05/26/2004 7:42 PM ET
Georgia Tech duo avoids draft-itis
Owings, Patterson put rough starts behind them
By Chris Gigley / MLB.com
If Georgia Tech standouts Eric Patterson and Micah Owings have been affected this season by "draft-itis" -- letting draft status adversely affect performance -- they're not admitting it. Both say the 2004 Major League draft is something they'll focus on after helping the Yellow Jackets make a late-season push to the College World Series.
|After a slow start, Micah Owings has come on at the plate and on the mound. (courtesy Stanley Leary)
This season hasn't been easy for the preseason All-America players, both of whom were highly touted, can't-miss draft targets before play began. Patterson was tabbed as the nation's best leadoff hitter, while several scouts called Owings the premier two-way talent in the college ranks. Scouts still regard both as first-round picks -- Owings likely as a pitcher -- but their slow starts have raised the possibility of a slip to the second round. Neither player has worried about it.
"The draft really hasn't been a distraction," insisted Patterson, a second baseman who hit .222 from the end of February through mid-March, when the Yellow Jackets went 3-9. "Being team captain, that's something I don't want to dwell on. If I play for the right reasons, the draft will take care of itself. Our focus is to play and do the things we need to do to win baseball games."
From day one, said Patterson -- younger brother of Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson -- the players decided to make sure the draft wouldn't loom over them. Filled with draft-eligible players, the team set a rule banning any discussion of the draft on or off the field for the entire season.
The result, according to Owings, has been a team-wide focus on Georgia Tech baseball. Early on, he didn't seem to have that focus at the plate. During Tech's 12-game swoon, he drove in just four runs and hit only one home run. He fared better on the mound, earning two victories, in which he surrendered three earned runs and struck out 10 in 12 innings.
Although Tech's record in that stretch dampened its outlook for the season, Owings has put a positive spin on it.
"If you look at last year, we started out well and lost in the regionals," he said. "Hopefully struggling in the beginning helps you at the end. I look at our slow start as fate."
Regarding the draft, Owings said he has an extra reason not to worry about the draft. Because Owings is a 21-year old sophomore, he has an extra year of eligibility in the draft.
"This is a really comfortable spot for me to be in," he says. "I don't have nearly as much pressure on me as the juniors have on them."
Gradually, both Owings and Patterson have come around on the field. By May 26, Owings had a .332 average and paced the team with 15 home runs and 60 RBIs. He was just as productive on the mound, with 90 strikeouts in 90 2/3 innings.
Patterson, meanwhile, was doing what he's always done at Georgia Tech: getting on base and scoring. In 56 games, he scored a team-leaading 66 runs and topped the team with a .436 on-base percentage. He also swiped 44 bases in 48 attempts.
When pressed about their future, the pair eventually relented and discussed their future in professional baseball. Owings won't say one way or another whether he'll sign if he's drafted, but he doesn't seem concerned about making the jump when he does.
"I think there's more of a difference going from high school to college than college to pro ball," he said. "College was tough for me at first because it was my first time being away from home. I don't think the minors will be as much of an adjustment."
Patterson, meanwhile, relishes the thought of hitting with wood bats every day.
"Wood bats have a much better feel and sound and I love the feel of the bat in my hands," said Patterson, who played for Team USA the last two summers. "Maybe statistically I didn't put up numbers I needed to put up, but I think the experience I had hitting with wood will help me down road."
The same could be said of their perseverance through what could be their final year with the Yellow Jackets.
Chris Gigley is a contributing writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.