Minors report: No room for Milledge

Minors report: No place for Milledge

Hot topic: Somehow, Lastings Milledge has become a forgotten man. It is a widely held assumption that there will be no place for him on the Opening Day roster, because the Mets won't have to carry him unless they can "find enough at-bats for him."

That's a somewhat indelicate way of saying that Milledge needs to play and not watch. The Spring Training renaissance of Shawn Green's bat and the relative shortage of left-handed pitchers in the National League suggest those at-bats won't come at the big-league level for the right-handed-hitting outfielder.

But at the same time, Milledge is having a fine exhibition season. With two hits in four at-bats against the Orioles on Saturday, Milledge is batting .375. He, Jose Reyes and Ben Johnson lead the team with 40 at-bats apiece.

It is Johnson's presence that also hurts Milledge's change of winning a roster spot. If the Mets decide they want another right-handed bat off the bench -- they won't need a fifth starter until April 16 and will have extra roster space until then -- Johnson is a worthy candidate. His swing has shown some appealing pop.

Meanwhile, the coaching staff seems to dote on Milledge, and he continues to respond to the extra TLC. His performance in exhibition games, uncelebrated as it has been, also has been one of the most positive developments of the spring. Milledge's skills are very much intact and more evident than they had been before.

On the move: There is no need for Mike Carp to be in big-league camp. First basemen Carlos Delgado and Julio Franco are healthy now and need innings and at-bats to prepare for the season. Carp, the sweet-swinging 20-year-old first baseman, gets the road games and, for the most part, the leftover at-bats. But the Mets see something special in him and have kept him in camp while the other leading position player prospects -- Fernando Martinez and Carlos Gomez -- have been assigned to Minor League camp for days.

The Mets like having Carp around and are getting a glimpse of their first-base future.

Names in the game: The number of double-takes in camp increased dramatically when Rickey Henderson arrived last week to begin his 10-day tour of duty as the Mets' Spring Training instructor.

Henderson is working with Gomez in an effort to make the fastest man in camp -- faster that Reyes -- a step faster by eliminating wasted movement and energy. Gomez runs upright, as if he's carrying a large bag of cotton under each arm. His elbows are nowhere near his sides, and Henderson wants him to start off lower and stay lower.

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Three years ago, the Mets tried to change Reyes' technique, too, thinking it contributed to his injuries. But the shortstop reverted to his natural style, avoided injury and led the league in stolen bases in 2005-06.

They're No. 1: With Philip Humber (2004) already removed from Major League camp and Milledge ('03) in a bit of a squeeze, Mike Pelfrey ('05) is the only first-round draft selection, other than incumbent reliever Aaron Heilman ('01), with a solid chance to be on the Opening Day roster. For that matter, Pelfrey is the only first-round selection still in the organization aside from Humber, Milledge and Heilman.

Class of '06: Joe Smith, selected in the third round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, endured his first poor showing on Saturday, allowing three runs, two earned, in the 9-0 loss to the Orioles. But with Ambiorix Burgos and Jorge Sosa hitting a lot of bats, and neither Duaner Sanchez and Juan Padilla a sure bet to be physically ready by Opening Day, Smith still has a real chance to go North.

What they're saying: "We've looked pretty closely at itand he's getting to all the right points in his own way. And the hitters don't seem to like facing him." -- Adam Wogan, director of Minor League operations, on 20-year-old right-hander Jake Ruckle, whose unorthodox delivery is quite reminiscent of that of former Major League pitcher Kevin Appier

Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.