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Mets Snap Longstanding Draft Trend

June 3, 2003
By Marty Noble

Since the day it opened in 1964, Shea Stadium has been considered a pitcher's park, and not only because it was the first park Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Dwight Gooden called home. The dimensions, wind currents and climate rarely favor hitters and the Mets have emphasized pitching throughout their history.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise that two of the first three selections the Mets made in the 2003 draft were not pitchers, but outfielders.

Having spent four of their most recent five early-round picks on pitchers, the Mets took a step in a different direction this year. And from all appearances, it was a quick step. Using the 12th selection, they chose speedy high school center fielder Lastings Milledge in the first round. And after taking Oklahoma State lefty Shane Hawk in the third round, the Mets selected another center fielder, Corey Coles of Louisiana-Lafayette.

Speed is just one of the tools Milledge showcased in his prep career that concluded at Lakewood Ranch High of Bradenton, Fla., with a Class 5-A state championship. The Mets consider him a legitimate five-tool player. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder batted .414-10-35 in 99 at-bats and stole 42 bases this spring. Baseball America once ranked Milledge as the seventh-best draft prospect and the second-best high school player.

"He was the best guy on the board when we picked," director of amateur scouting Jack Bowen said.

"He has the potential to hit for power and for average," assistant general manager for scouting Gary LaRocque said. "We see him staying as a center fielder, not a position changer. And he runs exceptionally well. We see him as an offensive player with power to the gaps, an aggressive base runner and a player with passion for the game."

Milledge is the first position player the Mets have selected with their first pick since 1998 when they chose infielder Jason Tyner.

LaRocque said the Mets had been following Milledge throughout his prep and summer league career and, consequently, are confident they know him. Furthermore, the organization is not concerned about an alleged incident that temporarily tainted Milledge's image. He was investigated last year for improper behavior with a female minor. LaRocque noted the charges were never formally filed and said the Mets are confident the allegations were unsubstantiated and that "we are confident of his makeup and character."

"We're happy with the way he goes about his business. He's the first player at the park," LaRocque said.

"I was kind of nervous," Milledge said. "I wanted answers. I didn't know who was going to pick me. I couldn't find them. I was kind of down for two days. But this lit up my whole life."

Milledge, who has retained Tommy Tanzer as an advisor, probably will begin his professional career with short-season Brooklyn if he signs soon enough.

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