After hitting two moonshots of home runs last night, Kolten Wong was the hero of the Cardinals’ rubber match against the reigning World Series Champion Boston Red Sox and shocked all of Cardinals’ country. Even ace Adam Wainwright and uber-prospect Oscar Taveras were stunned by Wong’s display of strength.
So while Wong has been having an excellent season so far (outside of a slow April), is he truly the Cardinals’ answer for the future?
Minor League Tenure
Wong was first drafted by the Cardinals in the 2011 draft with the 22nd overall pick and was immediately regarded as the number 4 prospect in the Cardinals’ organization. After he signed on June 25, Wong reported to the Single A Quad Cities team and proceeded to hit .335/.401/.510 in 47 games.
After his incredible success at Single A, Wong reported to Double A Springfield for 2012. In his first full professional season, Wong’s numbers dropped a bit, but nothing significant to show that he was overwhelmed. Wong still hit .287 with 9 home runs, proving that not only could he hit professional pitching but could hit with power as well. Finally, in 2013, Wong hit .303 at Triple A Memphis before his call-up at the end of the season.
Here’s where the narrative changes a bit. In 32 games with the Cardinals in 2013, Wong struggled to hit .153 and only had one extra base hit in 59 at-bats. Wong was still picked to be on the postseason roster, but only had one hit in six at-bats over the course of the Cardinals’ World Series run.
Cue 2014. Wong struggled for the first couple of months before he got hurt in mid-May and was sent down to Triple A when he got healthy. Once again, Wong dominated minor league pitching to the tune of a .360 batting average and earned his call back up to the majors. Since the end of June, Wong has hit .280 and has hit 8 of his 9 home runs this season.
Wong now has a cumulative WAR of 1.6 for 2014 and has posted a wRC+ of 96. To translate both of those fancy advanced stats, Wong’s 2014 is indicative of a very average player. But those number are taking into account Wong’s dreadful April, May, and June, so Wong’s true value may still be hidden.
But none of this answers the central question surrounding Kolten Wong; is he the Cardinals’ long term second baseman?
Based solely on his minor league stats, absolutely yes. Wong is an incredible prospect who has continually shown he is better than the talent at the highest minor league level. However, he is still adjusting to the talent jump from Triple A to the MLB. 2014 is his rookie season, so there is no reason to assume he won’t eventually make the adjustment.
The biggest obstacle holding back Wong right now is his falling OBP. Currently, he is striking out more and walking less in the majors than he has at any other level. And since Wong’s speed is a big part of his value, his inability to get on base poses a huge problem for his long-term goals.
Over the next five years, Wong is projected by Oliver projections to be around a 2.5 WAR player who hits around .255 with 10 home runs a year. While that is a very good projection that indicates a league-average player, Wong has the potential to be so much more.
So will Wong be the second baseman of the future? Most definitely yes. His ceiling is so high right now as long as he stays healthy and makes an adjustment in his plate discipline. Also, the fact that he is projected to be at least a league average player is a positive sign for his floor to be high enough for him to start for this club for years to come.
So rest easy Cardinals’ fans and just know that this won’t be the last time you see Waino make that face.