MetsBlog pointed out a John Sickels post designed to elicit traffic and response — he states that the Mets have unnecessarily rushed Carlos Gomez and suggests that it may negatively affect the youngster’s long-term prospects.
Mostly, I agree with Sickels’ analysis — I do believe that Gomez had no business being in MLB last year, and that he needs at least another full year at a lower level to develop his batting skills. However, I also think that the Mets had few choices other than promoting Gomez at the time — it was in the midst of losing Shawn Green, Moises Alou, Lastings Milledge, Ben Johnson, and Endy Chavez to injury (did I miss someone?). At the time, it seemed a fine idea to bring up Gomez and give him a taste of the bigs, and in my opinion it was the right move. But, Gomez should never have found his way into nearly 60 games — a two week stint should have been enough of a “taste”, followed by a return to AA or AAA to get back to the learning process outside the pressure cooker. Of course, part of the “problem” (if you want to call it that) was that Gomez started off with a bang, going 5 for his first 13 and then, after tailing off, he remained just productive enough to not be an encumbrance on the team. During that time, he showed occasional flashes of stardom that kept everyone thinking, “hey, maybe he IS ready for prime time”. In hindsight, Gomez was overmatched, though he did show the ability to adjust. Ideally, he might have been better off taking his lumps in AA and learning to dominate rather than simply survive.
Similarly, Lastings Milledge still hasn’t convinced me that he is ready for the bigs, though he proved to be much more productive with the bat. But that’s where it ended — yes, Milledge was a much better hitter than Gomez, and you could argue that he was more effective than Shawn Green. Overall, though, Milledge was not up to snuff when it came to baserunning, defense, and situational hitting. Like Gomez, Milledge’s shortcomings were not enough to be an encumbrance to the team, and his hitting streaks overshadowed them. Interesting, isn’t it, that Gomez’s stellar defense and incredible speed weren’t enough to make us forget his paltry hitting, but Milledge’s bat erased all of his negatives? But that’s baseball — if you can hit, there’s a place for you.
Because of his immature offensive skills, most are in agreement that Carlos Gomez should start 2008 in the minors. In contrast, because it appears that Lastings Milledge can do some damage with the bat, most agree he should walk into spring training as the Mets’ starting rightfielder. I’m not so sure I agree, for two reasons. First, Milledge needs more time to polish his all-around game. The offensive-minded fans and the statheads like to glaze over “small issues” such as taking the wrong route to a ball, overthrowing the cutoff man, throwing to the wrong base, baserunning mistakes, etc., but guess what — those are the types of things that lose ballgames. And if Milledge continues to make those mistakes, but doesn’t hit enough to overcome them, then wouldn’t it make sense for him to spend more time in a place where he can make those mistakes and learn from them?
Here’s the thing — Lastings did hit pretty well, for a while, in the second half of last season. But he didn’t show enough, to me, to suggest that his offense would overwhelm his defensive and fundamental issues. I don’t see him hitting .300+ with 25+ homers. In fact, I see someone who will hit about .280 with maybe 10-15 HRs. Not bad, but not great. What bothers me is that if he does have that kind of year in the bigs, does that become his ceiling? Might he have a better 2009, 2010, and beyond if he improves his overall game and has a standout offensive season in AAA? As with Gomez, I’d rather see Milledge have chance to dominate at a lower level, and fully develop all of his skills, rather than shortcut his maturity and build enough of his ability to survive in MLB. Lastings Milledge has the raw athleticism to one day develop into a good to excellent all-around ballplayer. Force-feeding him to the bigs may instead set his mold as something less — such as a one-dimensional offensive player.
As with most things, I’m probably wrong — Lastings Milledge may be ripe for a breakout year in 2008 and become the power-hitting Gary Sheffield-type outfielder everyone’s been promised (even if he’s never hit more than 15 homers in a minor league season). But if I’m right, wouldn’t it make sense to pick up a stopgap outfielder for ’08, and allow both Milledge and Gomez a pressure-free year to develop at their own pace? Wouldn’t the Mets be better off with a “sure thing” veteran, or two-man platoon, that would hit about what we think Milledge will but also bring a complete game to the table? There are free agents available, so it wouldn’t be necessary to trade away prospects. For example, how about a two-headed rightfield comprised of Shannon Stewart and Luis Gonzalez? Or Trot Nixon and Reggie Sanders? What about bringing in someone like Brady Clark to platoon with Endy Chavez and Marlon Anderson? Travis Lee, Brad Wilkerson, Preston Wilson, and Ryan Klesko are all available for short-term deals, and all offer decent production over 350-400 at-bats. There’s also Ben Johnson to consider — the guy who was supposed to be the stopgap in 2007. I think a combination of Johnson and Travis Lee would compare offensively to the best Milledge will do in ’08, but also provide better defense, situational hitting, and baserunning instincts.
Come to think of it, maybe that’s exactly what Omar Minaya is planning — a stopgap solution for rightfield — because one or both of Milledge and Gomez will be dealt for pitching before this winter ends. If so, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. After all, we haven’t even brought up the name Fernando Martinez.