Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Where are they now - Eric Patterson

Interesting discussion about Eric Patterson:

Let's talk a little about Eric Patterson, Corey's younger brother, who's had a nice first season in the Cubs' system. Drafted in the eighth round in 2004 out of Georgia Tech, the 22-year old "E-Pat", a second baseman that bats from the left-side, spent the majority of the year at the Low-A Peoria Chiefs, where he put up a .333/.405/.535 line in 110 games, with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 13 home runs, 53 walks, 94 strikeouts and 40 stolen bases in 51 attempts. His reward for such a season was a double promotion to West Tennessee for the last week of the season and a spot on their playoff roster. In 13 games with the Jaxx now, he's hit .311/.396/.444 with 6 doubles, 7 walks, 12 strikeouts and 3 steals in 5 goes.

Patterson plays very good defence at second base, with excellent range both to his left and right, good balance, soft hands and a decent arm. He also turns the double play well and made just 9 errors at Peoria, comfortably leading the Midwest League in fielding percentage among second basemen. On the basepaths, while he's not quite as fast as his older brother, he can still most definately run, and he's very much a spark plug on the bases, capable of and eager to make things happen, stealing bags, stretching doubles into triples, going first to third, and scoring from second on singles, from first on doubles. He's an exciting player in the field and on the bases. But it's his bat that will decide whether he has a major league future.

While Patterson's hitting numbers look superficially impressive (in a "who can argue with .333/.405/.535?" sense), there are some legitimate concerns. Firstly, Patterson's numbers at Peoria need to be taken with a pinch of salt, for, as a college draftee, Eric was old for his league. The Midwest League is mostly populated with much younger players that, while they may have the talent, are invariably raw, unpolished and have a lot of developing still to do, guys either fresh out of college or a year or two out of High School, like Ryan Harvey, Sean Gallagher and Mike Billek. A more appropriate level for Patterson given his three years at college would have been Daytona, which for hitters is something of a step up from Peoria, with more advanced pitching and a slightly friendlier pitching environment.

Patterson though may be skipping Daytona all together, just like his brother, if Fleita decides that he's held his own well enough in this short end of season stint at West Tennessee and re-assigns him there to begin next year. The jump from High-A to Double-A is more than big enough, a jump that a lot of players struggle with as quality off-speed stuff and patient and refined hitters become much more commonplace. But the jump from Low-A to Double-A is enormous, and indeed it was I believe the beginning of Corey's problems at the plate. Eric, while a different player, one a lot less preoccupied with power for starters (because he's not as strong), and one much more willing to wait for his pitch and take walks, worryingly has numbers that in some respects are similar to his older brother's. He strikes out a lot (92 times in 432 at-bats at Peoria, and 12 times in 45 at-bats at West Tenn so far), which is alarming for a non-power hitter, and has only been able to maintain his high .300+ averages with off-the-chart .400+ averages on balls in play. Together, those strikeout and ball in play numbers point to a plummeting average at some stage in the future.

All of which reminds me of last year's second base prospect of choice, Richard Lewis, the man acquired alongside Andy Pratt in the Juan Cruz trade. He had a big year at West Tenn in 2004, hitting .329/.391/.532 with plenty of doubles, enough walks, very good defence, but lots of strikeouts and he was a bit old for his league too. In fact, statistically, it was pretty much Eric Patterson's year without all the baserunning fun. Lewis' 2005? .222/.299/.312 in nearly 400 plate appearances, most of them at Iowa. Beware, Eric, beware.