Chicago Cubs: Corey Patterson once carried the hopes of this fanbase

Chicago Cubs, Corey Patterson (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs, Corey Patterson (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Long before the current group of Chicago Cubs stars led the team to a title, we often placed our hopes in other prospects, such as Corey Patterson.

Before Theo Epstein assumed control of the baseball operations department at Clark and Addison,  the Chicago Cubs fared pretty poorly in developing impactful homegrown prospects. From 2005 on, only a handful of the team’s top draft picks made substantial contributions to big league clubs.

Some of those guys include Tyler Colvin, Andrew Cashner and – the final pick of the Jim Hendry era, two-time All-Star shortstop Javier Baez, who looms as the best pick of the former regime. But prior to 2005, it was more of the same. One of the names that really stands the test of time in Cubs’ fans minds though, is Corey Patterson.

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Chicago selected Patterson with the third overall pick in the 1998 MLB Draft after Philadelphia selected Pat Burrell and Oakland selected left-hander Mark Mulder with the first and second pick, respectively.

Patterson began his professional career straight out of high school – and didn’t miss a beat. He put up a .949 OPS during the 1999 season at A-Ball Lansing. The next year, with Double-A Tennessee, he had another strong showing after Baseball America ranked him as the #3 overall prospect in the game.

Heading into 2001, he climbed to the #2 overall ranking on Baseball America‘s preseason rankings, trailing only future slugger Josh Hamilton, then a talent in the Tampa Bay system. Patterson got his first sustained taste of big league action that season and he struggled, as many prospects often do.

The 2002 campaign marked the first year he spent the bulk of the season with Chicago and it was a mixed bag, of sorts. He hit 30 doubles with 14 home runs, but managed a measly 19 walks compared to his 142 punchouts. But as a 22-year-old outfielder, he appeared in all but nine of the Cubs’ games that season.

Of course, as a team, Chicago flirted with its first World Series appearance since 1945 in 2003. That journey culminated in heartbreak and disappointment, as so many seasons have over the years, but there were some notable individual performances – including one by Patterson.

That year, the young outfielder hit .298 in 83 contests, turning in a 114 OPS+ on the year before a knee injury derailed what could have been a breakout showing. He followed that performance up with a respectable, yet fairly pedestrian .771 OPS in 157 contests while notching a career-high 33 doubles. But from there, it all fell apart for the former top prospect.

In 2005, the wheels came off for Patterson. He hit just .215 and the front office sent him to Triple-A Iowa in early July. He returned to the Cubs later in the summer – but it marked the end of a highly-hyped and equally disappointing run for him as the potential future of the franchise. Chicago sent him to the Baltimore Orioles in January 2006 for Nate Spears and Carlos Perez.

A lot of today’s fans might not know what it felt like to live and die with the promise of a Corey Patterson, Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson. But it was tough. Each new name we heard, we desperately clung to, pinning our hopes on their success. Until Baez broke onto the scene, none reached the superstar status we’d waited for for so long.

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We can all look back at the career of someone like Patterson now with a bit more understanding and hopefully, less disappointment. He was supposed to be a savior for the Cubs, but ended up as just another footnote in a largely underwhelming chapter in the organization’s storied history.