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In the Mets' draft room in 2003, the decision came down to Milledge or righthander Jeff Allison. The Mets loved Milledge's talent, but were worried about allegations of sexual misconduct at his high school. They decided they had a positive read on his makeup, and his talent was too tantalizing to pass up. The Mets haven't had any reason to second-guess their decision, as Milledge has established himself as an elite prospect while Allison has battled drug addiction. Milledge's talent has been evident since he played youth baseball, as he led Manatee East to the 1997 Little League World Series. He comes from a baseball family, as his father Tony Sr. and brothers Anthony and Tony Jr. all played professionally. The family has followed Milledge's career throughout the minors in a recreational vehicle affectionately dubbed "Milledgeville." While he was rumored to be involved in a myriad of deadline deals in July, the Mets held onto Milledge and he rewarded them by tormenting Double-A pitching in the second half. He ranked as the top position prospect in the Eastern League. The first thing scouts mention about Milledge is his lightning-quick bat speed. Milledge boasts one of the fastest bats in the minor leagues, allowing him to wait on pitches longer than most. He uses the entire field and has the strength to hit for average as well as power once he matures as a hitter. He made very good adjustments after he moved from high Class A St. Lucie to Binghamton, improving his pitch recognition. It's still unclear as to whether Milledge profiles better at the top or in the middle of the order. He has above-average speed that he uses to his advantage on the bases and in center field, and he also has a plus arm. With his package of five tools, Milledge has few peers in the minors, and he has produced throughout his minor league career. The biggest knock on Milledge is his inability to control the strike zone. He's a free swinger prone to chasing breaking balls out of the zone, and he hasn't drawn many walks even though pitchers are wary of him. Though he has the speed to steal bases, his instincts are unrefined and he was caught in 38 percent of his attempts in 2005. He stands up too quickly when he moves toward second base, which slows him down. Milledge has lost time to work on those flaws having played just 204 games in 21⁄2 pro seasons. He held out for most of the summer in 2003, and a broken finger (in 2004) and a shoulder injury (in 2005) cost him playing time the last two seasons. With Carlos Beltran entrenched in center field at Shea, Milledge might need to try his hand in right. He'll still play center in the minors in 2006, probably at Triple-A Norfolk, and could make his major league debut before the end of the season. With Beltran still in his prime and Milledge, Jose Reyes and David Wright not having reached theirs, the heart of New York's lineup should be in good shape for years to come.
Humber won the final game of the 2003 College World Series and was one of three Rice pitchers to go in the first eight picks in 2004. Considered the safest bet among pitchers in that draft, Humber proved anything but after blowing out his elbow 15 starts into his pro career and had Tommy John surgery in July. Never fully healthy in his pro debut, Humber showed flashes of why he was a No. 3 overall pick. He has two plus pitches, a 12-to-6 curveball and a 91-94 mph fastball. He can vary the break on his curve so it runs in on lefthanders. His changeup eventually could give him a third above-average pitch. The biggest question is how he'll return from reconstructive elbow surgery. He fills the strike zone with all three of his pitches, but his command isn't at the same level of his control. He got hit hard when he left his fastball and changeup up and over the plate. The Mets hope Humber, like many Tommy John survivors, will come back stronger than before. He's scheduled to return to the mound in the second half of 2006.
Signed as a speedy but wiry 16-year-old, Gomez has grown into his body and some in the organization think his raw tools might be better than Milledge's. Eight months younger than Milledge, Gomez isn't nearly as polished. Gomez excites scouts with his raw power, speed and arm strength. He can put on a show in batting practice, ranked second in the minors with 64 steals in 2005 and has the best outfield arm in the system. Though he always has been young for his league, he has had no trouble making consistent contact. Still raw, Gomez hasn't shown much power in game situations because he doesn't control the strike zone, tends to let his hands drift to the ball and often overstrides. He's also unrefined on the bases, getting caught stealing 24 times in 2005. He can be erratic as a center and right fielder as well. Gomez flashed enough upside in low Class A that he should begin 2006 in the Florida State League, a pitcher-friendly environment. If everything comes together, he'll be New York's right fielder of the future.
In their first year under Omar Minaya, the Mets were aggressive in mining Latin America. Their biggest splash was Martinez, who signed for $1.4 million. New York, which lacked second- and third-round picks in the draft, believes he matched up with any high school outfielder taken in the draft. Martinez' hitting approach is well beyond his years. He maintains his balance well while keeping his hands back in his stance. His bat and power are both plus tools, and he's a good athlete with solid speed and arm strength. Though he's very advanced for his age, Martinez still will need plenty of time to refine his game and is unproven against pro competition. Currently a center fielder, he projects as a right fielder and his bat will need to carry him if he's to become a star at that position. Because of his precocious hitting skills, the Mets believe Martinez may be able to handle a full-season league in 2006. If they send him to Hagerstown, he'll almost certainly be the youngest player in the South Atlantic League at 17.
No player in the organization bolstered his prospect status in 2005 more than Hernandez. After coming over from the Tigers in a trade for Vance Wilson, he shed his good-field/no-hit reputation and emerged as a potential everyday player. A switch-hitter, Hernandez is adept from both sides of the plate. He has learned to focus on using the whole field and to make use of his plus speed. Defensively, he has very soft hands, above-average range and an average, accurate arm. He has excellent body control and lateral mobility. For a player with very little power, Hernandez doesn't control the strike zone, and he needs to do a better job of making contact. For all his defensive gifts, he gets himself into trouble when he tries to be flashy. Hernandez isn't going to move Jose Reyes off of shortstop, but the disappointing Kaz Matsui is vulnerable at second base. Most likely, Hernandez will wind up becoming a dependable utilityman.
Bannister's father Floyd was the first overall pick in June 1976 and a 134-game winner over 15 major league seasons. His brother Brett pitched with Brian at Southern California and signed with the Mariners as a 19th-round pick in 2005. Brian greatly exceeded expectations in 2005, finishing the year as the No. 1 starter for Team USA at the World Cup. He allowed 13 runs in seven innings over two starts against Nicaragua and Cuba. Refining his cutter helped Bannister take a huge step forward. He spots his cutter and his 90-mph fastball to both sides of the plate. His 12-to-6 curveball can be devastating at times. Despite his success, Bannister still raises some obvious red flags. His fastball's movement is less impressive than its average velocity, and he tends to leave it up in the zone. He doesn't have much feel for a changeup, and his curveball is inconsistent. Bannister held his own in Triple-A and probably will return there in 2006. He'll be among the first in line for a callup in 2006 and could become as much as a No. 4 or 5 starter.
The biggest mystery in the system, Soler has yet to pitch in pro ball after signing a three-year, $2.8 million contract in September 2004. A Cuban defector who received asylum from the Dominican Republic, he did not get his visa until late October, and spent 2005 at the Mets' Dominican academy. Soler has two plus pitches, a 91-94 mph fastball and a low-80s slider with exceptional depth. The Mets think his big-game experience in Cuba--he helped them win the 2002 World University Games--will serve him well under the bright lights of New York. Using a three-quarters delivery, Soler sometimes gets under his pitches and leaves them high in the strike zone. The harder he throws, the more he struggles with his fastball command. Many Cuban defectors have needed time to adjust to a new culture and lifestyle in the United States. Soler is already 26 and likely will start his pro career in Double-A once he reaches the United States. He has enough stuff to start but also projects as a possible closer, a role the Mets filled by signing Billy Wagner as a free agent.
Joining Fernando Martinez as the second of the Mets' two major Latin American signings last summer, Guerra agreed to a $700,000 bonus. Regarded as the top amatuer prospect in Venezuela in 2005, he oozes projection and already sits at 90 mph and touches 92 with his fastball, which he throws on a nice downhill plane. He also has an advanced feel for his changeup and a developing power curveball. He operates with a clean delivery and a loose, effortless arm action. Guerra's biggest weakness is an inability to maintain his arm slot. He's at his best when he comes over the top, but he has a tendency to drop down to the side, minimizing the effect of his great extension. The Mets believe Guerra already possesses two plus pitches and see him as a possible front-of-the-rotation starter. Although advanced for his age, he will likely need to cut his teeth in Rookie ball before getting a shot at Brooklyn or Hagerstown.
Niese is a product of the same Defiance (Ohio) High program that also yielded Dodgers 2003 first-rounder Chad Billingsley. Ohio's first-ever back-to-back state high school player of the year, Niese also pitched for the U.S. national team and was considered a tough sign because of his commitment to the University of Cincinnati. Hall of Famer Gary Carter, now New York's Gulf Coast League manager, was so impressed with a tape he saw of Niese pitching in high school that he called him and urged him to sign. Carter's sales pitch worked, as the Mets drafted him in the seventh round and were able to land him for $175,000, the equivalent of early fifth-round money. Niese, born the same day the Mets last won the World Series in 1986, is projectable due to his lanky frame. He offered a glimpse of his future last summer, when he pitched in the low 90s more often than he had as an amateur and touched 94 mph. His secondary stuff requires a lot of refinement, but he showed some feel for his changeup, which is currently ahead of his curveball. The Mets are optimistic about his future and will move him to low Class A this year.
Baseball is in Harper's genes, as his father Brian spent 16 years in the big leagues. Brett has much more pop than his dad ever did, and began to show it in games in 2005. After totaling 22 homers in his first four pro seasons, he finished third in the minors with 36. While his father, now a manager in the Angels minor league system, was known for his ability to put the ball in play with uncanny consistency, Harper employs more of an all-or-nothing approach. It has become clear that his plus-plus power will be his ticket to the big leagues. He always looks for fastballs to drive and continues to struggle mightily with breaking pitches, which leads to alarming strikeout totals. He doesn't run well and his defensive ability is poor. His range is limited at first base and he doesn't look comfortable making even routine plays. His makeup took a hit when he was suspended for two weeks in late June following an altercation at a bar in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Harper proved himself in a half-season at Double-A after struggling there in 2004. He's in line for a promotion to Triple-A, but the Mets trade with Florida that landed Carlos Delgado clouds his future in New York.
Coronado vaulted up three levels in the system in 2005, beginning in the Gulf Coast League and ending up in Hagerstown, where he hit .280 in the South Atlantic League playoffs. Along the way, he showed impressive range and arm strength, and he has the makings of becoming a solid defensive shortstop. Though he only took up switch-hitting after signing with the Mets in August 2003, he already is competent from both sides of the plate. He shows more patience than most hitters his age. Coronado isn't a burner who projects to steal a lot of bases, but he has above-average speed and excellent instincts in all phases of the game. Because of his small frame, he seldom drives the ball and needs to add bulk. He'll get a chance to prove himself over a full season in low Class A this year.
Flores had a breakthrough year in his U.S. debut in 2004, but his encore was basically a lost season. Flores broke his thumb in a big league exhibition game and missed the first month of the season. He didn't get many at-bats in spring training, so he never got into a groove in low Class A. He flashed some power but little else as he continually got himself out by expanding his strike zone. The Mets see him as an offensive-minded catcher, though he holds his own behind the plate and gunned down 40 percent of basestealers in 2005. Flores is extremely hard on himself and seemed to get frustrated by his lack of success, particularly after he had established himself as the best catching prospect in the system. The Mets believe his struggles were a result of his thumb injury, but he still needs to develop his pitch-recognition skills at the plate to avoid chasing pitches out of the zone. He likely will return to low Class A unless he has a huge spring training.
Though he hit .337, it was a rough year for Jeff Keppinger. He broke his left kneecap in mid-June when Charlotte's Felix Martinez took him out on a double play, and he didn't play again in 2005. Shortly afterward, Mets second basemen Miguel Cairo and Kazuo Matsui went down with injuries, and Keppinger would have been promoted if healthy. His replacement at Norfolk, Anderson Hernandez, played better than expected and passed him on the organization depth chart. Keppinger's trademark in the minors has been tremendous bat control. He has batted at least .325 in each of the last three seasons and rarely strikes out. Though he homered twice off Southern California ace Mark Prior in a 2001 College World Series game, Keppinger's contact approach means he'll never hit for much power. His value is derived almost entirely from his batting average. His defense at second is average and he saw some time in 2005 at third base and shortstop, his college position. Keppinger probably will return to Triple-A to begin 2006 with hopes of breaking into the majors as a utilityman, though some scouts believe he could handle an everyday assignment.
Loaded with tools, Bowman lacks the game experience of many of his peers because he grew up in Canada, where the weather isn't conducive to year-round play. He signed shortly after batting .395 with a team-best four homers for Canada at the 2002 World Junior Championship, but hasn't approached that success as a pro. He's still raw and struck out 110 times last year, even though his season ended in late July when he fractured a bone in his lower back. Bowman has above-average raw power, but he swings and misses too much. His pitch recognition isn't strong and he's too pull-conscious. He did encourage the Mets by showing improvement before he got hurt, hitting .291 with 13 homers after June 1. Already an exceptional defender, Bowman has quick reactions, soft hands and a plus arm. Bowman likely will start this year back in high Class A to work on his offensive approach. While he's blocked at third base by David Wright, it's too early to consider moving Bowman to another position considering his proficiency at third.
Parnell posted 6.82 and 8.86 ERAs in his last two years at Charleston Southern, yet Mets area scout Marlin McPhail--who signed Ty Wigginton as a 17th-rounder in 1998--had tracked him since high school and liked his live arm and wiry frame. Parnell repaid McPhail's faith by leading the short-season New York-Penn League in ERA. A sinker/slider pitcher, he keeps the ball down and pitches at 88-92 mph with his fastball. He also has a changeup and the confidence to throw any pitch in any count. At Brooklyn, he showed an excellent knack for sticking to his gameplan while being able to make adjustments. Durability is a question for Parnell, who tends to wear down in longer outings. Because of his lack of success in college, he'll need to prove his debut was no fluke. With a strong spring training, he could be fast-tracked to high Class A.
A Canadian high school product, Garcia went undrafted in 2004 when baseball went through a shortage of work visas for minor league players. He signed with the Mets as a non-drafted free agent and impressed them with his improvement during his pro debut last year. He led the Gulf Coast League in runs, hits and on-base percentage while finishing third in hitting. While his ceiling isn't particularly high, Garcia has a mature approach to the game. He controls the strike zone and is a good situational hitter. He has plus speed and good instincts on the bases, succeeding on 17 of his 18 steal attempts in the GCL. Some scouts doubt he has the arm to stick at short, but the Mets still believe Garcia can, citing his soft hands and quick feet. The Mets have a glut of middle infielders at the lower levels, so it's uncertain where he'll play this year.
Carp burst out of the gate in his full-season debut in 2005, hitting .315 with 11 homers in his first 26 games in low Class A. But he fell into a deep slump afterward, and then had his season end in early August when he hurt his right wrist. Carp's best tool is his plus power. The South Atlantic League adjusted to him after his early power burst and it took him a while to alter his approach. The Mets are working with him to use the whole field and get a better grasp of the strike zone. He heeded their advice in July by hitting .284, but managed just two home runs. Defensively, Carp is average at first base and his main goal is improving his agility and footwork. He's a below-average runner. He'll play in high Class A this year.
Pellot was the second player drafted out of Puerto Rico in 2005, behind only Dodgers second- rounder Ivan DeJesus. Pellot had committed to Santa Clara, and held out for much of the summer before signing for $350,000. After he joined the Mets, he stood out with his bat during instructional league. He has drawn comparisons to Rafael Furcal for his high-energy style and above-average speed. Pellot uses the entire field with a smooth, line-drive stroke and is very aggressive on the bases. A shortstop in high school, he moved to second base as a pro because the Mets think his arm action and tools are better suited there. He still needs to get stronger in order to drive the ball more consistently, as his power is just fringe-average for a second baseman. While Pellot possibly could handle low Class A, he more likely will make his debut in Brooklyn.
As a client of Scott Boras, Durkin figured to be a tough sign in the 2004 draft. A second-round choice, he didn't sign for $800,000 until the end of the summer. He didn't make his pro debut until 2005 and it was clear that his layoff affected him. His mechanics got out of sync, which led to his stuff becoming just average and his command of it wavering more than usual. Worse yet, he came down with a sore shoulder and missed two months in the middle of the season. Durkin's fastball sat at 90-91 mph, down from 92-94 and a high of 96 in the past. His arm works fast and easy, though he occasionally drops his elbow and loses some extension. Durkin also didn't show the plus curveball that was his trademark when he was successful at San Jose State. He also throws a cutter and changeup. He never made it to high Class A as expected last year, but should at some point in 2006.
The Mets once saw some of Edgardo Alfonzo in Baldiris, but he has stagnated since his breakout 2003 season. He has moved from third base to second because he didn't have the power to profile at the hot corner. Though he became more aggressive at the plate in Double-A, his pop improved only marginally. Baldiris understands the strike zone but struggles with plus velocity. He has a high leg kick that may be more of a detriment than a help to him. The switch to second base didn't come easy for Baldiris. Though he has soft hands and arm strength, he looked stiff at his new position. If Jeff Keppinger returns to Norfolk, Baldiris may have to repeat Double-A.
Rated the top prospect in the New York-Penn League in 2004, Concepcion earned a spot on the Mets' 40-man roster. But he took a huge step backward last year, and New York also discovered that he was 19 months older than originally believed. Early in 2005, he tried to pull every pitch he saw in order to put up big power numbers, resulting instead in a lot of weak grounders to shortstop. Low Class A pitchers fed him a steady diet of fastballs in and curveballs away that gave him fits, and his poor grasp of the strike zone and two-strike approach didn't help matters. He has plus raw power but his long swing reduces his ability to make contact. Concepcion has plus speed, outfield range and arm strength, and has split time between center and right field. The Mets will send him to high Class A in 2006 with the hopes he can reaffirm the faith they showed in him when they added him to the 40- man roster.
One of the more intriguing lefties in the Red Sox system in recent years, Perez became a minor league free agent after the 2005 season and sparked a lot of interest with his strong performance in the Dominican League. The Mets won the bidding for Perez and protected him on their 40-man roster. Known as Luis Perez and thought to be three years younger than his actual birthdate when he first signed with Boston, he represented the Red Sox at the 2004 Futures Game. He throws a tailing, sinking 89-93 mph fastball from a three-quarters angle. His breaking ball, an 80-mph slurve, is a second plus pitch at times. Perez has averaged more than a strikeout per inning for his pro career, but his control and command have been spotty. If he can throw strikes in big league camp, he could make the Mets as a lefty set-up man.
After eight years in pro ball, Wylie is on the verge of reaching the big leagues after the Mets took him in the major league Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings. He has had to persevere through more than his share of adversity to get there. He blew out his elbow in 1999, his first full pro season, and required Tommy John surgery. After starting to build positive momentum by leading the Double-A Southern League with 15 wins and making the White Sox' 40-man roster in 2001, he missed most of the next season with shoulder inflammation. He tried to pitch through a broken right foot in 2004 with little success and couldn't get an offer as a minor league free agent after the season. Wylie opened 2005 with the independent Northern League's Sioux City Explorers, who sold him to the Giants in June. Used as a Triple-A swingman, he showed a 92-95 mph fastball and a quality changeup. His breaking ball always has lagged behind his fastball and changeup. He worked on both a slider and a curveball at Fresno, and the slider is a better pitch. Wylie locates his fastball well and isn't afraid to work inside. He employs a short-arm delivery. New York will give him the chance to make its bullpen. If he doesn't stick on the 25-man roster, he'll have to clear waivers and be offered back to San Francisco for half his $50,000 draft price before the Mets can send him to the minors.
Lambin's minor league career was unremarkable heading into 2005, when he established personal bests in most offensive categories. He dominated the Eastern League after batting an uninspiring .244 there in 2004, and continued to hit in Triple-A. Like Andy Wilson, he was old for his leagues, turning 26 at midseason. A switch-hitter, he employs a gap-to-gap approach and has home run power from both sides of the plate. He still has some trouble with pitch recognition but can drive his pitch when he gets it. Defensively, he has a strong arm and not much else. Lambin played third base, shortstop, second base and left field last season, but none of them particularly well. He also has tried catcher, but his hands hampered his receiving ability and also hurt him as an infielder. He's probably best suited for the outfield and has a solid arm. Lambin profiles as a utilityman who stands out for his bat, rather than his glove or versatility. He'll head to Triple-A and wait for an injury to create an opening for him in New York.
Lindstrom spent two years on a Mormon mission in Sweden, returning in 2001 to pitch at Ricks (Idaho) JC with his brother Rob. A product of eastern Idaho, his baseball experience already was limited by weather in high school, so he's still raw despite his age. He wowed scouts with his arm strength during the Arizona Fall League in 2004, and as a result the Mets protected him on their 40-man roster. Lindstrom possesses the most explosive arm in the system with a fastball that sits at 94-96 mph and has touched 100. While his heater has impressive velocity, his strikeout numbers are just pedestrian because he lacks movement, command and deception. Hitters get a good look at the ball coming out of his hand. He has a hard time throwing his fastball for strikes, let alone locating it within the zone. He has similar problems with his secondary stuff, as he has yet to find a second pitch he can trust. He has trouble repeating his delivery, which contributes to his inconsistency. New York moved him to relief last June in Double-A, and he posted a 3.12 ERA in that role, compared to 8.18 as a starter. Opponents batted .306 against him when he came out of the bullpen, however, so he still has a great deal of work to accomplish. Nevertheless, his arm strength is intriguing.
The Tigers drafted Henry in the 10th round out of high school in 2003, when he spent the summer with the U.S. junior national team. He hit .481, second on a team that included future first-round picks Matt Bush (Padres), Neil Walker (Pirates) and Billy Butler (Royals). Henry opted to attend Diablo Valley (Calif.) JC and declined to sign with Detroit as a draft-and- follow, allowing the Mets to lock him up as a 20th-rounder in 2004. Though he has a small frame and will need to fill out, Henry boasts above-average bat speed and good pop for a middle infielder. He understands the strike zone but has a long swing, which hampers his ability to make contact. Henry signed as a shortstop and has a strong if sometimes inaccurate arm, but he moved to second base at Rookie-level Kingsport to accommodate Jose Coronado. Henry's future lies at second because he lacks true shortstop actions. He's immature and has to answer questions about his work ethic. He needs to distinguish himself in low Class A this year.
A career .193 hitter prior to last season, Ragsdale was known more for his impressive athleticism than his performance on the field. The Mets had tried making him a switch-hitter in 2003 in hopes of invigorating his career, but that failed. Ragsdale hit a career-high 19 homers in 2005, inspiring some hope, and he batted .279 with seven homers in August after struggling mightily in his first month in Double-A. But he also struck out a career-high 169 times, and it's unlikely he'll ever make consistent contact. One of the best athletes in the system, Ragsdale has above-average speed and range and plus-plus arm strength. Some scouts have suggested that his best chance of reaching the majors would be as a pitcher. New York will keep him at shortstop for now and probably send him back to Double-A to start this year.
A backup catcher at NCAA Division II Barry (Fla.), Owens put his medical-school plans on hold when the Pirates signed him as a nondrafted free agent and immediately converted him to the mound. The Mets took him in the Triple-A Rule 5 draft at the 2004 Winter Meetings, and they added him to the 40-man roster after his first season in the organization. Owens stands out for his arm speed, which generates fastballs that run from the low to mid-90s and are lethal when he keeps them down in the strike zone. His slider and his command are fringy, however. If he can refine his slider, it could mean a quick ascent through the upper minors. Owens will move up to Double-A this year.
MacLane was able to succeed in the lower minors with only average stuff because he has such a good feel of pitching. He had no problems making the jump to high Class A in 2005, but he ran into trouble in Double-A. MacLane's strengths are his plus command and plus changeup, which sits in the 76-80 mph range. His fastball sits in the mid-80s and touches 87, while his curveball is more notable for his ability to locate it than its break. With below-average velocity, MacLane needs to rely on keeping hitters off balance and controlling their bat speed. If he can improve his curveball, he could be a big leaguer in the mold of Jamie Moyer. He'll work on that in 2006 when he returns to Double-A.