2004 Mets' Minor League Hitter of The Year

Take a look with the NYfansonly.com Mets' writers to see who the better minor league hitters were in the 2004 season. This list is not about who the better prospect is or who will be the better major leaguer. This list is based only on what they did in the 2004 season. Each writer lists their top five and then expands on their selections (and other notes) below.

First and foremost, 3B David Wright (the 2003 NYfansonly.com Mets' Minor League Hitter of the Year) did not qualify for our voting this season as he'll collect enough at-bats in the Major Leagues to lose his rookie status, or else he would have been the clear-cut winner after his fantastic start to the 2004 minor league season.

Based on our scoring system of 5 points for a first place vote, 4 points for a second place vote (and so on), the 2004 NYfansonly.com Mets' Minor League Hitter of the Year is Jamar Hill with 14 total points. Tides' OF Victor Diaz came in a close second with 13 points and Lastings Milledge came in third with 11 points. Despite missing almost half of the season, Bombers' 1B Ian Bladergroen finished in fourth with 8 points on the strength of his terrific start. Brett Harper and Craig Brazell tied for fifth, each collecting four points. See the voters' rankings and comments below.

Rank

Patrick Teale

Bobby Vangelatos

Mark Healey

Dan Goldberg

1

Jamar Hill

Lastings Milledge

Jamar Hill

Victor Diaz

2

Ian Bladergroen

Jamar Hill

Victor Diaz

Craig Brazell

3

Lastings Milledge

Ian Bladergroen

Lastings Milledge

Aarom Baldiris

4

Victor Diaz

Victor Diaz

Ambiorix Concepcion

Brett Harper

5

Brett Harper

Brett Harper

Ian Bladergroen

Ambiorix Concepcion



Patrick Teale

The question for the Mets' hitting prospects in 2004 is "What If?". What if Ian Bladergroen, Brett Harper, and Lastings Milledge would have stayed healthy for the entire 2004 season? These trio of players could have put up some monster numbers this past season had they avoided the injury bug entirely.

1) Jamar Hill - It's easy to see why manager Jack Lind and the Capital City Bombers cruised to an 89-47 record this past season when he had the likes of Hill, Bladergroen, Milledge, Ryan Harvey, Andrew Wilson, and Blake Whealy driving in a ton of runs all year long. Hill gets my top selection for the overall numbers he produced for Cap City this past year: .272, 26 HRs, 89 RBI, 83 Runs, and 20 stolen bases. Hill also raked 21 doubles and was the main offensive stalwart for the Bombers in the second half of the season after Milledge was promoted to St. Lucie and Bladergroen went down with an injury. Looking at the unimpressive .272 average, people might forget that Hill was only hitting .239 on July 12th and finished the season very strong, hitting well over .300 the rest of the way after being put in the #2 spot in the lineup.

2) Ian Bladergroen: I made the "Blade" my second choice because despite the fact he played barely more than half a season for the Bombers after having season-ending wrist surgery in July, his numbers were still very comparable to the rest of the Mets' minor leaguers in 2004. Bladergroen's final numbers (.342, 13 HRs, 74 RBI) were still right up there. Factor in his 23 doubles and .595 slugging percentage, the Blade had a tremendous 2004. His 74 RBIs were just seven less than Harper's 81 combined RBI and twenty less than Diaz's 94 even though Diaz collected 259 more at-bats than the Blade. He and Jamar Hill should provide St. Lucie with an explosive lineup in 2005.

3) Lastings Milledge: What a debut in his first full season of professional baseball! Milledge posted fantastic numbers in 2004, going a combined .313, 15 HRs, 66 RBI, and 26 stolen bases for the Capital City Bombers and St. Lucie Mets...all from the leadoff spot and despite not making his season debut until May 19th after missing the first six weeks with a broken hand. Milledge also had 28 doubles between the two stops and showed good range in centerfield. He does strikeout a bit too much for a leadoff hitter (74 total K's in 2004), but not terribly bad, especially since this was his first full year.

4) Victor Diaz: Picking the #4 and #5 hitters for the Mets' minor leaguers was a little tougher than I thought. I gave Diaz the nod because he did it at a higher level than the other players warranting a top spot. Diaz hit .292-24-94 in 528 at-bats for the AAA-Norfolk Tides and was easily their most consistent hitter all season, all while learning how to play a new position. Diaz was prone to the strikeout, whiffing 133 times and drawing just 31 walks. Still not bad considering this was his first taste of AAA.

5) Brett Harper: Had it not been for his struggles adjusting to AA pitching, Harper might have been higher on this list. After hitting .350 with 9 home runs and 55 RBI in 60 games for St. Lucie, Harper was promoted to AA-Binghamton and could not replicate the same success at that level. In 45 games for the BMets, Harper hit just .247 and struck out 60 times....collecting seven more strikeouts in less time than he had in St. Lucie. It was still a very solid season for Harper as his combined numbers indicate: .305-16-81, with 30 doubles.

Honorable Mention: I so wanted to put Ambiorix Concepcion among my top five hitters, but just like with the pitchers, I gave the nod to players that played in the long-season leagues. Concepcion did it all for the Cyclones, hitting .305-8-46 with 28 stolen bases in the NY-Penn League this past season. Concepcion (easily one of the best hitting prospects in the NY-Penn League), along with Jamar Hill and Lastings Milledge, gives the Mets a very athletic look in the future of the Mets' outfield. 2B Blake Whealy, perhaps one of the worst hitters among all Mets' minor leaugers for the first two months of the minor league season, rebounded in a big way in the second half of the season. In fact, Whealy's totals from 2004 (.281-23-82 with 10 stolen bases and 32 doubles) are right on pace with the production of Victor Diaz and the sole reason why I could not put Diaz higher in the rankings.

Bobby Vangelatos

1) OF Lastings Milledge: The last child of the Milledge family certainly made an impact in his first season in professional baseball. Milledge began the season slugging his way through the South Atlantic pitching and fought his way up to the Florida State League, before rejoining Capital City for their playoff run. Milledge (.337 13-58) showed his five tool ability in the Sally League stealing 23 bases, and showing solid range and an arm in center field, to go along with his power display and solid contact hitting. Milledge, who will be 20 next April, is certain to begin the season with the St. Lucie Mets, putting him on pace to patrol the Shea Stadium outfield by mid 2006-2007.

2) OF Jamar Hill: Hill has been a highly talked about Mets prospect since being drafted in 2001, however did not perform up to the expectations until late in the 2003 season when he gave fans of the Bombers a taste of what was about to happen a year later. Hill finished 5th in the South Atlantic League with 26 home runs and finished the season off strong batting .310 with 13 home runs and 45 runs batted in during his final 57 games of the season. Hill has continued his productivity in the postseason for the Bombers and in his first four games of the playoffs he had 2 home runs and 5 runs batted in.

3) 1B Ian Bladergroen: Ian could have established himself as #1 on this list, however wrist surgery ended his season prematurely. Even despite the short season, his 2004 numbers are solid enough for him to make the top 3 of my list, and by looking at his numbers you would think he played a full season. In just 72 games, Ian batted .342 with 13 home runs and 74 RBI's. Bladergroen, who certainly fits the profile as a true first baseman, could begin 2005 with the Bombers as a "rehab" period, and should be in St. Lucie soon after. It is scary to think what numbers 6'5 220 pound first baseman could have put up if he played the full 136 games.

4) OF Victor Diaz: "The kid can flat out hit." Those words will come out of the mouth of many minor league scouts who have seen Victor Diaz play. Diaz has performed at the plate in every single level of the minor leagues he has played at, and at AAA this season that was no different. Diaz slugged a team high 24 home runs, and drove in 92 runs to earn himself a late September call-up to Flushing. Diaz also had 31 doubles and led the Norfolk Tides with a .491 slugging percentage capping off his season. The future is unclear for Diaz in terms of what major league position he is best suited to play and how exactly he fits in with the Mets organization, however one thing is for sure and that is – this kid can hit.

5) 1B Brett Harper: The 45th Round Pick in the 2000 Amateur Draft certainly began to make a name for himself this season, when he batted .350 with 9 home runs and 55 RBI's in the pitcher friendly Florida State League. In 220 at bats Harper struck out just 53 times while playing for the St. Lucie Mets and his performance earned him a call-up to Binghamton. Harper struggled with the B-Mets, however his overall numbers (.305 16-81) certainly earn him recognition.

Honorable Mentions: David Wright did not qualify for consideration and certainly would have topped this list if he did. Wright split the first 3/5 of the season with Binghamton and Norfolk and batted a combined .341 with 18 home runs and 57 RBI's in 337 at bats…Aaron Baldiris had a solid season batting .305 in 406 at bats with the St. Lucie Mets, however struggled in a stint with the Binghamton Mets batting just .222 in 81 at bats.

Mark Healey

1) Jamar Hill - One of the most exciting _ and underrated _ players in the system. The big club's last pick in the 2001 amatuer draft, he attended junior college for a season before signing in 2002. Two years in Kingsport honed his raw skills _ and at times immaturity _ and he broke out in '04. Hill has power, speed and flair in equal amounts. While his power numbers (26 hrs, 89 RBIs) placed in the Top 10 in the Sally League, his K's (120). low number of walks (36) and stolen base effiencey (20 SBs in 312 attempts) all need to significantly improve for Hill to reach blue chipper status. It also remains to be seen if he can play under the increased talent at the higher levels.

2) Victor Diaz - Too bad the Mets don't play in the AL, because this kid could have made an impact at the MLB level this season. Diaz, who hit .292 with 24 HRs and 94 RBIs in 141 games at Norfolk, is a pure hitter. Unlike David Wright, though, lacks the plate discpline of the Mets' rookie 3B, as well as lacking a true position. Doesn't run especially well and there are questions about his work ethic, so didn't get my vote for PLOY. But, sheesh, can he rake. Probably will be dealt to an AL team, unless Mets take a chance on him for RF in 04. At press time, however, had been given just six ABs, despite getting three hits and 2 RBIs in his limited work. But hey, those September wins are important. (HM) Jamar Hill, Ambiorix Concepcion, Lastings Milledge, Ian Bladergroen.

3) Lastings Milledge -  One of the best athletes in the Mets' system, the No.1 overall pick in the 2003 draft (13th overall) has great tools and a tremendous upside. Despite missing some time with a broken hand. he played in 65 games in Cap City, hitting .337 with 13 HRs and 58 RBIs, with 22 doubles and 23 SBs. Has put to rest "makeup" and barring his being dealt as compensation to Tampa Bay for Lou Pinella, should be playing CF at Shea in '07.

4) Ambiorix Concepcion - After spending two years as Robert Solano _ compiling a .253 batting average (133-for-525), four home runs and 66 RBIs and 21 stolen bases in 139 games for the Dominican Mets (2001) and Single-A Kingsport (2002-03) _ playing at KeySpan Park has transformed Concepcion from an anonymous farmhand to an exceptional prospect.  The 6-2 180-pound slugger finished the season at .309 (79-for-259) with eight homers, 46 RBIs and 28 stolen bases, all of which are team-highs and good enough to place him among the leaders in almost every offensive category in the pitching-dominated New York-Penn League. He's got a cannon for an arm, spoeed to burn, and a certain swagger to his game that energizes teamates and annoys opponents alike. An up and comer.

5) Ian Bladergroen - Great kid (except for the whole "Chipper Jones" is my favorite player" thing), who has worked hard on his defense since joining the Mets' organization last season. In just 72 games for Cap City, Blade hit .342 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs befoire a wrist injury ended his season. Needs improve his defense at 1B, but is far and above any Mets' first base prospect in recent memory.

Dan Goldberg

1) Victor Diaz: Diaz could be the best slugging outfielder to come out of the Mets organization since Darryl Strawberry. Diaz hit 24 home runs and hit .290 while driving in 90 RBI in Norfolk this year, good enough for third in the league, and that was while learning to play a new position. His 259 total bases placed him seventh in the league. Diaz is a big strong kid who has gotten better every year and his slugging percentage (.491) continues to rise every year.

2) Craig Brazell: Is 24 years old and he is just starting to physically peak. He'll never win any gold gloves but he did put up very solid numbers again this year. Injuries seem to be a problem for him but if he could stay healthy he could have very productive seasons ahead of him. He has decent speed for a guy his size and his patience at the plate is improving every year. He hit .266 in Norfolk this year, which isn't stellar, but he did have 23 home runs in only 120 games.

3) Aarom Baldiris: Baldiris presents an interesting problem for the Mets. He is an enormously talented third baseman who can play other infield positions as well, but the Mets are loaded with young talent in the infield. Baldiris had no trouble with A ball. He hit .304 in St. Lucie, .316 in Cap City, and .364 in Brooklyn. Baldiris has amazing plate discipline for anyone let alone for someone so young.

4) Brett Harper: Had a great year in St. Lucie, where he hit over .350 and had 9 home runs in less than half a seasons worth of work. He started off well in Binghamton but he struggled mightily at the end of the season and his avg. dropped to .247. He has good power and he is built like a truck. He led the B-Mets in Slugging percentage (.437) and had 7 home runs in fewer than 200 at bats. His fielding is a work in progress but it is clear that he will make a better than average first baseman. As he grows a little more and learns some patience at the plate he could develop into a real power hitter.

5) Ambiorix Concepcion: Concepcion hit .305 with 8 home runs and 28 stolen bases. Monster numbers for a guy his age. He is my sleeper pick for 2005. Though he is not getting much recognition, I think he will continue to put up big numbers and move up the prospect ladder.

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