This is supposed to be a memorable week in Chad Patrick's baseball career.
Coming off a strong summer season with Traverse City (Michigan) in the acclaimed Northwoods League, the rising Hebron graduate and Purdue Northwest junior was, in all probability, going to be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft.
Scouts were in Springfield, Ill., on March 1 for his first start. He threw again March 7, fanning seven over five innings in what would turn out to be his last trip to the mound as the season that was halted a few days later due to the coronavirus.
"The whole COVID-19 thing screwed everything up," Patrick said. "I was disappointed no one got to have a season. Some guys had 19 games, some guys had 10. We were ready to play, then it was like, whoa. It changed everything for everyone. Scouts couldn't get out and see guys play. They had to look at virtual stuff. Some seniors are finished with school and aren't going to come back."
Had a normal season ensued, Patrick fully expected this week to be the start of his professional career. He had spoken to roughly 10 teams since first appearing on the radar in the Northwoods League, where he helped Traverse City to the title.
"He struggled a little bit the first half of the season, but he had a week off and came home and we made a couple adjustments and he took off in the second half," PNW pitching coach Shane Prance said. "He was trusting his stuff and he legitimized himself as one of the top pitchers in that league. He's a big-time competitor and had a chip on his shoulder to prove himself against high-level players."
Patrick was holding consistently at 90 to 94 miles per hour and hit 96 in the league's MLB Dream Showcase on July 22, tossing two strong innings.
"The calls started after that," Patrick said. "It was a really cool experience. It's literally like minor league baseball. You're there the whole summer. You've got bus trips, a host family. It was 72 games in 75 days. I got off to a rocky start, but I found my groove and was feeling really good every outing out there. I was confident in myself and confidence is a big key when you pitch. I started meeting new guys, I asked a lot of questions. I'd see what works for them and apply it to myself, use it to my advantage."
The Royals became especially interested in the 6-foot-2, 195-pound right-hander who had put on about 30 pounds and nearly 10 miles per hour on his fastball since his time at Hebron.
"From day one as a freshman, he set goals to develop the consistency and quality of each pitch," Prance said. "My biggest challenge for him was to get his bottom number up on his fastball -- he was up to 91, 92 but would show 84, 85 at times -- and develop a change-up. We worked a ton on cleaning up his mechanics. He bought into that right away and was holding 88 to 92 by the end of the season, and he developed a power change-up by his sophomore season to go along with a nasty slider."
Patrick was an all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletics Conference honorable mention pick as a freshman, when he topped the Pride with 39 strikeouts in 32 innings. He was a second-team all-GLIAC pick in 2019, pacing PNW in innings (60.0), strikeouts (63), ERA (3.45), complete games (six) and strikeouts per nine innings (9.45).
"I always thought I had good stuff," Patrick said, crediting Prance and Joe Plesac for his development. "In high school, I was more of a thrower. I weighed like 165 my senior year. I didn't even use my legs. I started learning different things, throwing different pitches."
A normal MLB Draft has 40 rounds with over 1,000 players selected, but the impact of COVID-19 on baseball has been significant. In addition to the MLB season sitting in limbo, minor league seasons were cancelled with some organizations letting players go. As a result, the draft was reduced to five rounds and 160 players.
"Even if it had been 10 (rounds), I think (my chances) would have been pretty good," he said. "Now I think it just comes down to if they want to take a chance on me. The area scout for the Royals is really pushing for me. I had a Zoom meeting with five of their scouting directors two weeks ago. I'm crossing my fingers."
In addition to Kansas City, Patrick talked to the White Sox a couple times over the winter and also had meetings with other teams. As organizations began to contact Patrick, they typically asked him if he had any representation, so he realized the need to find an advisor. In conversations, the name of Sam Samardzija -- the brother and agent of the Giants' Jeff Samardzija -- from the Wasserman Agency kept popping up.
"Everyone mentioned him but I didn't reach out to him because he didn't know me," Patrick said. "It was around Thanksgiving. I was leaving a casino and was getting Snap Chats that Jeff was at Franklin House (in Valpo). We got up the nerve to go up to Jeff and ask for a picture. I shook his head and asked him, 'Is your brother here? I want to talk to him about advisor stuff for college kids.' He was like, 'yeah, he's right over here.' We had a 10-, 15-minute conversation, I showed him some video of me pitching. We met up for coffee and it went from there."
Since scouts were unable to see Patrick in action, he began posting workout clips on a YouTube channel that he links on an baseball prospects information site. While field access has been limited, he has been able to throw at Right Approach Performance in Valpo and Demotte's Field of Dreams.
"He's got a special arm and I think his velocity is going to continue to climb as his body develops," Prance said. "And now he's got two off-speed pitches that he can throw to both sides of the plate to go with it. His best baseball is definitely ahead of him."
The final four rounds of the draft will take place today starting at 4 p.m. Patrick expects to get a bullpen session in before settling in at home to watch around 5:30 or 6. If he doesn't get drafted, he'll return to PNW next season, retaining junior eligibility.
"I'll probably have a couple friends over. They think it's cool. My family's excited. They'll be on edge with me," he said. "I'll take it as it comes. I'm low key. I'll always remember where I came from. The past few days, I've been thinking about the draft, if my name is called. If not, I'll be disappointed, but it's out of my control. If it doesn't work out, I've reached out to the Traverse City coach and got a contract out there. I'll let the cards play out how they're going to play out."
Purdue Northwest junior Chad Patrick was a good bet to be selected in the Major League Baseball Draft this week but the Hebron graduate's chances took a hit due to the impact of COVID-19, which not only limited his season to two games pitched before it was cancelled but prompted the draft to be reduced from 40 rounds to five. If he doesn't get drafted, he will return to Traverse City for the Northwoods League this summer and go back to PNW for another season. (Photos provided)