Corey Patterson, outfielder
Could he still emerge as a regular in the major leagues?
There are worse players who have jobs, but Patterson is now remembered as (1) a guy who was never as good as he was supposed to be and (2) a guy whose biggest flaw — his willingness to swing at anything – happens to be under the spotlight right now. Believe it or not, he played the 2010 season at age 30.
Is he still a useful bench player?
It depends on how you want to use your bench. As an offensive player, Corey Patterson isn’t an in-game tactical weapon. He doesn’t get on base, so you can’t use him to start an inning; he doesn’t have real power, so he’s not someone you can use to finish the rally. His offensive skills are useful, but they’re more useful as a regular part of an offense rather than in special situations. So, if you’re an in-game situational substitution kind of manager, like Bobby Cox, Patterson’s not much use. But, if you don’t care/need to use your bench in-game, but to rest regulars or as a semi-platoon, Patterson’s very useful. He’s fast, plays good defense, and hits enough to be useful in the 6-7 spots in the order.
OK. The real question — how good could he have been?
After the Cubs plucked him with the #3 overall pick in the 1998 draft, Patterson started his professional career in the Midwest League. At 19, Patterson slugged .592 in a full season in the Midwest League. He instantly became one of the best prospects in baseball. The next year, at age 20, he didn’t fare quite as well, but still slugged .491 in AA.
The next year, in 2001, the Cubs found themselves as contenders. Sammy Sosa had perhaps his greatest year in RF, but they had no one playing well in center. Rondell White was playing extremely well in LF, but he got hurt midway through the year. So, desperately short of outfielders and desperate for a center fielder, the Cubs recalled Patterson. Everyone knew he wasn’t ready, and they were right — but he didn’t play badly enough to fall out of favor. Corey Patterson was given the Cubs center field job.
The problem was that the Cubs didn’t really have a classic leadoff man. Don Baylor, the manager, was a creature of the 70′s. He saw Patterson’s speed and decided that this 22-year-old kid, whose weakness was getting on base, would be a good leadoff man. He wasn’t.
And for the rest of his Cub career, Corey Patterson was continuously pushed in and out of the leadoff spot. Either he’d start the year in the leadoff spot, fail, and then get dropped to sixth or seventh; or he’s start the year in the sixth or seventh spot, the anointed leadoff man would fail, and Patterson would be dropped down. No wonder he got messed up.
Corey Patterson was never going to be a guy who walked a lot, with a good on-base percentage. He could have been a speedy hitter with line-drive pop, a consistent 20-20 guy. He was a very good defensive center fielder. If the Cubs had let him develop more normally and accepted what his role could be, there’s no reason he couldn’t have been Devon White. He might have become Willie Davis.
But, the Cubs being the Cubs, they had to try to force Corey Patterson to be something he couldn’t be. They have nothing to show for him now.