CHICAGO - For the first time since he became a big leaguer, Patrick Wisdom isn’t facing any questions about making the team. Nothing like that at all.
Now the questions are about producing again.
"The cat-and-mouse game, right?" Wisdom said Monday. "It’s a chess match."
One the Chicago Cubs need him to win.
While the Cubs stumbled to a 71-91 record last year, they had two pleasant surprises in Wisdom and first baseman Frank Schwindel. Wisdom set a single-season franchise record for rookies with 28 homers, topping Kris Bryant’s 26 in 2015, and Schwindel batted .342 in 56 games.
Neither player is going to sneak up on anyone this season, and Chicago is hoping what they accomplished in 2021 is a harbinger of future success instead of a fleeting aberration — the type of one-year wonder that baseball sees all the time.
"It’s the league figuring you out, and then having to make that adjustment," said outfielder Ian Happ, who has experienced a roller coaster of ups and downs since swatting 24 homers as a rookie in 2017. "I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve gone through, probably a couple different times throughout my career."
Happ said he thinks Wisdom, 30, and Schwindel, 29, will be able to build on their success, because of their experience level and their personalities.
"They have great demeanors for what it means to be everyday big leaguers," Happ said.
Wisdom was selected by St. Louis with the No. 52 pick in the 2012 amateur draft. The third baseman made his big league debut with the Cardinals in 2018, but he was traded to Texas that December.
After appearing in two games with Chicago at the end of the 2020 season, he finally got an extended opportunity last year. He was promoted from Triple-A Iowa on May 25 and produced an .823 OPS in 106 games, second among major league rookies with at least 350 plate appearances.
It was a memorable year for Wisdom on several fronts. Wisdom and his wife, Caroline, welcomed their second daughter, Claire, early in the season. They also have Molly, who is 2 1/2 now.
"They don’t care if you got two homers or two strikeouts. They don’t really care. They want you to be dad," Wisdom said. "Which is a good reminder, too. It’s good to put things into perspective and see what really matters."
While Wisdom described himself as "super grateful" for what happened last season, he said he arrived at this year’s spring training with his usual mindset.
"I knew I had to come to spring with something to prove," he said. "Something in my nature, I don’t want anything handed to me."
The Cubs claimed Schwindel off waivers from Oakland last summer and added him to their big league roster on July 30. He then recorded at least one hit in 15 of his first 17 games with his new team.
From the time he joined Chicago through the end of the season, Schwindel recorded a major league-high 76 hits. He hit 13 homers and collected seven game-winning RBIs, becoming a fan favorite at Wrigley Field along the way.
"It was an unbelievable experience. It was a lot of fun," said Schwindel, who has been slowed by back tightness during spring training. "It’s tough to beat, but I’ve got to try to go back and do it all over again."
That’s the trick for both Wisdom and Schwindel. Wisdom had four homers in 43 career games before last season. Schwindel, an 18th-round selection by Kansas City in the 2013 draft out of St. John’s University, was a .114 hitter (4 for 35) when he was acquired by the Cubs.
Looking to establish themselves as regular big leaguers, they’re also confronting the challenge in a similar way.
"I try and keep the same mindset," Schwindel said. "Not put any more or less pressure on myself. Just settling in and finding that groove that I had last year and go from there."