When Kevin Goldstein compiled his Padres Top 11 prospects list in December, he listed infielder Drew Cumberland as the team’s sleeper. KG described the 23-year-old as “an easy Top 11 prospect before being forced to retire due to a rare medical condition that affected his balance,” and was optimistic that he could return to that level after receiving the go-ahead from doctors. Sadly, those hopes were short-lived.
On Monday, Cumberland informed the Padres that he is retiring from baseball. The neurological disorder, known as bilateral vestibulopathy, had taken its toll, and—combined with Cumberland’s history of concussions—proved to be too much to overcome.
There are few sadder things in the game than seeing a player who spends virtually his entire life working toward a major-league career have those dreams dashed by something entirely out of his control. A .316/.380/.430 hitter in the minors, Cumberland might have one day become an everyday infielder for the Padres. But the glimmer of hope doctors gave him this winter quickly disappeared when his symptoms apparently recurred in Peoria.
When he was first forced to retire last June, Cumberland stayed in the Padres organization as a coach for Class-A Fort Wayne, taking a similar path to that of former Rays and Red Sox outfielder Rocco Baldelli, whose promising career was cut short by a chronic muscular issue. Baldelli is now a special adviser to the Rays’ front office.
Given Cumberland’s résumé as a high draft pick (46th overall in 2007) and top prospect, as well as his experience in dealing with physical challenges, he has all the ingredients to go into coaching or player development. Cumberland’s days of hitting line drives and turning two may be over, but—assuming he chooses to stay in the game—he’ll be an asset to the talent-laden Padres organization off the field.