Patterson tries to keep defying odds, make club
A 29th-round pick in '10, fiery righty survives first round of spring cuts
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- At this Spring Training, pitchers in the big league clubhouse originally drafted and developed by the Dodgers share a typical pedigree.
Nearly all were taken in the first five rounds of the Draft (six in the first round alone) and received significant signing bonuses.
Then there's John "Red" Patterson.
The right-hander was drafted in the 29th round in 2010. He signed for $1,500, or one-third of one percent of the $5.25 million bonus the Dodgers gave first-rounder Zach Lee that year.
But Patterson, 26, survived Tuesday's first round of seven pitching cuts and he posted two more scoreless innings in the afternoon's exhibition game. He is second on the club with 4 1/3 innings, allowing two hits with four strikeouts.
Nobody expects Patterson to make a club so deep in talented pitching, but he keeps doing things nobody expects.
For example, despite being a professional athlete, Patterson gave new meaning to the term "coachable player" by spending four off-seasons working at the Coach store in the Stonebriar Mall in Frisco, Texas, selling handbags, shoes and accessories.
"In the Minor Leagues, we don't get paid a lot," said Patterson. "I signed for $1,500 and needed to work. Working retail, it makes you work 10 times harder here. During the season, in the heat of August, guys start dragging. You know what? I'd rather be playing baseball than going back to do that kind of work."
The winter gig is where Patterson met his wife whom, he points out, enjoyed a 50 percent family discount at the luxury retailer.
Teammate Matt Magill, who roomed with Patterson for two years, said the guy is a little quirky, like when it comes to his locker.
"Every hanger has to be one inch apart from the next," said Magill. "He makes sure of it. He tells the clubbies it has to be perfect. So I always walk by and hit the hangers just to mess with him."
Patterson couldn't push purses at Coach this past winter. He was pitching in Venezuela, helping secure an invitation to Major League training camp as a non-roster pitcher.
He doesn't have the overpowering stuff of Chris Withrow or the football leverage of Lee. That's why he wasn't drafted out of Frisco High School or offered a scholarship anywhere.
He was the No. 2 starter for Grayson (Texas) Community College behind Jordan Walden. He committed to the University of Oklahoma then backed off, instead redshirted one year and played the next year at the University of Texas-San Antonio, then followed a girlfriend to Southwestern Oklahoma State University, where he pitched as a senior.
"I believe [he was overlooked] because he was at a small school," said Dodgers vice president of scouting Logan White. "His mechanics were a little rough, too. Our player development people have refined and cleaned him up. He has always been a gamer and believes in himself. He's the type who has no fear and expects to do good. He has a quality four-pitch mix and can pitch in almost any role."
Patterson has moved smoothly through the organization, compiling a 32-11 record and 3.36 cumulative ERA. He spent the entire 2013 season as a swingman at Triple-A Albuquerque, starting 12 times, finishing 7-4 with a 3.03 ERA, no easy feat in the thin New Mexico air.
"He struggled the first month, led in walks and home runs allowed, then all of a sudden, it was like he felt enough of this and really came on," said Albuquerque pitching coach Glenn Dishman. "We used him as a spot starter and he got efficient with his pitches, throwing strikes, keeping the ball down and getting quick outs, and ever since he's been rolling.
"It feels good for a coach to see a guy you love and will fight for get invited to big league camp, because it shows you reward guys for doing the things you ask them to do."
Patterson is no relation to the late Dodgers executive Red Patterson. This one got his nickname from a youth basketball coach who had too many players named John and only one with red hair. Dishman said the color fits the personality.
"He's a real competitor, aggressive on the mound, doesn't back down," said Dishman. "Sometimes that's great for him, he doesn't get intimidated. He does get a little fired up and he loses it and he can get in trouble with umpires. But you want to give the ball to him in big situations. He has a lot of great qualities.
"If you match him up, he doesn't throw as hard as some guys and they might have a better breaking ball or changeup, but he competes. When you walk out to the mound to talk to him, he looks like he wants to kill you. It's a little scary."
For Patterson, it's all part of the job, which he hopes to keep, because it sure beats selling purses.
"I haven't really taken the normal path," said Patterson. "Scouts told me I was undraftable because of my mechanics, that they would lead to injuries and they didn't want to take the chance. [Dodgers scout] Calvin Jones took a shot on me. And I haven't had any injuries. But no, it hasn't been the typical road. I know I have to work as hard as I can to get noticed. I'm OK with that, it's just what I have to do. I have to try to dominate at every level."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.