The St. Louis Cardinals promoted second baseman Kolten Wong to the major league roster today. As VivaElBirdos points out, this will move Matt Carpenter over to third base and relegate David Freese to the bench, assuming of course that Wong lives up to expectations. What can we expect from the newest Cardinals rookie?
Wong was drafted by the Cardinals in the first round in 2011, from the University of Hawaii. The 22nd overall pick, he earned a $1,300,000 bonus. He started all three of his college seasons and performed well each time, hitting .341/.416/.597 as a freshman, .357/.441/.534 as a sophomore, and .378/.496/.560 as a junior. He also stole 53 bases in 178 college games, drew 103 walks, and struck out just 63 times.
He began his career with Quad Cities in the Midwest League, hitting .335/.401/.510 in 47 games after signing. Even advanced college hitters sometimes struggle with a direct jump from the NCAA to High-A, but Wong was excellent.
On the other hand, he wasn't as dominant with Double-A Springfield last year, hitting .287/.348/.405. There was nothing wrong with his batting average or OBP, but he didn't show as much power as anticipated, or at least as much power as fans wanted, given his past performance. However, he played well with the glove, stole 21 bases, and earned the respect of Texas League scouts for his instincts and heady play.
He's continued to play well in Triple-A this season, hitting .303/.369/.466 with 10 homers, 21 doubles, 20 steals in 21 attempts, 41 walks and just 61 strikeouts in 463 plate appearances. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and has earned his promotion to the Show.
Wong is a 5-9, 185 pound left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, born October 10, 1990. He's obviously not a big guy, but he's a good athlete with a solid set of tools, including a strong throwing arm. His running speed isn't spectacular, but he has excellent instincts and will make the defense pay for any mistakes, taking the extra base aggressively and stealing bases at a sound percentage. He doesn't have the pure range for shortstop, but he's developed into an above-average defender at second. Again, his instincts for the game help. He's also a very good bunter.
With the bat, Wong isn't a walk machine but he has a good eye for the strike zone and makes contact; his strikeout rates have always been very good. His marvelous BB/K ratio in college must have attracted the sabermetrically-minded Cardinals front office. He has a simple, short, compact swing that shoots line drives to all fields. Most of his power comes against right-handed pitchers; he doesn't have as much pop against lefties, but still maintains a good batting average against them at least.
In the majors, Wong projects as a .280 hitter, perhaps .300 in his best seasons, with a good number of doubles, occasional home runs, a fine OBP, double-digit steals, and valuable defense. He could be something like Howie Kendrick with a better BB/K ratio or Todd Walker with a better glove.
Wong is one of those guys who always seems to be in the middle of a critical play, and I mean that in the best way.