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Predict the future -- Troy Patton

Last week, we discussed pitcher Rick Zagone, who pitched for the short-season Single-A Aberdeen IronBirds in 2008.

Mostly everyone agreed that the left-hander was impressive in his first professional season, but several readers think he needs to have success at higher levels in order to have a chance at contributing in the major leagues.

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Since his numbers in college at Missouri were mediocre – and the New York-Penn League is probably a step back from the Big 12 Conference competition he faced with the Tigers – I agree that Zagone will need to put up similar numbers in 2009 in order to show that he's worthy of being mentioned in the discussion with the rest of the pitching prospects.

With that said, I believe he'll continue to succeed in the future. At worst, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound pitcher should be able to build a solid career as a situational reliever in the major leagues. Still, I think Zagone possesses the ability and deception – he hides the ball well during his delivery – that would allow him to become a dependable starter at the back of a team's rotation.

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Let's talk about another left-handed pitcher who is a big question mark heading into the upcoming season, although it is due to a different reason.

Troy Patton, who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the trade for shortstop Miguel Tejada in December 2007, is recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound starting pitcher missed all of last season due to the injury, but he's expected to be ready for 2009.

Although he'll compete for a spot in the major leagues, it's probable that Patton will begin the year in the minors. This strategy seems like a good idea in order to ensure that Patton is completely healthy before putting him in a high-pressure environment.

Patton was 0-2 with a 3.55 ERA in three games (two starts) for the Astros at the end of the 2007 season. He had eight strikeouts and allowed three home runs in 12 2/3 innings for Houston. Patton was 10-8 with a 3.51 ERA while splitting time between the Double-A Corpus Christi Hooks and Triple-A Round Rock Express before the promotion.

In four minor league seasons, Patton is 18-16 with a 3.01 ERA. He has 396 strikeouts and 127 walks in 445 innings. The Astros' ninth-round pick in the 2004 MLB draft struck out 132 hitters in 119 2/3 innings in 2005. Patton collected 139 strikeouts in 146 innings during the 2006 season, but he only managed 93 in 151 1/3 innings in 2007. It will be interesting to see how the shoulder surgery affects his strikeout totals this season.

Ideally, Patton will begin the season with the Double-A Bowie Baysox and – after he proves he's healthy – move quickly to the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. The Orioles shouldn't rush Patton, in my opinion, but he might pitch his way into the major leagues at some point during the 2009 season.

To say it's difficult to recover from a major shoulder surgery would be an understatement, so it might be foolish to expect any contributions from Patton with the Orioles. I'd like to hope for the best, but he'll have to prove to me that he's completely healthy before I pencil him into the Orioles' long-term future.

What are your predictions for Patton during the upcoming season? Do you think there's any chance that he'll make the roster out of spring training? Would you rather see him build up his arm strength in the minor leagues? What is the likelihood that Patton will enjoy a successful career with the Orioles?

Let me know what you think. I'm interested to hear your opinions about Patton's future, including his long-term accomplishments.

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Check out previous installments of "Predict the future" by clicking on the links below:

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