Drafted in the 24th round in 2009 by the Colorado Rockies, shortstop Joey Wong has steadily established himself as a versatile, smooth-fielding glove man who seems to do a lot of things well. Since his first season with the Low-A Tri-City Dust Devils in the Northwest League, Wong has shown an ability to make frequent contact while drawing his fair share of walks and striking out rarely. But what has made him even more valuable is his ability to cover second, third or short, with nearly the same effectiveness. He moves quickly, has soft hands and makes defense look fairly simple.
After covering Low-A to Double-A from 2009-14, Wong made the jump to Triple-A in 2015 when he played 21 games with the Albuquerque Isotopes. He played another 91 games there in 2016, batting only .233 but sporting an OBP that was 110 points higher and striking out only 52 times in 312 at-bats.
He has settled in at shortstop on a regular basis, where he made only 6 errors in 247 total chances (.976 fielding pct.) and covered enough ground in the process to cement a possible future as a MLB utility infielder.
Wong has also played three seasons in the Australian Baseball League, where he is a well-established presence on the Perth Heat and has batted .263 with 53 RBI and 81 runs scored over a total of 132 games in the league.
While he is currently a free agent, it is doubtful that he will remain so for long given his defensive versatility and Triple-A experience. For the moment, Wong will have to settle for representing an entire nation on the field when he joins Team China for the upcoming World Baseball Classic. I had a chance to speak with him about his minor-league career and this latest opportunity to play on a worldwide stage.
Clinton Riddle: I wanted to start with your time at Oregon State. You were with the 2007 squad that won the College World Series, named to the all-tournament team after you went 7 for 19 (.368). You had been drafted out of Sprague HS (Salem, OR) by the Astros in '06 (46th round), but passed that up to play for the Beavers. The Rox drafted you in the 24thround in '09, but Oregon State's coach (Pat Casey) wanted to have you stick around for your senior season. Do you ever think, in reflection, that coming back for your senior year might have pushed you up farther in the draft?
Joey Wong: I may have been drafted in a slightly higher round, but I think as far as opportunity is concerned signing after my junior year gave me the best opportunity as a professional player.
CR: Can you tell me about your most memorable experiences in the minors, thus far? Anything off-the-field (or on) that really made an impression on you?
JW: There are so many memories in the minors that it would take forever to think of them. It is so much fun getting to know teammates and getting to play the game we love. Most of my favorite memories are joking around and playing games with the fellas in the clubhouse and on road trips.
CR: Have there been any particular coaches who you felt helped you the most?
JW: My dad has been my biggest influence most definitely. He's given so much of his life to training me in all aspects of the game. My high school coach Brian Champion and college coach Pat Casey were great for me during those times in life. Professionally, Anthony Sanders, Joe Mikulik, Lenny Sakata, and Jeff Salazar have all been very influential in my career.
CR: Are there any notable differences in the game in Australia as compared to the game in the US?
JW: Australia is more geared towards winning, whereas my minor league experience has seemed to be more about development. The umpiring is much better in the US, however.
CR: You made it to Double-A Tulsa in 2013 and spent 92 games there. What were the most significant adjustments you had to make once you reached both Double and Triple-A?
JW: I feel like the biggest adjustment between the A levels and AA/AAA is the mental ability and consistency of the players. I think pitchers and catchers are more versed on how to call games and attack hitters at the higher levels. Also, the hitters are more aware of what pitchers are doing and adjust quicker.
CR: You're about to represent Team China in the 2017 WBC. This will surely be the biggest stage you've ever performed on in your life. Tell us how that came about.
JW: Yes, I'm very excited for the opportunity to represent China in the upcoming WBC. They talked to me a couple years ago and asked if I'd be interested and I told them yes. They called again a few months ago and we went through the process of making that happen and everything went smoothly.
CR: You've played SS, 2B and 3B, and four games at first. Do you feel more at home at any particular position?
JW: I grew up playing mostly shortstop so probably there. But I've played enough games all over the infield to feel comfortable playing all of the positions.
CR: Tell me about growing up in Salem. What are the memories that stand out the most for you?
JW: Salem was a great place to grow up. My favorite memories are playing a variety of sports with my best friends. High school was a great time. We were fortunate to win titles in Babe Ruth, school ball, and American Legion. I've been blessed with a great group of core friends that love sports and are very competitive. They've had a huge impact on my life.
CR: Do you have any specific superstitions or habits that you follow before each game? Anything that helps you get into the routine?
JW: I don't have any really crazy superstitions. My pregame is more routine than superstition. I usually put my uniform on in the same order and say a prayer before every game.
CR: What would you say was the funniest thing that has happened to you on or off the field?
JW: In 2014 when I was playing for Tulsa we were on the road in Little Rock and I was asked to do a little skit with Birdzerk between innings. That was pretty funny. Besides that it's been standard funny baseball and clubhouse moments.
CR: In all seriousness: has there ever been a time when you felt like you needed to walk away from the game?
JW: I've never felt like I needed to get away from baseball. There have been many times of frustrations but that's part of the journey. I believe in God's plan for my life and I'll continue playing as long as I feel it is His will.
CR: How do you deal with the long road trips? Anything specific that you most enjoy or that makes the trips easier?
JW: I listen to a lot of music on the road. Occasionally I'll find a good book to read. I like to watch TV shows and keep up with what's going on in other sports.
CR: Any favorite cities that you've visited in the minors? Any that were bad experiences for you?
JW: I loved my time in Asheville, Tulsa, and Albuquerque. Some other cities I've enjoyed are Boise, Vancouver, Charleston, Frisco, Portland, Tacoma, El Paso, Salt Lake, and I'm sure I've missed some as well. There have definitely been some less than ideal situations as well but I won't call them out. Generally all of the affiliates do the best they can with what they have to work with.
CR: What's it like for you when you hear fans asking for your autograph? How does that make you feel?
JW: It's very humbling and an honor to know that people want your autograph. Especially the kids. I hope I can have a positive impact on the kids that watch me play because they are the future of our game and our world.
CR: Who has been the toughest pitcher you've faced?
JW: Definitely Syndergaard. He has electric, nasty stuff.
CR: If you weren't playing baseball, what would you most like to do?
JW: If I wasn't playing baseball I would most like to play other sports. Hockey, football, soccer, tennis, golf, volleyball, table tennis, and basketball are all sports I enjoy.