Cardinals prospect Wong eyeing big league gig
Second baseman aiming to be Opening Day starter after postseason play
Kolten Wong stood by his locker, answering question after question. He answered them all candidly, emotionally, sincerely, showing poise well beyond his years and experience.
That was Wong's World Series experience following Game 4 against the Red Sox, having to face the music after getting caught off of first base by Koji Uehara to end the game. Wong received plaudits all around for not hiding in the clubhouse and handling the media throng with veteran presence. But as impressive as that was, the 23-year-old certainly doesn't want that to be the only mark he leaves on the game.
"It didn't really affect me too much after," Wong said. "I'm not the first guy to get picked off. I won't be the last. I'll learn from it and move on from it. I don't want that to be my image. I know I'm a good player, and I have the opportunity to get better."
Clearly, the Cardinals agree. The 2011 first-round pick out of the University of Hawaii, ranked No. 1 on the top 10 second-base prospects list, took just two years to reach St. Louis, albeit as a bench player at first. Being added to the postseason roster was the first feather in his cap. Getting the chance to be the starting second baseman on Opening Day would be another.
"I'm super excited," Wong said. "Last year, I got the chance to see what those guys got to experience who play every day. I hope I get the chance this year to go as far as we did last year.
"My job [last year] was to pinch-run, pinch-hit once in a while. I wanted to be sure I knew how to approach that. Now that I'm getting a chance to start, I want to make the most of it."
When the Cardinals dealt third baseman David Freese to the Angels this offseason, moving Matt Carpenter back to third, it was a signal to Wong that the organization believed he could get the job done. Even the signing of veteran Mark Ellis didn't take away from that message.
"Our whole plan was to give Kolten a very good opportunity to play every day," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said last month after the Ellis signing. "A lot of things happen, and this is just something that we felt like if we could go into the year knowing that we had depth and really protection at almost every position, we would feel more strongly about what we were able to accomplish this offseason.
"All of us who have gotten to see Kolten play at the Minor League levels the last couple years believe in him. We believe he's capable of being an everyday player at the big league level. When I look at those six weeks as a sample size of his production, I wouldn't read too much into it."
The six weeks Mozeliak refers to is the time Wong spent up with the Cardinals when he hit just .153 in 59 regular-season at-bats. It was one of Wong's biggest takeaways. Even though he knows that not playing every day didn't help, he couldn't help but notice that he was a little slow to the ball at the plate, something that almost never happened as Wong's hit .301/365/.446 in his Minor League career.
"When I was up there, I could tell my swing was getting a little long," Wong said. "I usually have a short, compact swing. My swing was either getting longer or the ball was getting on me quicker. I worked this offseason on shortening my swing. Hopefully time and playing every day will help."
Wong doesn't lack for motivation, and it goes way beyond moving on from his baserunning blunder. The Freese deal is giving Wong what any prospect wants: an opportunity. He wants to show the Cardinals' brass he's worth giving that chance to.
"It gave me a good amount of confidence," Wong said of the trade. "It shows the Cardinals have a lot of faith in me. To get rid of someone of David Freese's stature, it's an honor. But it means I have to return the favor and be ready to go."