The Colorado Rockies are the hottest team in baseball since the All-Star break, and the emergence of rookie outfielder David Dahl has been one of the reasons why. It’s a great thing for Colorado, but it’s cast even more doubt on an already murky future for one of their less-heralded prospects.
If you’ve ever been ready for a promotion at work and seen it gone to someone who hadn’t been doing the job as long, you can probably empathize with what Rockies prospect Jordan Patterson is likely feeling right now.
Patterson played at the University of South Alabama before the Rockies selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 draft. After putting up solid numbers in high-A and Double-A last year, Patterson was promoted to Triple-A for 2016. He has responded by posting a .319/.407/.500 slash line in 351 plate appearances.
So it’s not hard to see why Patterson might be upset after watching Dahl start the year in Double-A, then get called up to the big leagues after less than a month as Patterson’s teammate in Albuquerque.
Patterson’s numbers aren’t quite at the absurd levels that Dahl put up over his brief stay with the Isotopes, but that can hardly be held against him.
A batting average of nearly .320 and an OPS over .900 would warrant a promotion under normal circumstances. But Colorado’s circumstances are far from normal.
Patterson’s best defensive fit is in the outfield. The Rockies starting outfield of Gonzalez, Blackmon and Dahl (barring injury of course) appears to be as firmly entrenched as any group in MLB. Gerardo Parra hasn’t been particularly good so far this season but his contract likely ensures he’ll be also be part of the outfield mix.
There’s reason to believe Patterson may be a better player than Ryan Raburn right now, but calling up a 24-year-old to be the fifth outfielder is a terrible way to develop him. Prospects need playing time to grow as players, and starting once a week and getting to pinch hit every other day isn’t going to accomplish that.
The Rockies have realized this problem and have given Patterson some playing time at first base. This works somewhat, but making him a full-time first baseman would sap a lot of Patterson’s value.
Patterson’s scouting profile on MLB.com says, “If he can learn to control the strike zone better, he could be a .270 hitter with 20 homers per season.” A player giving you those numbers along with solid or better defense in right or left field is a solid big league starter. But those same numbers from a first baseman are mediocre at best.
Patterson is a big guy (6’4″, 215 pounds) and some believe there’s more power hidden in his left-handed swing, but he only has 49 home runs in nearly 1,500 minor league at-bats. Chances are, this is a player who’s destined to hit near the top of the lineup, not in the middle of it.
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That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but it’s not the type of offensive profile you’re looking for from your first baseman.
With no easy path to playing time in Colorado, it might make sense to consider trading Patterson. It may be difficult to find a partner willing to give the Rockies a fair price though. Patterson, despite his success in the minors, is not universally beloved in scouting circles (MLB.com has him as Colorado’s 19th-best prospect).
When it comes to prospects though, future projection matters more than past performance to most teams. Patterson’s minor league track record is more impressive than Brendan Rodgers to this point, but if Colorado put both players on the trading block, the offers for Rodgers (the #3 overall pick in the 2015 draft) would surely dwarf anything they’d see for Patterson.
So the Rockies are left with three unappealing choices. They can…
- Keep Patterson around as an overqualified Triple-A outfielder and maybe let him fill in for the occasional injury.
- Convert him into a first baseman, sacrificing some of his value as an athlete and putting more pressure on him to hit homers even if that’s not what he does best. OR
- Find a team interested in what’s he done in the minors and trade him for a return that will almost certainly be too light if Patterson becomes the type of MLB outfielder he seems capable of being.
No one will cry for the team struggling because they have too many good outfielders. The problem the Colorado Rockies are facing with Patterson is a good one, at least for the franchise. But for Patterson as a player, it’s definitely still a problem, and there don’t appear to be any easy answers on the horizon.