Corey Patterson, one of the Chicago Cubs’ most disappointing prospects in recent memory, just might hold the key to preserving the future of several current Cubs prospects.
The only position battle the Cubs enter Spring Training with is in center field.
Highly touted prospect Felix Pie will battle fellow youngster Sam Fuld for the chance to crash into the ivy-less brick walls at Wrigley Field on Opening Day.
Both of these young men bring excellent defense and speed to the table, with Pie having the highest offensive ceiling. That being said, it may very well be true that neither is ready to take the everyday job for a veteran team trying to break a 100-year Championship drought.
Enter Corey Patterson. Many Cubs fans may cringe at the thought of the object of their scorn returning to Chicago. The young man definitely struggled to live up to expectations, and his flashes of brilliance only made his penchant for long slumps and strikeouts even more maddening.
Since moving on to Baltimore in 2006, Patterson has made improvements in his game. He has cut down on his strikeouts from 118 in 2005 (451 ab) to 65 in 2007 (461 ab). His baserunning, another disappointing aspect of his play in Chicago, has finally matured to match his speed, and he averaged 42 stolen bases over the past two years despite a .309 on-base percentage.
No player in the majors with a worse obp had more steals than Patterson. In fact, Patterson had as many steals as Ichiro Suzuki, who had an obp of .396. In short, when Corey gets on base, he’s likely on the move. And in the National League, an elite base stealing pinch runner can definitely make a difference in the win column.
While Patterson’s defense certainly remains near tops in the league, the Cubs will likely have little use for a defensive switch as Pie and Fuld are both excellent defenders, Alfonso Soriano led the NL in assists, and some say Kosuke Fukudome can win a gold glove this year.
At this point in his career, nobody expects Patterson to meet expectations that existed as recently as 2004. However, you can expect a .270 avg, .310 obp, 10 homers, and very few walks combined with speed on the basepaths and excellent defense. Is this anything less than Cubs fans can expect from Pie or Fuld in their first full season in the majors?
Whoever loses the Pie/Fuld battle will find themselves as the 5th outfielder off the bench. This equates to being used for sacrifice bunts, pinch running, and keeping the dugout stocked with Big League Chew. Wouldn’t the losing youngster be better off fine tuning his game at Triple-A Iowa? Furthermore, if Pie wins the starting nod and struggles the first two months, don’t the Cubs risk destroying his confidence, a la Patterson, and losing out on his talent for good?
With Patterson on board, the Cubs would have a proven centerfielder ready to step in and let the young prospects mature at their own speed. Additionally, if Lou Piniella and management start to see signs that Pie won’t live up to the hype, Patterson can provide enough cover for the Cubs to trade Pie while he still has some value in July for some late-season help.
Corey just may have a positive impact on another top Cubs prospect as well, his brother Eric. Eric Patterson is currently digging his way out of Piniella’s doghouse after showing up late or a meeting last Fall and being immediately demoted back to Double-A. Having a brother on the big league club can only serve as more motivation for Eric to stay focused and keep preparing for his next shot in the majors (which will most likely come at the expense of a Mark DeRosa trip to the DL).
A $2-3M one-year deal for Patterson seems like a small risk to take for a $120M payroll. The Cubs have a club that can contend for the NL pennant, and they have the financial ability to strengthen a potential weakness on the team. At worst, they get one of the best pinch runners in the league. At best, they get a decent, veteran centerfielder who still has some upside while also relieving the pressure on their top prospects to produce immediately for a contending team.
Maybe Corey Patterson can’t erase the memory of his disappointments, but he can play a part in ending the 100-year drought, or the 101-year drought, or the 102-year drought...