Milledgeville Sputters To The South Side

In naming Lastings Milledge the ninth-best prospect in the game prior the 2006 season, Baseball America said that the precocious outfielder figured to be part of a Queens offensive core including Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright. BA also threw out this quirky nugget of information about the would-be stud: Milledge’s family “has followed [his] career throughout the minors in a recreational vehicle affectionately dubbed ‘Milledgeville.’ ”

That rec vehicle was supposed to roll into Queens for good. But half a decade and three teams later, Milledgeville has bald tires, scratched paint and the horse power of a single burro. Rather than becoming a star in baseball’s biggest media market, Milledge is just hoping to avoid a summer spent taking the International League tour through places like Toledo, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Durham. Having washed out of New York, Washington and Pittsburgh, Milledge will try to carve out a bench role with the White Sox after agreeing to a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite. Can Milledgeville get back on track, or is it destined for the scrap yard?

In more than 1,600 major league career plate appearances, Milledge has hit at a clip that would be acceptable for a rangy shortstop, but certainly not for a below-average outfielder relegated to a corner spot. He doesn’t have a discerning eye at the plate, as evidenced by a 6.3 percent career walk rate, and he rarely lashes pitches into the gaps or over the fence, with a .125 Isolated Power. Milledge’s career wOBA is .317, and it’s not as though you can say he has been unlucky in any way — despite popping the ball up nearly twice as much (14.5 percent) as the average MLB batter, he’s got a .311 BABIP.

As for 2011, Milledge’s ZiPS projection with the Pirates came out to .276/.330/.398. Using Matt Klaassen’s custom linear weights, that line translates to around a .319 wOBA in last year’s run environment.

Considering that Ultimate Zone Rating, Total Zone and The Fans Scouting Report indicate that he’s somewhere between bad and brutal in the field, it’s easy to see why Milledge is on his fourth team before be celebrates his 26th birthday in April.

An optimist might point out that even with the league shift, Milledge’s ZiPS projection would likely be a little sunnier in the South Side. According to Stat Corner, The Cell boosts righty offense by four percent compared to a neutral field, while PNC Park hurts right-handed hitters by two percent. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a difference between true platoon skill and a batter’s observed platoon split, but Milledge has a .350 wOBA in a little more than 500 PA versus lefties, compared to .303 in more than 1,100 against right-handers. And, given the sample sizes involved, it’s probably too early to label him a lead-footed defender.

Maybe Milledge can capably spot-start in the corner outfield spots (particularly against lefties), giving Juan Pierre or the increasingly achy Carlos Quentin a rest. And if he does show a pulse in 2011, the White Sox can hold on to Milledge for two more years via arbitration. He’s not guaranteed of making the team, though: Alejandro De Aza (.318 wOBA from ZiPS) has a similar offensive projection, and the club is expected to give five-foot-11, 240+ pound Dayan Viciedo (.309 ZiPS) some outfield reps this spring as well.

Forget stardom. At this point, Milledge simply needs to prove that he’s a viable major leaguer. Milledge’s baseball journey isn’t over, but he’s been spinning his wheels for years now.



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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


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Ted
Guest
Ted
5 years 4 months ago

Don’t know how it gets translated into wOBA, but Milledge’s Zips projection looks better than Kotsay’s. Not exactly an earthshaking move, but good on Kenny Williams.

lololololpods
Guest
lololololpods
5 years 4 months ago

I think Ted William’s frozen head has a better ZIPS projection than Kotsay’s.

MetsKnicksRutgers
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MetsKnicksRutgers
5 years 4 months ago

Can somebody explain to me why this guy was so highly touted? I just never saw it. What’d BA love about him? I remember a few games when he was in center with the Nats and the Pitcher was becoming furious with how poor his fielding was.

Choo
Member
5 years 4 months ago

A ballplayer with the combined bloodlines (his dad played pro) and track record (dominated high school and showcase leagues) of Milledge is a low-risk nomination for a publication like BA, at least until his flaws are exposed. He had a projectable frame, quick wrists and a full set of raw tools that served him well until he failed to make adjustments at the upper levels.

But I’m with you. The first few times I watched him play I remember thinking ” Really? That’s Lastings Milledge?” I kept waiting for the ball to jump off his bat, or for him to track down a liner in the gap, run the bases well, something. Anything.

MetsKnicksRutgers
Guest
MetsKnicksRutgers
5 years 4 months ago

Yeah I actually can remember the quick wrists now. I could see BA comparing him to Sheffield or something. It’s unfortunate that he never learned any plate discipline, because maybe, had he done so he would be able to square up pitches to hit because pitchers didn’t wanna walk him…. Hence a sheff comparison maybe?

Bill
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Bill
5 years 4 months ago

His full season debut in the SAL he looked like a star. He had 13 HR in 65 games, an OBP over .400, and slugged .580. He struggled on his initial move to the FSL, and didn’t hit for much power in his second shot there, but still had an .800 OPS as a 20 year old. He got promoted to AA for about 50 games and was hot pretty much the whole time he was there. They moved him to AAA to start the next season and he put up a .277/.388/.440 line as a 21 year old. He was always really young for the level and always managed to hit for average and get on base.

His walk rates were low early, but it took a huge jump when he got to AAA which was seen as a very good sign. His power fell off after he got out of A ball, but he was always one of those guys who scouts thought could pick it up later.

If you watch him now you’ll question the “5-tool” tag, but you can still see some of what the hype was about. He still has a really surprisingly quick bat and is really good at turning around inside fastballs. He’s still relatively fast, but not anywhere near the top level of the league. The thing that kills him is that he has pretty much zero baseball instincts. Can’t run the bases, can’t read balls off the bat, struggles to recognize breaking balls, etc.

Choo
Member
5 years 4 months ago

“The thing that kills him is that he has pretty much zero baseball instincts.”

That’s exactly what it is. It seems improbable that a kid raised inside the game would have that issue, but whoop there it is. You can work as hard as you want on the mental part of the game, but in the end it has to come naturally.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 years 4 months ago

People see “tools” and “athleticism” and forget that at the major league level, the skill of hitting a baseball is paramount.

That doesn’t mean that hitting a basebazll does not incorporate athleticism, because it obviously does.

Whether a guy sticks in the ML’s or not has to do with his bat (generally speaking). Guys can “out-athleticism” others throughout the minor leagues, Maybin and Wood being 2 great examples.

But then pitch recognition, plate discipline, etc become very important as the talent level increases.

FWIW, Cameron maybin was universally a great prospect, because of “tools”. Unfortunately, he cannot hit ML pitching, small sample size and all that business applied as needed.

AJP
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AJP
5 years 4 months ago

While he certinally hasn’t lived up to the hype, we also have to remember he’s still only 25 (26 on April 6th). So hope isn’t all lost for him yet. He may or may not live up to expectations, but I still think he has time to turn it around.

B N
Guest
B N
5 years 4 months ago

It’s too late, I’ve already lost hope!

But more seriously, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a player who had a truly bad eye at the plate for this long in the majors somehow develop the ability to do so. The only players who I can even think of who really improved in plate discipline were at least average at it to begin with, guys like Ortiz and Bautista.

Can anyone name guys who have? I don’t even have a comp in my head for “toolsy guy who learned how to take a walk after 3 years in MLB.” I know they have to be out there, but I literally cannot think of one that I’ve seen.

Carligula
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Carligula
5 years 4 months ago

Jermaine Dye came to my mind right away, and he looked even more hopeless than Milledge – a 4.4% walk rate in his first three seasons, followed by 8.6%, 10.2%, and 8.4% in his next three. But given that Milledge now has twice as many career PAs as Dye did when the light went on, it’ll probably never happen for him.

d
Guest
d
5 years 4 months ago

Cano is another guy whose walk-rate jumped tremendously after being a career hacker, but with him, it was less an issue of ability to take a pitch than convincing him that it was a worthwhile thing to do. Apparently Cashman and the Yankees showed him historical correlations between plate discipline and salary, and then Cano hopped on board.

Brian Cartwright
Guest
Brian Cartwright
5 years 4 months ago

If you look at MLEs his batting stats never exceeded average, and he fell down after age 22.

From Oliver (at THT)

2004 NYN 19 A+ 333 270/323/448
2005 NYN 20 AA 337 289/345/428
2006 NYN 21 MLB 344 260/353/426
2007 NYN 22 MLB 357 290/348/476
2008 WAS 23 MLB 322 267/326/408
2009 PIT 24 MLB 311 272/322/381
2010 PIT 25 MLB 319 273/328/396

A 345-360 wOBA would be good in center, but’s it’s average in a corner, and his defense has been brutal (-10 and -14 the past two years)

Choo
Member
5 years 4 months ago

Thanks for posting that, Brian. For the sake of my mysterious Ajejandro De Aza fetish, how do his MLEs stack up to those of Milledge? I know he’s had a couple of heartbreaking injuries in recent years (curious to know if those show up in the form of inconsistency) but back when De Aza was healthy, my scout’s eye saw a nice little 4th OF in the making.

tomas
Guest
tomas
5 years 4 months ago

If he is lacking fundamental’s & instincts he will not learn them from the Sox mgr. and coaches who are the worst at teaching them. Thank God last year and next Omar Vizquel is here, just ask Alexi Ramirez who to thank for getting that large contract.

Buford
Guest
Buford
5 years 4 months ago

Here’s who Ramirez is thanking per MLB.com:

“… It’s confidence originally instilled in him by Ozzie Guillen and reinforced over the past three years by the White Sox manager.

Guillen never downplayed Ramirez’s wide-ranging shortstop ability. In fact, Guillen, a darn good White Sox shortstop during his playing days, said Ramirez would make White Sox fans forget he ever played the position.

Credit was given by Ramirez to Guillen after the contract was announced.

“Ozzie trusts my decisions on the field,” Ramirez said. “That confidence instills a lot of confidence in me. Ozzie, having played the position, he knows that confidence is important at shortstop.”

As far as instincts, they can’t be taught. That’s why they are called instincts.

Temo
Member
Temo
5 years 4 months ago

I thought this was going to be an article about Ben Roethlisberger.

Davor
Guest
Davor
5 years 4 months ago

Milledge is a player who should have been left at least a full season, maybe a bit more, in high-A, AA and AAA each. With good coaching, he might have developed his tools into average defense skills and at least some plate discipline. Also, if I remember correctly, Milledge was the guy veterans had problem with. If he had stayed at least a year at every level, he might have been less cocky and more coachable.

Sox2727
Guest
Sox2727
5 years 4 months ago

My concern over the Sox need to fill the 4th outfield spot (I like to refer to it as the Carlos Quentin 8th inning replacement), is not eased by this article. I haven’t seen much of Lastings to this point, and I am yet to hear anything positive regarding his defense. That is my biggest concern right now, it’s hard for me to fathom someone being just as bad as Q in the outfield.

Gerrie
Guest
4 years 11 months ago

Unbelievable how well-written and informtaive this was.

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