With or without the new CBA, Rhett Wiseman was going to be a difficult sign. The top high school prospect from New England has a commitment to Vanderbilt, and his academic credentials are every bit as impressive as his tools. As driven as he is on the diamond, he is equally committed to his education.
Scouting directors do their homework. Going into the draft, they knew that Wiseman‘s stance was, ”First round or Vandy.” They were also aware that he wants to play professional baseball. The prep outfielder was signable beyond round one — but only to a point.
In previous years, Wiseman would have been taken on the second day of the draft. The high-upside teenager was viewed as anywhere from a second- to a fourth-round talent, and big money has historically been available in that range. Last year, nine players selected between rounds two and four were individually given $1 million or more in bonuses, and 19 second-round picks received over-slot money.
Thanks in part to the new CBA, Wiseman went to the Chicago Cubs earlier today in the 25th round. Anything is possible, but the chances of him signing now seems remote.
The fact that he fell to the later rounds isn’t a surprise. They wouldn’t go on record, but several scouts and baseball executives who were asked about Wiseman suggested that he was exactly the type of player who would be impacted by the new rules. In a pre-draft media session, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said, “There may be some high school players who will end up in college who previously would have signed.”
Asked about Wiseman earlier this spring, Baseball America’s Conor Glassey agreed that that the youngster is probably Vanderbilt-bound.
“He’s a kid who might kind of get squeezed by the new CBA,” Glassey said. “He’s got all kinds of tools, but those tools didn’t quite line up with the performance on the summer-showcase circuit. When you combine that with his commitment to Vanderbilt, you might be looking at a guy who slips down. This is an environment where teams aren’t going to be able to throw money at guys later in the draft. It will be interesting to see what happens with Rhett, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up in school.”
Wiseman said much the same when he sat down for an interview on the campus of his prep school, Buckingham, Browne and Nichols, at the outset of his senior season.
“At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to what I want to do,” said Wiseman, who served as the president of his senior class at the Cambridge, Mass., school. “My family is behind me 100% on that. A lot of things will have to come into play — and with the new slotting system — it’s going to take a lot to sign me away from Vanderbilt. I’m very high on the school, so it’s a relationship that’s going to cost a lot to buy me out of.”
Wiseman, who plans to major in business if he doesn‘t sign, did keep the door ajar. Asked if he planned to hold firm on his first-round demand, he said that it depended on the situation. If the right team called his name, he would consider their offer.
Is Wiseman worth a well-above slot offer if the Cubs can find a way to be creative? It’s a difficult question to answer because the left-handed-hitting outfielder is all about projection. A First-Team Rawlings/Perfect Game All-American, he hit .444 this season and was named the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year. His athleticism is off the charts, but his game is less-than-polished. Playing in the Northeast means a shorter baseball season, as well as less exposure to top-tier competition.
Wiseman is doing what he can to make up for any disadvantage. One thing he doesn’t lack is commitment.
“I work out with the strength-and-conditioning coach of the [New England] Patriots,” Wiseman said. “I’ve been with him for three or four years. The workouts are alls structured toward baseball. He has a few baseball players, including pro guys. A lot of Patriots are there, so I’m able to see how professional athletes work out. I also have a nutritionist.
“I hit six or seven days a week,” Wiseman added. “During the winter, I hit with Nomar Garciaparra, who I’ve been able to build a close relationship through my hitting coach, Paul Rapoli. Paul played in the Red Sox organization and now owns a baseball camp in Foxboro [Mass.]. I’ve had some good resources with pro guys who work out there. I’m at a disadvantage compared to guys from the South and the West, so I try to do everything in my power to bring my game to where it needs to be.”
Thanks to the new CBA, it appears that Wiseman’s next game will be in a Vanderbilt Commodores uniform. That may have happened anyway — he was always going to be a hard sign — but he likely would have preferred a tougher decision. Theo Epstein’s Cubs are an appealing option, but the money they’ll be able to offer probably won‘t be.