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Lastings Milledge and Brian Bannister

Mike SteffanosSunday, March 12, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

Call this one A Tale of Two Prospects. In the Baseball Prospectus article I link to below, Kevin Goldstein offers a brief look at the farm systems of NL East teams. Two Mets prospects that are really opening some eyes this spring, OF Lastings Milledge and RHP Brian Bannister, both get a mention. If you are more than the most casual of Mets fans, you've heard of Milledge by now. Rumored at one point or another to be in a deal for just about every player in baseball, it's looking more and more like Milledge may actually roam the outfield in Shea stadium at some point -- most likely later this season.

Goldstein talks about Milledge under the heading of I Like Him Better Than Most:

I'm going to take Milledge here, just because I'm much higher on him than PECOTA is. To hit .337/.392/.487 in Double-A at 20 is a remarkable achievement and an excellent indication for future stardom. Milledge's tools only make that more likely, and scouts see him adding power to his game as well. His plate discipline is lacking, and he's still learning how to steal a base, but everything about him screams future star to me.

To those of us that have been following this kid, what is most exciting is how he seems to rise to every challenge. After getting off to a rough start in High-A level ball last season he picked it up, brought his average up to .300, and earned a promotion to AA-Binghamton. Double-A is the level that separates the contenders from the pretenders in the prospect world. All Milledge did there was hit .337 in just under 200 at bats. That earned Milledge a spot in the Arizona Fall League, where teams only send top prospects. Milledge lit up that league for a .330 AVG, and even had 5 home runs in just under 100 ABs.

Because of so many Mets being away on WBC rosters, Milledge is getting an extended look in major league camp, and he's making the most of it. Expect him to start the year in AAA-Norfolk, where he could get a call-up at any point.

Also impressing in his extended shot in major league camp is top surviving pitching prospect Brian Bannister. Bannister, who features 4 solid pitches but lacks a radar-busting fastball, has been benefiting from working with Tom Glavine, and has impressed both Willie Randolph and Rick Peterson with his command and mature knowledge of pitching sequences. As with any pitcher that lacks an overpowering fastball, Bannister has to be twice as impressive every time out. The pitcher he has been most compared to is Jae Seo from last year, although Bannister has a better curve and not as good of a changeup.

Here is how Inside Pitch Magazine Online describes Bannister's complimentary pitches:

Throwing his cutter 86-89 MPH, it has sharp and quick lateral movement as it approaches the plate and Bannister wants to get batters to hit his cutter and harmlessly roll over on it and put it in play. While his cutter has solidified his repertoire, it is Bannister's true 12-6 curveball that is his out pitch. He throws a tight curveball in the 78-80 MPH range with a sharp break. Bannister compliments his repertoire with an occasional changeup that is more like a palm ball that goes away on lefties and in on righties. He uses his changeup to set up the batters by getting them out in front before pounding them inside with fastballs and outside with his curveball and cutter.

Goldstein isn't all that impressed with Bannister, however. Under the heading of Don't Believe The Hype, Goldstein sneers at Bannister's potential:

Righthander Brian Bannister had a 2.74 ERA last year while splitting time between Double- and Triple-A, but his lack of velocity will hinder his ability to set-up his plus-plus curveball in the big leagues.

That's pretty much how it's going to be with Bannister. He's just going to have to outperform power pitching prospects just to get an equal opportunity. I've always liked guys like Seo and Bannister more than most. While their lack of overpowering stuff can hurt them against major league hitters, their ability to mix up their pitches and hit spots serve them well. I only hope that Bannister gets a fair chance to make a contribution to this team. Expect him to return to AAA-Norfolk, and unless Cuban Alay Soler really picks things up, Bannister will most likely get the first call if a starter goes down.

Baseball Prospectus: The Farm
Kevin Goldstein has moved from Baseball America to report on prospects for Baseball Prospectus. His initial offerings are on the state of the various farm systems. Needless to say, he's not high on the Mets. For "What's Not Working", he offers the following:

Already weak after trading for Carlos Delgado and Paul Lo Duca, the Mets' system is basically now a bizzaro world version of the Marlins' system. The cupboards are bare. 2004 first-round pick Philip Humber will miss most of the season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, as injuries and pitchers from Rice seem to be synonymous these days. Acquired in the Kris Benson trade, righthander John Maine might be the best healthy pitching prospect in the system other than 2005 first-round pick Mike Pelfrey, and that's just a sad state of affairs.

Daily News: Pedro
Peter Botte reports on Pedro Martinez' successful bullpen session from yesterday. Botte quotes Martinez on his progress:

I feel strong, I don't really have to work all that much on the mound to get used to it, to the mound and to throw pitches around the plate. I know it takes more than just throwing pitches around the plate to get people out in the big leagues, but it won't be a big adjustment for me. I can go, throw BP, and get right back in a game.

Mets.com: Matsui
Marty Noble reports that, according to Willie Randolph, Kaz Matsui has the inside track for the second base job. Noble cites Willie Randolph on where the 3 contestants stand:

"Kaz probably has the upper hand," the manager said after characterizing Hernandez's standing as "probably not as high as Kaz's" and identifying Jeff Keppinger, always the last candidate in this race, as a "long shot."

What it really looks like is that they want to give Anderson Hernandez some more time in AAA to become more solid at second base and prove that his offense last year wasn't a fluke. I can live with that. I also understand Keppinger doesn't walk or hit for power. I like Matsui more than most, but he's doing little this spring to prove that he can silence the boos at Shea. It disturbs me that Keppinger doesn't seem to have a fair shot at winning this job.

New York Times: Lima Time!
Ben Shpigel has a look at Jose Lima.

TC Palm: The Perks of Spring
Lisa Riddle has an interesting story on the perks that baseball players receive in spring training.

Daily News: Delgado's Elbow
Christian Red offers an update on Carlos Delgado's elbow tendonitis.

More Mets Stories:
SportsSpyder Mets
Pro Sports Daily Mets

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