On Friday night, I noticed an online comment that Cubs minor league outfielder Drew Wharton had retired. In an era where it’s seemingly easy to be triggered by machinations in the baseball business that seem counter-productive, I wanted to write an article to assess an announcement that even the most rabid Cubs fan would probably disregard. Wharton, likely, provided well beyond his value to the team.
A 30th round choice in June 2018, Wharton was a senior sign. From the Clemson Tigers program, he was a reserve defense-first outfielder his first three college campaigns. In the high-end Atlantic Coast Conference, he managed but 100 at-bats in his first three college seasons, connecting on three extra-base hits, all doubles. In his senior season, he became a regular, hitting seven homers and displaying a .744 OPS.
The Cubs paid the Parks, Recreation and Tourism major a very scant bonus to join the Cubs pipeline. When you factor in what Wharton received as a professional for salary, he probably banked less than $10,000 as a total. Looking at his MiLB OPS of .592, the cynic in a caustic environment can toss of a rather disrespectfully flip analysis of Wharton’s career. They might even feel justified in doing so.
However, here’s a look at what probably happened. No, I can’t cite chapter and verse on any of this stuff, but the basics seem rather traditional. When the Cubs were scouting Wharton, along with 29 other organizations, it’s doubtful anyone saw him as a future Double-A starter. It could have happened, but it’s doubtful. The Cubs called Wharton’s name, and had him come out to Mesa to fulfill his role.
That role was to be who he had been his entire college career. He was, as mentioned, a good defender. He seemed a good college base runner in my tracking. His job in Mesa was to show “who he would be with” how to prepare for opportunities. Wharton was experienced. All four of his college teams reached the Field of 64. Three ended the season ranked. He contributed to that success.
On the Arizona Cubs 2 team Wharton was assigned, he was sixth in total at-bats with 128. A bit of closer inspection will reveal that early-round outfielders Brennen Davis and Cole Roederer were both assigned to Wharton’s team. Regardless what Wharton did in the batter’s box, a case could be made that his biggest contributions could be in influencing two outfielders Cubs prospect fans will be fascinated by the next few years.
Do you think it’s remotely possible that some of Wharton’s “professionalism” may have rubbed off on the two kids who never played a single college game? While that sort of thing can’t be forced, a locker room is only so big. Wharton was a center fielder. Roederer and Davis both have some center field in their games. A rather large part of the Cubs recent strategy in the draft has been to draft quality individuals off-the-field, and let nature take its course.
Another hitter on the roster was second baseman Reivaj Garcia, a very young player from Mexico. While Garcia and Wharton play different spots, it could be that Wharton was helpful in developing Garcia, or anyone else on the roster. In part because Wharton was playing most of the time, anyway.
If Wharton helped any of the more viable prospects on the Mesa team to be better players, he outplayed the amount the Cubs paid him. This pin-action of selecting college senior talent pays off eventually; or it doesn’t. Over the long haul, teams that project/guess best on which incidental pieces will be most benefited.
Not all of drafting is about statistical markers. Wharton probably helped develop younger players in Mesa, before deciding to get about adulting. Best of luck to Wharton in his future endeavors. Similarly, best to Cubs scouts and executives as they assess potential June selections, both major and incidental. May the next batch of Drew Whartons help the Cubs well into the future.