The offseason is upon us, and we’re without Mets baseball until 2018. To get us through the dead of winter, let’s use this period to reminisce about some past Mets; the obscure guys, the forgotten ones. Whether they contributed to a playoff run or just simply serve as an answer to a Howie Rose trivia question, they are as part of Mets history as Seaver and Piazza. Welcome to “Shadows of Shea.”
Prospects can be one of the most exciting, yet riskiest entities of an MLB franchise. They represent the future of the team, packed with fan hype and heavy front office investment. But it's rare that they actually pan out.
In 2006, the Mets had one of hottest prospects in team history. Lastings Milledge was a “can’t miss” guy; Queen's next big star.
Millings carried baggage from the start of his career, sliding to the Mets in the 2003 amateur draft because of misconduct issues in high school. Still, the Mets were prepared to move forward with the young outfielder and signed him to a deal.
Despite seeing limited action in '03, over his next two seasons, Lastings would tear up minor league competition. Splitting time between A and A+ affiliates, Milledge concluded his 2004 campaign batting .315 with an OPS of .927, as he amassed 15 home runs and 66 RBIs along the way.
His 2005 season followed suit. Milledge boasted a batting average of .318 and an OPS of .837, adding another eight homers and 46 RBIs between A+ and AA ball. Adding to the hype, Milledge racked up 221 hits and 55 stolen bases over those two years. The Mets’ star of the future was ready for the Majors.
Lastings Milledge had just turned 21 as he entered the 2006 season, and he was one of most highly-touted prospects in Mets history. Before taking a single MLB swing, Milledge had garnered the following rankings:
2003 - New York Mets #5 prospect, Baseball America #86 prospect
2004 - New York Mets #1 prospect, Baseball America #11 prospect
2005 - New York Mets #1 prospect, Baseball America #5 prospect
After Xavier Nady was placed on the DL, Milledge made his MLB debut on May 30th, 2006 in a loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he started in right field and doubled. It was a sign of a torrid June to come.
Over his first eight major league games, Milledge hit .308 with an OPS of 1.013, as he knocked in eight runs along the way, including his signature moment in the Majors. On June 4, Milledge hit an extra-inning, game-tying home run off ex-Met, and at the time, Giants closer Armando Benitez.
Ironically, this moment also began his downfall. Milledge ran onto the field the next inning, high fiving fans down the line in the Field boxes, much to the disapproval of Mets veteran players and coaches. The Mets would go on to lose that game 7-6, and Milledge would see his average slide to .233 by the end of the month.
He spent the rest of 2006 between AAA and the Majors, but he failed to hit and racked up a ton of strikeouts. His attitude began to wear thin in the clubhouse, which culminated in closer Billy Wagner placing the infamous “Know Your Place, Rook!” sign on his locker. Milledge’s debut season sputtered to a finish, batting .231 with an OPS of .689, with just four home runs and one stolen base.
In 2007, Milledge turned in a promising Spring Training and was named to the Mets’ Opening Day roster. Despite improvement in his numbers, his sophomore season was again riddled with trips to the minors, injuries, and continued problems with his attitude. At the end of the 2007 season, Mets brass had had enough and shipped him to the Nationals for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church. The Lastings Milledge era was over in New York.
Lastings Milledge played in the Majors for another five seasons, logging stints with the Nationals, Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Chicago White Sox. The most accomplished period of his career came with the Pirates, where he hit .282 and appeared in 171 games. Still, Lastings would never pan out to the prospect he was supposed to be. Although he fixed his attitude, his career was marred by inconsistent play, injuries, and failure to stay on an MLB roster.
After his final season in the MLB, Milledge revived his baseball career in Japan. From 2012-2015, Lastings was a member of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the Nippon Professional Baseball league. He finished four-year career in Japan with a .272 average, adding 39 HRs, 129 RBIs, and 135 runs scored over the span of 255 games.
He even made time to start his own cooking show on YouTube:
As of 2017, Milledge is still playing baseball. He played in 85 games for the Lancaster Barnstormers, who are part of the independent Atlantic League. Below is an interview he gave last June, in which he talks about his time in New York:
Now 32-years-old, Lastings Milledge appears to have matured and is at peace with himself. Unfortunately, his time in New York was anything but peaceful.
Mets fans endured a short, yet tumultuous period in which we saw Milledge go from potential franchise player to just another prospect that didn't live up to his billing. His time with the Mets is proof that “can’t miss” prospects don’t exist. For some fans, he’s a blip on the radar, but for many, he was the best that never was.
Let me be clear: If you have Twitter and don't retweet #CalliesMetsProm, you suck.
For baseball fans, the gap from November to the end of February can feel like an eternity. But this past Saturday, the Queens Baseball Convention (QBC) at Katch in Astoria took the edge off for Mets die-hards.