August 16, 2013
The Situation: With the Cardinals offense sputtering just slightly of late, St. Louis is calling up second baseman Kolten Wong, who ranked no. 34 on Baseball Prospectus’ mid-season top 50 prospects list, to jolt the offense. Although the Cards already have an All-Star second baseman in Matt Carpenter, it’s unlikely the 22-year-old Wong is being brought up to ride the pine. Expect to see some lineup and positional shifting. Regular third baseman David Freese is having an underwhelming season––he’s hitting just .269/.348/.386––and Carpenter is experienced at the hot corner. St. Louis could begin placing Wong at second base and Carpenter at third with Freese coming off the bench. That’s a likely scenario against right-handed pitching especially, as Wong and Carpenter are both lefty bats while Freese is a righty.
Background: St. Louis selected Wong with its first-round pick (no. 22 overall) in the 2011 draft. A Hilo, Hawaii native and University of Hawaii product, Wong was a first-round pick despite his second-base profile and 5-foot-9 frame, which speaks volumes about his natural ability to hit and impressive overall skill set. Coming out of UH, Wong was regarded as an advanced bat who would hit his way through the minors quickly, and that’s exactly what he has done.
The lefty-swinging Wong debuted following the 2011 draft with Low-A Quad Cities, where he posted an impressive .335/.401/.510 slash line in 47 games. After spending his first full season at Double-A Springfield, Wong has played the 2013 campaign with Triple-A Memphis. Through 107 games this year, Wong had a .303/.369/.466 slash line that included 21 doubles, eight triples, and 10 home runs. He drew 41 walks, whiffed 60 times, and stole 20 bases in 21 attempts.
Scouting Report: Although Wong’s impressive Triple-A performance this season hasn’t changed his overall projection, it’s becoming increasingly evident that he’ll likely reach that potential. When Wong ranked sixth on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 Cardinals Prospects list entering this season, Jason Parks wrote that Wong projected as a “high-five” player, or a solid-average major-league regular. I wrote the same when Wong was recently profiled with a full scouting report in BP’s Eyewitness Accounts series.
Given his polished all-around skill set, Wong may not be far from realizing that potential right now. He’ll likely provide some immediate value in St. Louis, at least the very least, giving competitive at-bats and flashing good leather. The diminutive prospect shows a future plus hit tool and plus glove at the keystone. While his speed is just average––he’ll consistently show 4.2-4.25 times to first base––his instincts and base-running skills enable it to play up.
While Wong’s overall power is a tick below average, he isn’t a punch-and-judy hitter; he has some sock for a little guy. The Hawaiian doesn’t often expand the zone––he’ll take a walk––but is an aggressive hitter who isn’t afraid to attack pitches within the zone early in the count. He’ll use all fields, showing some gap-to-gap pop all over with some pull-side home run power. At full maturity, Wong could becoming a .280-plus hitter with some doubles, some triples, low double-digit home runs, 15-25 steals, and a good glove. That’s a fine all-around player.
If there’s one area to watch with Wong, it’s his leg kick at the plate (shown in the video below), which tripped him up at times in 2012. When I interviewed Wong earlier this season (a feature that’s coming next week at Baseball Prospectus), he stressed the importance of getting his leg down on time to stay balanced and within his rhythm. It hasn’t been much of an issue this season, however. One Pacific Coast League coach recently told me, “He’s an impressive hitter. We saw the leg kick and tried to exploit it by disrupting the timing. We had our pitchers going into slide steps or using full leg kicks. But he quickly made the adjustment every single time.” —Jason Cole
Fantasy Impact: Sometimes the amount of talent the Cardinals have in the upper minors just seems unfair. If Wong had been in many other organizations, he would likely have gotten the call around June and had nearly 150-200 at-bats under his belt by now. Instead, he had to wait his turn behind a potential MVP candidate in Matt Carpenter and World Series hero David Freese. However, with said hero not quite performing up to expectations (and Carpenter a better fit at third base), Wong has gotten the call and figures to see a majority of the playing time at the keystone.
What fantasy owners need to know about Wong is that his value is likely going to be very dependent on league size and format. He's unlikely to turn into any sort of fantasy superstar, and shallow leaguers may not need to get terribly excited at his upside. The real value long-term is going to come in deeper mixed leagues and points leagues. Think of Daniel Murphy's 2013 season as something that Wong could realistically accomplish in the near future, with a .280 average, 8-10 homers and 15 steals. And in points leagues, he can be a great option due to his high-contact approach, which actually includes taking a walk now and again, unlike many other players who could fit that description--as his 12.5 percent minor league strikeout rate can attest to.
In redraft leagues, Wong is worth grabbing in 14-team mixed leagues and deeper for right now (as long as there's a MI spot). However, he could be worth grabbing in more shallow leagues if he were to start playing every day. In NL-only formats, he's going to be the guy you throw a good chunk of your FAAB at if you have a hole at middle infield. I'd be willing to go up to $12-15 if you're still holding cash at this point. If he can get 100 at-bats the rest of the way, he can hit around .275 with a couple of homers and four or five steals. And if he can displace Jon Jay in the no. 2 spot in the lineup, he could score 15-20 runs even while not playing every day.
In dynasty and keeper formats, Wong is worthy of a pick up in anything but 10-team mixers or leagues where fewer than 75 players are kept. If this trial goes well, he should enter 2014 as the Cardinals second baseman, and fantasy owners love players in strong lineups. In the long run, Wong has the skill set to hit .300 at the major league level and contribute some in the remaining four standard categories. Given the dearth of fantasy stars at the keystone, Wong has the potential to be a steady performer for years to come. —Bret Sayre
Jason Cole is an author of Baseball Prospectus.