In my riled phase about the proposed realignment of minor league ball, I recently wrote about Clayton Daniel. Partway through, I realized Daniel may be the second-best worst-case scenario in the pipeline. The worst-case scenario isn't a hit king from a mid-major conference. It's likely a pitcher who had a breakout campaign in his first full year of pro ball.
No matter how well a team performs over a baseball season, they usually get their fanny thwacked really soundly once per season. The South Bend Cubs won the league title in 2019, but one specific game couldn't get over quickly enough. The Bowling Green Hot Rods, a Rays affiliate, scored a run and four hits off of Cam Sanders. That would be all they'd need, but they were a battering ram against South Bend's bullpen. Jack Patterson entered a blowout in the seventh. He was scorched for six earned runs over four outs in a 17-0 boat race.
A 32nd-round choice from Bryant College in Smithfield, Rhode Island in 2018, Patterson was almost certainly drafted and signed to add length to the Mesa pitching staffs. He had adequate numbers as a college senior, but nothing that shouts "Draft me." Unlike Clayton Daniel, who rushed to full-season ball, Patterson abided for 30 innings in Mesa, getting one five-inning start for Eugene in the Northwest League.
When 2019 rosters were announced for the full-season squads, Patterson wasn't listed. He remained in extended spring training. His chance came relatively early, and the Bowling Green game was his fifth for South Bend. Over half of his Midwest League runs (in 42⅓ total innings) came that day, and Patterson went to Myrtle Beach.
Five outings. Five starts. That's all it took for Patterson to get promoted to Double-A Tennessee. It helped that he only allowed one run over 23⅔ Carolina League innings. That run was unearned. He notched three Southern League starts for the Smokies, garnering a 2.63 ERA. If you're looking at a Cubs prospect list put together by an astute follower of the system, Patterson might well be in the 15-18 range.
There was no reason to expect this sort of response from Patterson, who figured out pitching in 2019. Some baseball owners might think the Cubs had some sort of unfair advantage in having a roster spot for Patterson. That edge was "wanting to upgrade the system." How dare they?
The entire premise of significantly limiting the number of affiliates seems to be to limit teams from doing what they should be about in the first place. If an owner doesn't like baseball enough to try to have his people develop talent, he should sell his team. Baseball is getting boat raced, itself, by football and basketball. Basketball has pro leagues across the globe. Football dominates headlines through the fall and winter on high school, college, and pro venues. And MLB wants to limit the amount of baseball.
Patterson was a success story in 2019. His success was because he had games to play in. Games that many baseball people and fans have no time for. When the Cubs have an affiliate game going, every player is trying to upgrade. Trying to have the lightbulb go on. Rob Manfred wants to limit the light bulb filaments a team can have. He's the one encouraging decisions on franchises, while avoiding comments on punishing teams for cheating or other problems. He has the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLABle.