Milledge motivated to thrive in Majors

Milledge hopes to enjoy long-Lasting career

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- There have been players, past and present, who make it their business to avoid press clippings, fearful that even the slightest bit of tabloid hype will somehow diminish their on-field performance.

Lastings Milledge is not one of them.

In fact, if there's a story being printed somewhere about Milledge, the Mets' 20-year-old outfield prospect, chances are he's already found it and is using it as fuel in his quest for a lengthy Major League career.

"I want to soak all of it up," said Milledge, who is in Major League camp with the Mets this spring. "When they say that's my weakness, I don't want it to be my weakness anymore. They can have some good stuff that you really need to know.

"It might be that 90 percent of it is wrong. But what about that 10 percent? What if that can turn you around and makes you a Hall of Fame player? What if?"

The approach appears to be paying dividends for Milledge, a first-round selection in the 2003 First-Year Player Draft out of Lakewood Ranch (Fla.) High School, about a three-hour drive from Tradition Field.

"It might not be like that for the next player," Milledge admits. "But I know it works for me."

Last season, Milledge cemented his status as one of baseball's top outfield prospects, starring at two levels in New York's system before batting .330 in 24 games for the Grand Canyon Rafters of the Arizona Fall League.

Though proving he could handle Double-A pitching at Binghamton was a major step in Milledge's development, he may have taken the most from his time in Arizona. In a league populated by the best the Minor Leagues have to offer, Milledge proved he belonged.

"Those guys are the future," Milledge said. "I just wanted to go out there and do good. If you can do it, it gives you that much more motivation to play in the big leagues and do well at the big-league level."

Across the board, scouts seem to agree that Milledge has the five-tool talent not only to be a Major League performer, but a potential All-Star. He even got a brief taste of the experience last July, showing up at Detroit's Comerica Park to take part in the Futures Game.

With his socks pulled high and shaggy black hair peeking from under his cap, Milledge already appears to fit in with the Mets.

Young, talented and baseball-hungry, Milledge would be a perfect addition to a farm system that has already developed Jose Reyes and David Wright into New York's next big stars.

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"We'll see how it goes," said Mets manager Willie Randolph. "But I like his body. He's got a great athletic body, of course. I watched him a little bit in BP, and he's got quick hands and he's got speed."

Players in the system have spotted Milledge's star potential. Brett Harper, a teammate at two levels last season, said he believes Milledge could develop into a "phenomenal" Major League player.

"He knows he's good, but he doesn't act like he's better than anyone else," Harper said. "He always goes out and has fun and laughs and does his job.

"You never know what's going to happen -- is he going to hit a triple or steal two bases in an inning? He can drag bunt or hit a homer, maybe. He's got a lot of different tools. He's just electric."

No question, Milledge has talent. But where will he, and can he, fit in with the Mets?

With Carlos Beltran signed to patrol center field at Shea Stadium through the rest of the decade, the Mets experimented with Milledge -- a natural center fielder -- at the corner outfield positions during the AFL. The situation has been no secret, which explains why numerous teams also showed interest in making Milledge part of their organization over the offseason.

Milledge said he especially wondered during the July trading deadline if, come Aug. 1, he would still be in the Mets organization.

After contemplating what he said seemed like "a thousand scenarios," Milledge finally exhaled, learning he was not headed to join new teammates in Boston, Texas, Tampa Bay or any other organization. His only assignment that week would be to beat up on the Double-A Harrisburg Senators.

"I thought about it every day," Milledge said. "It got crazy at the trade deadline, thinking of all the possibilities where I could have gone. But nothing's done until they call you and say, 'You're traded.' I feel like I'm here, and as of now, I'm going to stay until they make a decision."

The Carlos Delgado deal with the Florida Marlins inadvertently separated Milledge from a few close friends, particularly outfielder Dante Brinkley. But now that rumors and speculation involving his name have died down, Milledge said he is "very happy" to be able to see orange and blue in the clubhouse mirror.

"I have a lot of friends who had the [Mets] uniform taken off their back," Milledge said. "I'm just happy to play. They say first-rounders have a lot of opportunities, and that's true. But you're also grateful to have that uniform on every day."

The experiences of last season, Milledge said, taught him a number of valuable lessons, but none more important than realizing the amount of faith he holds in himself.

The story of Milledge's season could have gone much differently; as late as May 8, Milledge was lost with Class A St. Lucie of the Florida State League, batting .175 and mired in an extended slump at the plate.

Internally, Milledge said he felt "three times better" than he did in 2004, a year split between Capital City of the Class A South Atlantic League and St. Lucie of the Class A Florida State League. Somehow, he didn't panic, waited out the dry spell and, by midsummer, was headed north to join Binghamton, hitting .337 in 48 games there.

"He was our spark," said pitcher Henry Owens, a teammate in St. Lucie. "He can beat teams with his bat, his legs, solid defense. He's a gamer. His game speaks volumes about who he is and what he can become."

Indeed, Milledge's path to the promised land of large stadiums, five-star hotels and cross-country charter flights appears secure down the line.

"The front office is pushing for you to be in the big leagues, but you have to put all that stuff aside," Milledge said. "We're living for now and we've got to do this now. You have to work."

The timing, the position and even the uniform are still up for debate, but one thing is certain: any prospect who'll admit to using the World Wide Web as a motivational tool doesn't need to be told the value of dedication.

"It enters my mind a lot," Milledge said. "I have a good opportunity to play at the big-league level. But you can't determine the future. Who knows what I'm going to be? You can't put a stamp or a label on what I'm going to be until I actually get there."

Bryan Hoch is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.