January 7, 2010

Will Lastings Have McCutchen-Like Performance Or Just McCutchen-Like Hair?

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / January 7, 2010

In order to contend this year the Pirates will need a big season or two from an unexpected source. While Andrew McCutchen had a breakout season in his rookie year, it is also common for a player to put up mediocre numbers in his early 20s before finally putting it all together. The Pirates no doubt hope to see exactly that from Lastings Milledge, who will be 25 in 2010. While McCutchen, Iwamura and Ryan Doumit are known quantities, Milledge is a player who needs to step up if the Pirates are going to put a legitimate offense on the field to back their strong rotation.

So far, Milledge has put up just a .267/.327/.399 line in MLB. But he has McCutchen-like career minor league numbers of .301/.379/.470. He played in Pittsburgh for the final two months of 2009 and hit .291/.333/.395 in 58 games, batting mostly in the middle of the order. Although he came to town with a reputation for a lax work ethic, Pirates personnel were impressed with his dedication here. If nothing else he might have realized that he needs a good performance to ever get a big free agent deal.

Assuming he continues his recent hard play, the key to a breakout season for Milledge will be plate discipline. His 6.1% career walk rate is not good enough for a player of his skill set. Yet when he wanted to, Lastings has walked quite a bit - 10.8% in AAA Indianapolis last year; 11.7% in AAA Norfolk in 2006. WIth only 15-home run power he needs that kind of walk rate to justify a starting role in left field. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the Pirates' most selective hitters, Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones, get the most extra base hits. They're seeing more pitches in better hitters' counts, which makes a hanging curveball much more likely.

Considering the status of the Pirates' outfield prospects, 2010 will really be a make or break season in Milledge's career. He'll either enter 2011 as a top of the order guy or on the bench. We know the downside for Milledge; it's the MLB numbers he's put up already. I'd say his 2010 upside is what McCutchen did in '09, .286/.365/.471. Batting fifth that would net him 90 RBI and 80 runs scored. Those numbers would go a long way towards rejuvenating both his career and the Pirates' offense.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed they look like twins.