Patton, Rule 5 Pickup, has Upside

There were a lot of differences in the Cubs' roster predicament at the Rule 5 Draft in 2008 versus that of 2006. Amid a flurry of free agent signings in 2006, the Cubs' 40-man roster left little to no wiggle room with the team set to add pitchers Jason Marquis and Ted Lilly to the starting rotation, infielder Mark DeRosa for second base duties and outfielder Daryle Ward for bench help.

At the Winter Meetings in 2008, the Cubs had more wiggle room and flexibility with their roster so they decided to try and get creative.

"Every year the (roster) scenario changes," said Cubs Scouting Director Tim Wilken.

As such, the Cubs took a gamble on 24-year-old David Patton, a right-hander from the Colorado Rockies' system who spent 2008 with the Class High-A Modesto Nuts of the California League.

Patton appeared in 50 contests in relief, notching a 3.54 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings. He walked 28 batters and limited opponents to a .260 average against before going on to make postseason appearances in the Arizona Fall League and Hawaii Winter Baseball.

Per MLB rules, the Cubs must agree to keep Patton on their 25-man roster for the duration of the 2009 season or offer him back to Colorado for $25,000.

But keeping Patton around might not be such a difficult task, Wilken said.

Among the things that have Wilken and Cubs area scouts excited is the progression of Patton's breaking ball. Four different Cubs scouts got reads on Patton this past season. Some believed the pitch, which registered anywhere from 79 to 84 mph, was more of a hard curve while others lauded it as a slider.

In any case, the scouts were impressed.

"The way the breaking ball is today, much like a couple of guys in our system now with their breaking balls, some are calling it a curve, some are calling it a slider," said Wilken. "That's a product of amateur ball and guys having an in-between (arm) slot where it's more of a slurve, but at times resembles a power curveball.

"But in all four cases this year, every one of our guys potentially thought this guy's got a chance to have a plus curveball."

Patton combines his breaking ball with a fastball, consistently 91 to 94 mph with good movement at times, Wilken said. His third pitch is a changeup.

With the breaking ball, Wilken said the key is consistency.

"If we can get that, and there were not any signs in the guy's delivery that told you he can't pick it up, then you hope they (Chicago) are the ones that‘s going to be the recipients of it," Wilken said.

"Everyone had a plus breaking ball on this guy for the future, so does it happen this year? In the Rule Five, it seems it's always the following year. Clubs identify those guys and it seems to happen one year later. That's because most organizations don't think it's going to happen in that year period."

That could explain why a pitcher like Patton was left unprotected from the Rule 5 Draft because there are some exceptions as players occasionally slip through the cracks.

One such instance was in 2006 when the Cincinnati Reds took a low-risk gamble – part of two such gambles they would take in the Rule 5 that year, one of which would go on to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated – on a quiet right-handed pitching prospect in Jared Burton.

Burton, like Patton, lacked consistency with his breaking ball and the Oakland A's apparently were not convinced that the pitch was going to come around until further on down the road. Burton was left unprotected, Cincinnati grabbed him in the Rule 5, and he's since rewarded the Reds with two solid seasons in relief -- including a 2.51 ERA in 43 appearances his rookie season in 2007.

"Burton was in Double-A at the time (of the Rule 5 Draft) and there was some question on his breaking ball," Wilken recalled. "He had only pitched a little in Double-A that year in the Texas League and did OK, but I think they (Oakland) went on the premise that there was no way that a club could carry him because the breaking ball was inconsistent.

"Later on, we found out that he came up with a splitter. Everyone's had a power slider on him since he's been in the major leagues and people weren't saying that he had it at that time when he was in the minors, but he still had potential for a pretty good breaking ball."

Wilken doesn't want to be construed as saying that Patton is a Burton clone, but he says there are some similarities.

"Slender guys when they signed that filled out," he observed. "Both had good breaking ball potential and both had pretty good arms. Burton was 25 years old when he was taken by the Reds. He had just pitched a little bit in Double-A at that time and there's not a great deal of difference in our guy. Burton's up to 225 pounds. When our guy signed, I think he was about 180. I'm thinking he's around (6-foot-3) 200 now, maybe not as tall [as Burton, who is 6-foot-5]."

"He's a guy we think still has some projection," Wilken said of Patton. "He's 24, hasn't pitched above High-A ball and we understand that part, but we think there's some pretty high-quality stuff in there. It's just a matter of maybe the light going on this year. We're hoping for that."

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