The Unmaking of Corey Patterson

n.p. RinaldiCorrespondent IMarch 4, 2008

His name is Corey Patterson. He is the hope of a hopeless franchise, one of those five-tool phenomenons apparently invented in a science lab... with Willie Mays potential wrapped in a Kirby Puckett body... Impact player is a term almost inadequate...

There was a time when Corey Patterson was considered the hyperbolic savior of the Chicago Cubs.

In 1999, he was to Wrigley Field what Johnny Kilroy and Motorboat Jones were to the post-Jordan United Center—a glimmer of hope.

In his first season out of Atlanta's Harrison High, 19-year-old Patterson ravaged single-A pitchers of the Midwest League in one of the better all-around pro debuts in recent history.

With 35 doubles, 17 triples, 20 home runs and 33 stolen bases, Patterson seemingly defined what MLB's next-generation offensive threat ought to look like.

During Spring Training 2000, the Chicago media and fans, still reeling from the Tuffy Rhodes, Jerome Walton and Kevin Orie let-downs from the previous decade, were already clamoring to see Corey in the Majors.

The Cubs didn't give in to temptation and instead sent Patterson to Double-A for the 2000 season. It was the beginning of his end.

Although he left his mark in the Southern League with 26 doubles, five triples and 22 home runs, it was obvious that Corey was beginning to sacrifice his plate discipline in return for the power numbers.

His batting average dropped 59 points and his OPS tumbled 121 points that year in Double-A ball.

It also became noticeable that his strikeout problem was not just about youthful impatience, which many of his apologists chalked it up to in 1999.

The wheels really started to come off Patterson's Top Prospect Caravan at Triple-A Iowa the following season.

If Cubs fans and management had overlooked Corey's poor plate discipline in 2000 in favor of the promise that his power offered, they would be in for an unpleasant surprise come 2001.

That season, Corey played Randy Hundley to his journeyman teammate, Chris Snopek's Billy Williams. In other words, he was no more than your average Triple-A player.

Nevertheless, Chicago called him up for 131 big league at-bats toward the end of 2001.

From there, his Major League experience can be defined as a series of injuries and adjustments to his approach at the plate, where he struggled to find the correct balance between getting on-base enough and producing enough power to justify a spot in the lineup.

After four full seasons as a starting outfielder in Chicago, Patterson compiled an unbearable 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

The Cubs extinguished Corey's star in 2006 by sending him to Baltimore in exchange for two minor league afterthoughts.

A positive addition to Baltimore's lineup in 2006 where he hit 16 home runs and stole 45 bases, Patterson slipped back down the development ladder in 2007 with an odious .690 OPS.

At age 28, Corey now gets a chance with Cincinnati and a second shot to impress Dusty Baker, his manager during his Chicago days.

Center field is a weakness for the team, so Patterson couldn't have asked for a better situation to showcase any talent he has left.

I'd like to believe Patterson will make the Reds' opening day roster, but in reality, he's more likely to find himself on a bus to Triple-A Louisville come the fourth week in March.

For the time, he'll provide the Reds with outfield depth in case of injury. However, if Corey can turn back the clock and perform in Triple-A like the baseball world expected him to do in 2001, then we might finally witness the first step in the making of Corey Patterson.