WTNYJanuary 13, 2005
All Tied Up
By Bryan Smith

One story hidden beneath the overtold Carlos Beltran signing is how it directly affects Lastings Milledge. While you can bet the Mets will be thanking their lucky stars for landing the Majors' top five-tool talent, they immediately put the future of the minors' top 5-tooler in jeopardy. The former first-rounder has as unique a history as they come - best chronicled by Derek Zumsteg - but now has fallen victim to an all but too familiar story: the prospect block.

Now you won't hear me saying the Beltran signing was a poor one because it blocks a prospect that won't be ready until 2007, that would be ridiculously foolish. Instead, I think it's useful to keep an eye on what's happening in the Majors, because this will effect the organization's handling of a certain prospect. In this case, Milledge becomes one of two things: (1) trade bait, (2) candidate for a position change in the near future.

Given the fact that Mets' management is making defensive star Mike Cameron move for Beltran, I think it's safe to say that Milledge will never play 50 games up the middle in Shea. The question now is which previously-NYM prospect traveled route will Lastings follow: Jose Reyes or Scott Kazmir? The former was forced to move from shortstop to second base after his rookie season, to make room for the Mets prize of the '03 offseason, Kaz Matsui. Kazmir, who's story has been beaten to a bloody pulp, was traded in a deadline deal because of a cloudy future in the Big Apple.

The answer to that question is impossible to answer, it's quite possible even Omar Minaya has no idea. If Lastings continues to remain in the highest echelon of prospects, you can bet he'll be the Mets right fielder in a few years. But any sign of injury, failure, or even immaturity could end in Milledge being dealt away. It's not as if Minaya's previous history has shown a tendency to hold onto prospects, given the quick departure of Brandon Phillips and Cliff Lee.

Milledge is just one player that has seen that happen to him recently, as we talked about Carlos Quentin and Conor Jackson with the Diamondbacks report on Tuesday. Some in comments included possibilities for both players to get time in Arizona, though I really can't imagine such a scenario. Like I said on Tuesday, I believe the most logical situation is for Quentin to play right, Shawn Green left, and Luis Gonzalez at first base. Jackson could definitely be packing his bags if the Diamondbacks are in the thick of things come July (I just thought of this -- how good does Aubrey Huff for Jackson and Chad Tracy sound for Tampa?).

A pair of shortstop signings this winter will definitely force some changes on the farm. Some think the Boston Red Sox overpaid for Edgar Renteria, and I would even say so despite thinking Renteria is one of the most exciting players to watch in baseball. What made matters worse, for some Sox fans, was to see his salary after hearing John Henry boast about the talents of Hanley Ramirez. Suddenly, Hanley's lifetime home is blocked until 2009, and you can bet Ramirez doesn't want a Jason Lane-like wait. Instead, he'll likely move to second base, replacing Mark Bellhorn whenever he is ready.

Loyal reader Fabian will be the first to tell you that Robinson Cano is much more adept for the Yankees 2B job than Tony Womack. Orlando Cabrera? Oh yes, that's California League MVP Erick Aybar that you're stepping over. While I think that Aybar was destined for a move to second anyway, this signing will force that move come 2006. But for a team like the Angels, so flush in middle-of-the-infield prospects, what can you do?

Being such a fan of both the minor leagues and the hot stove league, I sure wish general managers would swap prospects every once in awhile.

I mean, think of everyone who could be on the block. You have Eric Duncan in New York, who has made huge strides at third base, but has no real future there because of Alex Rodriguez. Ryan Howard is a popular name to put out there, since he could succeed at 1B and DH, but could never take Jim Thome for a job. Either Jeremy Reed or Shin-Soo Choo could go, as both pretty much would fill the same role in Seattle. We already mentioned Jackson, Ramirez, Milledge, Cano and Aybar. Casey Kotchman? Even Andy Marte? I could see it all.

So as I prep my top 75 list to begin it's descension next Monday, here's my mission for you: come up with the best swap of two prospects you can think of.

Comments

I'm not one to really worry about the blocked aspect as I feel there can always be room for another good player. If Milledge is good enough, I don't see why he can't eventually push Beltran to a corner, unless Beltran will have a fit. In addition, I can envision a scenario where Duncan ends up as the NY 3B and I'm pretty confident that Cano will take over as the starting 2B before the end of the year.

Some other thoughts:

I pretty much hate all the articles analyzing Milledge's character because I feel he is looked on much more unfavorably than he should be based on what we know about the situation.

(I forgot what I was going to say here)

I thought the top 75 was supposed to be out on Friday...

Quick question about Milledge: I looked at his stats over at Baseball America, and it says there that he started the year in the Red Sox organization and then moved over to the St. Lucie Mets. How did this happen? Was he one of the pieces moved in the Nomar trade somehow?

Let's see Oakland has enough catching prospects for 3 teams, Mike Piazza is old. How about Milledge for Powell and Jairo Garcia or Huston Street.

I know not exactly what you asked for but close. I'm guessing Billy will need to trade some of those catchers at some point.

Jeremy Reed from Seattle to Philly for Gavin Floyd (or Cole Hamels)
-the Phillies are not going to need a full-time CFer eventually, and the M's need a ML ready pitcher

The basicaly perfect prospect for prospect swap, at least in my opinionis my beloved Braves sending Andy Marte to the Colorado Rockies for Jeff Francis. Now in truth, Francis is a better prospect than Marte, but is there a worse place for a young pitcher than Colorado? 8 R in 36 MLB IP says that there is not. Now Marte, possibly the best power prospect in the minors(Delmon Young?) would absolutely kill in the Rockies. The only downside to this deal is that the Rockies would have to move Helton(to let Ian Stewart or Andy Marte at 1B), which is probably impossible, or move one of the 3B prospects to the OF, but that wouldn't have to happen for a while. However, the Rockies showed how they can make the playoffs in 1995(though 77-67 really isnt that good), go "saber" to the extreme, power and OBP. Francis can probably be a decent pitcher in Colorado, but the best pitcher in Coors history is Pedro Astacio 1999-2001, so I doubt he would be great there. The Rockies then are looking at a lineup with Todd Helton, Andy Marte, and Ian Stewart in late 2006/2007, that is some serious potential starpower.

Ok, so I'm a Braves fan, but I can dream right?

Bryan, here's what I wrote about Hudgins on July 2:

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I was in Frisco last night, and I saw the future. His name is John Hudgins.

Id told myself a couple days ago that even though Hudgins would be making his Frisco home debut on Thursday night, thered be plenty of chances to see the righthander pitch this summer, and Id just been to the park Monday and had plans to go again next week. But once I learned that Seattle was promoting 18-year-old righty Felix Hernandez to San Antonio and that hed be Hudginss opposition, I couldnt bear not to be there. Hernandez might be the best pitching prospect in the minors right now.

But he was the second-best pitching prospect who toed the rubber last night. Marvel all you want at Hudginss line seven shutout innings, three hits, no walks, 11 strikeouts but unless you were in the ballpark too, you couldnt possibly comprehend how remarkable he was.

Ive met John Hudgins, or at least I think I have. The guy I saw out there wore something as close to a scowl as youll ever see on a guy who was doing his job well, while the guy I met four months ago was about the most affable, humble pro athlete Ive ever run across. Last nights guy on the mound was so locked in, so intense, that he probably wasnt aware that half a dozen Ranger front office men were in the stands or that twice as many of his own family members were there, hanging on every pitch. He probably wasnt even aware that there were fans in the park at all.

At one point I thought that Id figured out that Hudgins was varying his own pace to mess with the hitters rhythm, peering in for two seconds before some pitches and what seemed like 10 seconds before others, but I later learned that he was merely brushing off signs from catcher Jeff Smith without moving his head at all. Hudgins and Smith were communicating, gesturelessly. It was as if there was no distance between them, and no air between Hudginss hand and Smiths mitt.

Sometimes you carry out the plan to pitch to contact, but carry it out so well that you cant help but miss bats. In one stretch, Hudgins set 8 of 11 Missions down on strikes.

And consider this: despite the 11 punchouts, Hudgins still needed only 90 pitches to get through seven innings. A crisp 70 percent of his deliveries were strikes.

Ive never seen a better pitching performance in the minor leagues. Hudgins put every pitch where he wanted it, commanding a fastball that sat around 90 most of the night, mixing in a decent curve, and showing San Antonio hitters as dirty a changeup as those of them who eventually get to the majors might ever see. He dealt. He orchestrated. He was Greg Maddux.

Count on this: there arent too many players who reach the major leagues before theyre even Rule 5-eligible, but John Hudgins will be one of them. By this time next year, hes a big leaguer. And when the day comes that hes wearing a Ranger uniform, if I forget to do it on my own, remind me to run down for you how many of the 75 players chosen before him in the 2003 draft have beaten him to The Show.

The Braves need a power bat at 1st and the Brewers need a third baseman. Prince for Marte?