Prior to the 2012 draft, scouting reports described Patrick Wisdom as a legitimate third baseman with power potential. Some Cardinals fans were disappointed in the pick (number fifty-two overall) because of Wisdom's underwhelming junior year at St. Mary's University, a season that included a ninety point plummet in batting average. The limited data available for college baseball players makes it difficult to explain away Wisdom's struggles, but his walk rate increased by nearly seven percent in 2012, so maybe pitchers just weren't challenging him as often. Even without the less gaudy batting average, Wisdom's park and schedule adjusted wOBA was still above four hundred according to College Baseball Splits, making his season anything but disastrous.
According to The Press-Enterprise, Wisdom was surprised to be selected on the first day of the MLB draft but, as Jenifer Langosch explained, the Cardinals' appreciation for his overall college career and his track record in the Alaska Summer League - where he led the league in home runs twice - trumped his 2012 collegiate numbers. The Cardinals were then able to sign Wisdom for $300,000 below slot, and I suppose that also helps explain why the Cardinals decided to draft him earlier than most experts predicted.
Wisdom jumped into game action quickly, appearing for the Batavia Muckdogs in low-A's New York-Penn League just two weeks after being drafted. Take a look at the table below and you'll see that Wisdom made a great first impression by performing well above the league average in several categories.
|NY-Penn Lg Average||19.5%||8.5%||.246||.320||.347||.101||.667||.300|
All stats in table are courtesy of Minor League Central.
Of those with at least one hundred plate appearances in the New York-Penn League, Wisdom's slugging percentage ranked ninth, his ISO tenth, and his OPS fourteenth. Thanks to sixteen doubles, five triples, and six home runs, Wisdom's extra base potential nearly led the team. Add Wisdom's above average walk rate, and his overall offensive contributions were forty-seven percent better than league average, at least according to FanGraphs' wRC+, a stat you can read about here.
At Future Redbirds' old site in June, Jeff advised us to temper our excitement over short season results and reminded us of Nick Longmire, a cautionary tale who posted eerily similar results for the same level in 2010.
All stats in table are courtesy of FanGraphs.
I tried to find numbers to differentiate these two players, and reasons to explain why it's okay to have greater faith in Wisdom's short-season debut than Longmire's, but not much is there other than acknowledging that Longmire was one year older. They both walked and struck out at similar rates and had slash lines that were supported by similarly elevated results on balls in play. Wisdom hit more line drives and fewer ground balls, but I'm not very confident about comparing minor league batted ball data between 2010 and 2012, so it's tough to insist that Wisdom's fortune is due to some superior skill.
So how can I justify ranking Wisdom number fifteen on my list while Jeff and Azruavatar left him off of theirs completely?
First of all, I really like what people are saying about his defense. He was described as "an excellent fielder" in this Rick Hummel piece and projected as an "above-average defender" in this Jenifer Langosch write-up. And by the time I reached that point of my list, I was left choosing between Wisdom and pitchers with a chance to become back of the rotation starters (Whiting, Gast), decent bullpen pieces (Swagerty, Cleto, Gast), or an all-glove middle infielder (Jackson) who has a chance to earn a starting job someday. With those options, I'm prone to prefer the strong defensive infielder with offensive upside, especially when he is coming off of a season like Wisdom's.
I'm not alone in my decision. While echoing the impressive defensive reports on Wisdom, Marc Hulet of FanGraphs ranked him the Cardinals' fifteenth best prospect (in a list curiously saturated by 2012 draftees) and John Sickels of Minor League Ball made him the eleventh best Cardinals prospect in his annual ranking.
We'd be wise to remember Jeff's warning about short season results, but we also shouldn't completely disregard Wisdom's professional debut. Should he struggle to replicate 2012's numbers or fail to translate his success to a higher level of competition, he probably won't stick around on future top 20 lists, mine included. That's just the nature of the bottom portion of prospect lists. Whether it be intriguing upside from a new draft class, breakthrough performances from prospects starting to realize their potential, or unexpected sustained success from players we can no longer ignore, there will be plenty of candidates ready to steal his spot. But right now, based on Wisdom's reputation and the little data that exists of him, he's deserving. At least in my opinion.