If Patrick Wisdom sounds like the name of a guy the Cardinals just conjured out of the ether to terrorize the Cubs, that’s because he is. Except in this case, the magic is working in the other direction. The 29-year-old Wisdom was the 52nd overall pick in the 2012 draft and spent parts of seven seasons in the St. Louis organization and made his MLB debut in 2018 before being traded to the Rangers for outfielder Drew Robinson.
That in itself is interesting because Robinson, now at the Triple-A level with the Giants, is playing baseball again after a suicide attempt in April of 2020 left him without his right eye. If you haven’t already done so, please take some time to read Jeff Passan’s incredible piece about Robinson’s journey. Just be warned that it’s incredibly difficult at times.
Though Wisdom’s time in the Rangers system was brief, it offered a glimpse of what he’s done with the Cubs here in 2021. He bashed 31 homers for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds, but only saw action in nine MLB games as a stand-in for the injured Ronald Guzmán. Wisdom had hit 31 dingers for Triple-A Memphis in 2017 as well, so the power wasn’t a sudden development.
Still, the Rangers had no room for him just as the Cardinals had to move him because Matt Carpenter was locked into a spot. The Mariners then signed Wisdom to a major league deal in late 2019, but designated him for assignment and later released him in August of 2020. That’s where things start to get really Cardinalsy, just in a better direction.
A team that already has Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant, plus David Bote in a reserve role, probably isn’t the best landing spot for a slugging corner infielder. Even though Wisdom had gotten a little experience in the outfield with Nashville, 25 total games of professional experience don’t necessarily make for a featured section of the ol’ résumé. Common sense aside, the Cubs inked Wisdom to a minors deal in 2020 and he ended up going hitless in two plate appearances during the short season.
He was designated for assignment on the final day of the season in order to accommodate Brailyn Márquez on the roster, after which point Wisdom elected free agency. He was back with the Cubs on a new minors deal three months later and joined the big club in late May when Matt Duffy landed on the IL with a stiff back. Initially viewed as a temporary replacement for the man who’d helped key the Cubs’ May turnaround with his contact approach, Wisdom’s promotion instead resulted in a record-setting power barrage.
Before getting into that a little more, it’s important to discuss Bryant’s role in this whole thing. Wisdom had never been able to break through on a big league roster because other teams had players who either couldn’t or wouldn’t move from their primary positions. Bryant, however, hasn’t played third base in nearly two months, which has covered several outfield injuries while paving the way for Duffy and Wisdom to excel.
So in addition to the tremendous value he’s provided in his own right, Bryant’s versatility has allowed other players to contribute in more meaningful roles. You don’t typically think about baseball players making those around them better, that’s typically the domain of basketball and football, but Bryant is doing it this season. Seems like a guy an organization would like to keep around. But I digress.
After going hitless in two pinch-hit appearances, Wisdom homered on May 27 in his first Cubs start, which actually came in right field. It was actually the first and only time he’d ever played in the outfield as a big leaguer, for what it’s worth. Another fruitless pinch-hitting stint preceded a pair of 1-for-3 starts at third before things really got rolling.
Wisdom homered twice in the Cubs’ series-opening win over the Padres at Wrigley, then hit another dinger in the second game. He then went on a three-game homerless skid before hitting one in the third game against the Giants and two more in a big win to close that series. That was enough to earn him NL Player of the Week honors, which he celebrated by popping a two-run shot in Tuesday’s win in San Diego.
The eight homers have all come in Wisdom’s 10 starts, tying him with Aristides Aquino of the 2019 Reds for the most in a player’s first 10 starts with a team. As you may well recall, five of those Aquino homers came against the Cubs and three came in one game in August of that season. It’s only fair, then, that the Cubs get to balance out that historical footnote.
Wisdom is providing both power and solid glovework as he finally gets his first real chance in the bigs. And even though he won’t be able to sustain a 1.457 OPS much longer, he’s forcing his manager to keep finding a role for him even as other players return from the IL.
“Some of the guys have said it best: ‘Just keep trying to get Wis up there and watch what he can do,'” David Ross told the media. “Really impressive at-bats, staying within his approach. Just super excited for him and for us and the way he’s been playing. He’s really picked us up at a time when we’ve got a lot of guys down.”
I don’t envy Ross picking through the branches of his decision tree once Duffy and Nico Hoerner come back, but I have to think trimming an infielder who’s been worth -0.2 fWAR would make things simpler. Wisdom continuing to produce, even at a more pedestrian level, would further simplify the process. But hey, the Cubs can cross that bridge when they come to it.
In the meantime, let’s just sit back and enjoy the ride as a dude no one else seemed to want becomes the guy no one can stop talking about.