Thursday, August 15, 2013

Kolten Wong Set to Debut

                                     It's the Right Time to be Wong

The Cardinals have announced that they have called up second base prospect Kolten Wong and sent Adron Chambers back down to Memphis. Wong will likely make his debut this weekend vs. the Cubs in Chicago. Wong has had a strong season in Triple A and was played in the All Star Futures Game last month in New York. Wong has been a fast riser in the Cardinals system after being drafted 2 years ago out of the University of Hawaii. Only 22 years old, he looks to be a big part of the Cardinals future plans.

How much Wong plays and how it effects other players remains to be seen. Wong has only played second base in the minor leagues. He did play some shortstop in college and some scouts speculated he could play in the outfield. Right now, it's unclear what Wong's role on the team will be. Will Mike Matheny use him off the bench as a weapon later in the game? Or will Wong have a bigger role than that? Could it be similar to the spark that Manny Machado gave the Orioles last year during the stretch run. The Cardinals don't really have any player with Wong's skill set. Wong was 20 for 21 in stolen base attempts for Memphis this year. The Cardinals only have 29 steals as a team this year, dead last in the National League.

One thing for sure, Matt Carpenter will not be setting on the bench. Carpenter has had a breakout season in his second full big league campaign. Carpenter won the starting second base job over Daniel Descalso in spring training this year. The Cardinals have been rewarded with an All Star season. Carpenter has been a sparkplug in the leadoff spot this year. He is currently batting .315 with a on base pct. of .385. He works the pitcher into deep counts and plays hard nosed baseball. He leads the National League with 40 doubles and 90 runs scored. Carpenter also has an amazing 58 RBI's out of the leadoff spot.

The weakest spot in the Cardinals lineup is at shortstop. Pete Kozma is currently batting a moribund .225, slugging an anemic .284, and has a .273 on base pct. It's almost as bad as having a second pitcher in the lineup. The Cardinals hide Kozma in the eight hole and still lead the NL with 584 runs scored. Daniel Descalso has been playing more short lately and is a better hitter than Kozma. Descalso lacks Kozma's range though, leaving Kozma's weak bat in the lineup more often than not. Wong hasn't played short in the minors and it's highly unlikely the Cardinals would throw him into the fire during a pennant race. It's still possible Matheny might experiment with Wong at short or third on occasion.

The player who most likely to lose playing time is third baseman and 2011 World Series MVP David Freese. Freese's heroics helped the Cardinals win it all in 2011 and he set a postseason record with 21 RBI's. He followed up his brilliant postseason with a All Star campaign in 2012. This season Freese hasn't hit for the opposite field power he did the prior two seasons. He only has 6 home runs, and has a lower slugging pct. than Descalso. at .386. Freese hasn't been terrible offensively, batting .273 with a . 348 OBP. Freese is only 6th on the team with 43 RBI's, but 3rd in strikeouts with 77 and 2nd to Matt Holliday with 21 double plays. Double plays are a huge problem for the team in general and the Cardinals have grounded into 119 double plays this season. The club has a lot of slow runners and is a station to station club.

With good play, I think Wong will work himself into the starting lineup. Wong's speed would add a new(and exciting) dimension to the Cardinal's offense. I mentioned earlier that Wong had 20 steals this year, and he also has 8 triples. Wong has some pop in his bat as well, with 21 doubles, 10 home runs, and 45 RBI's. Wong batted .303, slugged .466, and had a .369 OBP in 107 games in Memphis this year. I think Matheny will be creative trying to get him into the lineup. Carpenter is a versatile player who came up as a third baseman, and he can also play first and the corner outfield spots.

Freese can still play a valuable role with the club this season. I doubt that he would be traded this late in the season. This could light a fire under Freese and  motivate him(Kozma could use similar motivation). For the future, the writing is on the wall. The Cardinals declined to offer Freese a contract extension this offseason. The team gave Allen Craig a five year extension prior to the season. Freese is 30 years old and is two more seasons away from free agency. It would be sad to see a hometown guy and a postseason hero get traded, but that very well could happen this offseason. The Cardinals would be a better club with Wong at second and Carpenter at third. It would improve both their offense and defense, and add a element of speed to the lineup.

Kolten Wong's minor league career

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