Baseball

The “Unusual Suspects” for the Chicago Cubs

Frank Schwindel
Isaiah J. Downing – USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, June 24th, the Chicago Cubs were 42-33 and sat in 1st place in the NL Central. Just over a month later, nearly the entire core of their roster was gone. How did this team go from possible buyers to massive sellers in a rapid one-month span? After picking up win number 42 against the Dodgers, the Cubs then dropped 11 straight games before the All-Star break. A couple of weeks later, Kris Bryant was in San Francisco, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez in New York, Joc Pederson in Atlanta, Jake Marisnick in San Diego, Andrew Chafin in Oakland, and Ryan Tepera and Craig Kimbrel were on the south side of Chicago.

There’s no question the Cubs’ season became a disaster in the blink of an eye. A few unusual suspects, however, have provided a spark for the team and hope for Cubs fans. Let’s start with the guy who came out of nowhere and hit 7 home runs in an 8-game span.

Patrick Wisdom

Wisdom started the 2021 season in triple-A with the Iowa Cubs. When he was eventually called up to the majors in late May, he certainly didn’t waste his opportunity. In Wisdom’s first 36 at-bats with the Cubs, he hit .375 with 8 home runs and a staggering 1.457 OPS. Obviously, nobody can keep up that pace through an entire season, but let’s have some fun with those numbers. The average everyday starter in the MLB has about 600 at-bats in a season. If Wisdom kept that pace of 8 homers every 36 at-bats, he’d hit 133 home runs in 600 at-bats. Not too shabby. In reality, Wisdom hasn’t kept up that pace, but he does have 25 homers in less than 300 at-bats and is in consideration for NL rookie of the year.

What makes Patrick Wisdom’s rise to fame taste even sweeter for Cubs fans is the fact that he was drafted into the St. Louis Cardinals system back in 2012. A 1st round draft pick, Wisdom got off to a disappointing start, not reaching triple-A until 2016. His power really started to show in 2017, when he hit 31 homers for the Memphis Redbirds. During the 2018 season, six years after being drafted, Wisdom finally got called up to the majors. In 32 games with the Cardinals that year, he went 13-for-58 (.260) with 4 homers, 10 RBI, and a solid .882 OPS. After the 2018 season, however, he was dealt to Texas, where he played nearly a full season with triple-A Nashville before signing with the Cubs in August 2020.

It’s been a chaotic, up-and-down career for Wisdom to this point, but it looks like he’s finally found his home on the north side of Chicago. The same can be said for the next unusual suspect.

Rafael Ortega

If you thought Patrick Wisdom’s career has been all over the place, just wait until you hear about Ortega’s story. In 2008, at the young age of 17, he was signed into the Colorado Rockies system. He hit well over .300 through 4 years in summer league and single-A ball. Late in the 2012 season, a tanking Rockies team decided to give Ortega a chance at the big-league level. He made the most of his opportunity, going 2-for-4 with a walk and a stolen base. Unfortunately, those would be the last major-league at-bats he would get until 2016 with the Los Angeles Angels. Ortega hit .317 for L.A.’s triple-A affiliate Salt Lake, but those numbers dipped significantly after being called up to the majors. Since 2016, Ortega’s played for three different organizations before signing with the Cubs prior to the 2021 season.

From 2008-2020, Rafael Ortega had 3 career major league home runs under his belt. In 2021, he did this:

Thanks to GM Jed Hoyer’s moves at the trade deadline, Ortega had a great opportunity in Chicago. He hasn’t only met expectations, he’s exceeded them. In 239 at-bats with the Cubs this year, Ortega’s slashing .285/.340/.473 with 10 homers, 31 RBI, and 8 stolen bases. Prior to signing with Chicago, his career average in the majors was just .229 with an OBP well under .300. After his performance this year, it’s safe to say Ortega has cemented himself as a starter for 2022, as has the next breakout star.

Frank Schwindel

Before 2021, 29-year-old Frank Schwindel had 15 career major-league at-bats. Now, he may be the most beloved Chicago Cub and has earned the nickname Frank “The Tank” Schwindel. Schwindel started his 2021 campaign in Oakland, but was put on waivers and picked up by the Cubs in late July.

His performance in the month of August certainly turned some heads. He hit .344 with 6 home runs, 18 RBI, and a 1.030 OPS. He had just four games without a hit the entire month. That’s great and all, but it’s just one month. There’s no way he can keep hitting at that rate, right? Wrong. In fact, he’s hitting even better in the month of September. Through 11 games this month, Schwindel is hitting .422, including 11 hits over a 4-game span, with a 1.247 OPS.

Frank “The Tank” was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 18th round back in 2013. He spent the majority of his time in double-A and triple-A, not getting a chance in the majors until 2019. After seeing what he’s accomplishing now, teams like Kansas City, Detroit, and Oakland may be wishing they gave him the opportunity that he’s getting in Chicago.

While the rebuilding Cubs will most likely finish the season well below .500, Wisdom, Ortega, and Schwindel have brought life back to the north side after the devastating losses at the trade deadline. These three, along with a much-improved farm system, make the Cubs a team to keep an eye on for the next few years.

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