in this lost and disatrous season, I'd feel a lot better about the future if they had someone like Lastings Milledge to play left field in 2010.

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