In 2011, the St. Louis Cardinals finally addressed a long-term need at second base by taking Kolten Wong with the 22nd pick of the first round in the First Year Player Draft. Here is a quick look into the prospect’s career so far.
Bio and Statistics
His Cape Cod League MVP in 2010 along with his incredible overall performance in his junior year at Hawaii the following year is what sold the Cardinals on his ability to become an impact player in the big leagues one day.
In a little under two full seasons in the minors, Wong has yet to disappoint. He may be small in stature at 5’9″ and 185 pounds, but his bat looms much larger than his frame.
In 717 at-bats between Single-A Quad Cities and Double-A Springfield in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Wong was able to hit exactly .300 while racking up 8 triples, 14 home runs, and 78 runs batted in. He had a respectable .362 on-base percentage and was able to swipe 30 bases.
His impressive performance led to his selection for the MLB Futures Game in 2012 where he wowed the Kansas City crowd with a “Wizard”-like standing backflip before the game.
Wong has followed those two seasons up with probably his best minor league season yet for Triple-A Memphis thus far in 2013. In just 62 games, he is hitting .319 with 14 doubles, 5 triples, 5 home runs, and 23 runs batted in. He continues to regularly get on base with a .359 on-base percentage and has been more efficient on the base paths going 11 for 12 on stolen bases.
His Tools (in a nut shell)
As shown by his minor league statistics at every level so far in his career, the transition from college baseball to professional baseball has been relatively easy for Wong. This is a direct testament as to how polished his skills are for a 22 year old kid.
He is able to do just about everything at a high level–from hitting to fielding to base running. He may not be a 20+ home runs per season player, but the Cardinals don’t need that from the second base position. Also, do not be alarmed by the fact that he recorded 17 errors in Double-A Springfield last season. He is such an incredible athlete, and it is guys like Wong that Jose Oquendo just loves being able to work with. Oquendo will spot flaws in Wong’s fielding mechanics, and Wong, being the great athlete that he is, will correct them and eventually become a gold-glove caliber defender.
Here lies a tricky situation.
Matt Carpenter has taken off as the Cardinals everyday second baseman and has flourished at the top of the lineup. He is not arbitration eligible until 2015 so the Cardinals will be able to keep him at a great value.
Despite an extremely slow start, David Freese has caught fire and was able to ride a 20 game hitting streak to improve his season batting average to a season-high .291. Freese, who signed a $3.15 million one year contract before the season, is due a hefty raise at the end of the season. After all, he was the sole reason the Cardinals escaped with a victory in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series en route to the team’s eleventh championship.
Well, how I see it, there are two legitimate options:
1. Let Freese go at the end of the season. Thus, in 2014, M. Carpenter will start at third, and Wong will start at second. This will be a very controversial move considering Freese is a hometown hero, but economically, it will leave the Cardinals in the best position, especially if they feel Wong is ready to regularly contribute at the major league level.
2. Re-sign Freese at fair market value and keep M. Carpenter at second. This option will most likely cost the Cardinals somewhere near the Allen Craig contract range of $5 million per season or higher based on how Freese finishes 2013.
This option will keep Wong out of an everyday spot. However, it will be in the team’s best interest to put him on the big league bench instead of keeping him in Triple-A for a second season in a row. Freese is injury prone, and for how hot M. Carpenter has been this year, he has not proven he can stay hot for an entire season yet. Plus, Wong will be able to fill in when Carpenter needs rest or will be able to fill in when when Carpenter slides over to third to give Freese a day off.
Notice that neither option included trading him before this season’s trade deadline like Ken Rosenthal originally eported. This year’s team is a special one, and it would be foolish of the front office to alter the chemistry going into the stretch run. I trust John Mozeliak enough to know that he will not tinker too much with a team performing at such a high level.
Thus, the front office of the Cardinals will be facing some extremely difficult decisions this off-season. Wong has been proving that he is on the cusp of the big leagues for two seasons now, and 2014 very well might be the year for him to take over at second for the Cardinals.
In order to do that, though, St. Louis will have to part ways with its hometown hero, Freese. This will be tough for the city, but it may be the best option when it comes to both finances and the future of the team.
Either way, it is a good problem to have, and it is imperative that the Cardinals keep Freese through the end of the season because moving him before the deadline would be a huge detriment to this team’s unique chemistry.
Until next time…