Thursday, February 3, 2011

White Sox Sign Lastings Milledge. Why I like it.

 In a move to shore up their outfield depth, the White Sox have announced they've inked former first round pick and top prospect Lastings Milledge to a Minor League contract that will pay him 500k while he's in the Majors. There are no incentives.

Milledge is a polarizing player; very talented, he was once ranked Baseball America's #9 overall prospect, scouts loved his athleticism, quick hands, and raw power. Unfortunately, as was so often the case with the horribly mismanaged Mets, he was rushed quickly through the Minor Leagues and after just two and a half seasons, found himself exposed to big league pitching at just 21 years of age. Not surprisingly, he got eaten alive.

The Mets would then spend the entire 2007 bouncing him around through five (5) different levels - including the Major Leagues before trading him off to the Nationals for Brian Schnider and Ryan Church after a series of incidents both on and off the field which didn't endear him to his teammates. 

In 2008 with the Nationals - the only time he's ever had anything approaching a full season worth of at-bats - Milledge responded with a .731 OPS, which isn't great overall, but is very solid for a 23 year old. He also hit 14 home runs and stole 24 bases, highlighting his intriguing power/speed combination.
Unfortunately, his 2009 season was an injury marred mess and he was eventually traded to the Pirates. His 2010 season with them was again marred by injuries and ineffectiveness. 

Milledge has shown throughout his career that he's a solid Minor League hitter, with a career OPS of .851. But that's never translated at the Major League level, where his career OPS stands at just .723. Personally, I wonder how much of that has to do with him not having the tools to translate (in which case he would've fooled a whole lot of scouts) or if he was simply never given a proper opportunity to learn the game in a stable environment.

He's got an impressive mixture of speed and power that scouts love and he'll be just 26 in 2011 - shocking given how long it seems he's been around. Still, given his past, the injuries, and the lack of performance, it's not surprising that the Pirates decided to non-tender him.

That doesn't mean Milledge is a lost cause however. He's still the same young man who three years ago, would've been wanted by essentially any team in baseball, and he still has the tools to be a good baseball player.

Looking over his peripherals, there is certainly reason for hope. First of all, neither his strikeout nor walk rates are particularly bad (though neither are legitimately good either). He also hits an impressive amount of line drives (20.% for his career) and when he's not hitting line drives, hits a good number of ground balls (44.5%). We know from our earlier look at BABIP projections that hitting line drives is the best way to accumulate hits, and that if you have good speed (as Milledge does) hitting the ball on the ground is also a good thing. Hopefully a change of scenery will be beneficial to him.

Still, his odds of cracking Chicago's opening day roster is slim. The White Sox have four outfielders who will make the roster, and they're likely going to keep Dayan Viciedo as a bench bat/emergency fielder, and my guess is they'll want to give Brent Lillibridge, who is out of options, one last look. However, with a frightening lack of depth in the Minors, my guess is Milledge will open the season in AAA, and be the first player called up in he event of an injury to any of Chicago's three primary outfielders.

Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus.

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