I've always wanted your opinion: Did Corey Patterson not work out because he was awful, or because the Cubs rushed him?
It's not something I've thought all that much about for several years. I recall thinking about this for the first time back in 2005 when Patterson was struggling. We often heard about how his struggles were related to him being rushed to the big leagues several years earlier. Patterson reached the big leagues in his age 20 season. He had just turned 21 and rosters expanded. He played in 11 games in 2000 and I remember being as excited as I'd ever been about a young Cubs player. He would spend much of the next season back in the minors, but managed to play in 59 games in 2001. He took over full time in 2002.
Was he rushed? To be honest, I really don't even know what that means. Consider an 18 year old in Low A who is hitting the ball rather well. He's young for the level, but is also showing that he's superior to much of the competition. What is a team supposed to do? Leave the player on track for one season per year or challenge him? There may be some who think taking it more slowly would be the right way to do it, but what exactly is that 18 year old going to learn in a level he's clearly too good to be in? Can he learn more at the next level? I don't know the answer to this question and I'm not sure anybody else does.
While being superior to the competition may indicate that you should move up a level to be challenged, it also may be a good time to focus on aspects of the game that are likely to trip you up down the road. However, would working on that in a league you're superior be successful? Again, I don't know.
If we move away from baseball for a minute and look at this from a different perspective it might help us. Imagine an 18 year old kid beginning college. He's taking Calc 101, but it's a breeze. He's acing all the tests. He's spending far less time working on it than the other kids are. Would it be beneficial to leave this 18 year old in that class or challenge him?
I think the answer becomes clear in this case. Leaving him in Calc 101 is going to accomplish very little. Parents and educators agree with this. Being challenged in the classroom is considered to be far more important than acing every test. At least it is for some people anyway. Parents want to see their children being challenged. They certainly want to see them perform well, but if it comes to easy for them the student could be complacent. When the math gets harder it may be more difficult for him as he hasn't developed the study habits he'll require later on. He could become disappointed in himself as it becomes more difficult.
Now imagine a 30 year old in middle management. He's able to complete his required tasks easily. He has time to spend on twitter and Facebook. He's sending emails to his family. The amount of work he's been given is less than he is capable of accomplishing. In the business world the bosses will just give the guy more work to do without increasing his pay. But they will give him more work than they gave the previous employee because he can handle more.
In the working world and in the classroom challenging a person is seen as more important than letting someone be unchallenged. I think this is true in sports and I believe the way players are promoted shows that those running the minor league systems (all of them) agree. It's better to send the 18 year old excelling in Low A to High A than it is to have him work on a few things against inferior competition. Teams do this all the time. There are many players who are promoted aggressively through the minor leagues.
When we're talking about who was rushed and who wasn't, I'd also add that what we're really talking about is who didn't live up to expectations and who did. If Corey Patterson turned into half the player we expected I don't think we'd be talking about whether or not he was rushed. Was Evan Longoria rushed? What about Starlin Castro? Ken Griffey, Jr.? Mike Leake?
Think about it for a moment. If rushing players was detrimental to their future, no player would be rushed. Teams invest large sums of money and a significant amount of time in developing these players. It's in their interest to do everything they can to ensure each player has the best chance to succeed. If rushing a player was a negative, couldn't we also sit here and wonder how good Evan Longoria would be if he wasn't rushed to the big leagues?
I understand why people think certain players were rushed. They're young and because of this high expectations are placed on the athlete. Just look at Starlin Castro. He's already the face of the Cubs franchise and he's 22 years old. He's also going to disappoint because he won't be half as good as many people are expecting. Many are expecting him to be a superstar and Castro is not that. There are too many holes in his game to make it likely he reaches that level. When these guys fail to reach expectations, they wonder what could have gone wrong. But really, we already know what went wrong. Take a look at the 1st round of the 2004 Draft.
The best player in the country at the time never even reached the big leagues. Of the 41 1st round picks, only Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, Gio Gonzalez, Billy Butler and Huston Street have been worth more than 5 rWAR. Only Weaver (26.7) and Verlander (26.8) have been worth more than 10.7. 19 of the 41 either didn't reach the big leagues or were worth 0 rWAR or less. All of thse first round picks had considerable talent and half of them provided no value to the big league club. 26 of them provided less than 1 rWAR. All of them were elite talents where they played prior to the draft. A couple remain elite, but the others have reached a point where they're not only no longer better than everyone else, but for most of them they're worse than everybody else. It happens.
It happened with Corey Patterson. It's happened with many other Cubs draft picks over the last 15+ years.
While I'm not certain I know the answer to this question, I am relatively confident that Patterson failing to reach his potential had little to nothing to do with rushing him. I could be wrong, but I don't know why baseball would be so different than everything else.