Wong building case to aid Cards at top of lineup
Polished second-base prospect could find himself in Majors in 2013
There's much to like about St. Louis Cardinals second-base prospect Kolten Wong.
I saw Wong play in the Futures Game last July in Kansas City as well as during the recently concluded Arizona Fall League.
Wong had an outstanding career at Kamehameha Hawaii High School in Kea'au Hawaii.
As well as being a top scholar, Wong played baseball and football and was named the 2008 state co-baseball player of the year. He hit an amazing .660 as a senior. In fact, he never hit below .500 in any of his four years playing high school baseball.
Following high school, Wong's play earned him a selection in the 16th round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.
Deciding instead to attend the University of Hawaii, Wong had an outstanding collegiate career. He earned countless awards and recognition playing in the infield, the outfield and even as a catcher.
The Cardinals made Wong the 22nd overall player selected in the 2011 Draft. He was chosen as a second baseman, the position he played most frequently at the University of Hawaii. He is currently ranked by MLB.com as the No. 4 prospect in the Cardinals' organization.
For me, Wong is currently an offense-first second baseman. That is not to say he can't play solid defense. Rather, it is to say that the offensive part of his game is currently more advanced.
Wong is 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds. He bats left-handed while throwing right-handed.
The recently turned 22-year-old Wong is strong and agile. He makes the most of every inch and pound of his frame. However, his physical development may be complete, offering very little opportunity to add much additional weight in the form of muscle and strength.
Physically, Wong reminds me of Chicago Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney. Barney is an inch taller and five pounds lighter. Their games are similar as well.
Wong has a very short, quiet, compact swing. He has very little movement prior to the pitch. Rather, he concentrates on recognizing pitches early and swinging at those pitches he feels he can handle.
Wong sees the ball very well out of the pitcher's hand. His concentration and patience help allow him to take pitchers deep into favorable hitter counts. That skill has resulted in a very good contact rate.
Having the ability to consistently put the bat on the ball as well as being able to accept walks help profile Wong as a top of the batting order hitter. He should be able to get on base and score runs.
In parts of two seasons of Minor League Baseball, Wong has a composite batting average of .300. He has played for Class A Quad Cities and Double-A Springfield. Wong's composite on-base percentage is a very strong .363.
While Wong does not possess game-breaking power, he does have enough pop in his bat to hit his share of home runs or drive the ball to the gaps. He will hit enough long drives to require defenses to play deeply enough to avoid giving up the easy extra-base hit.
Wong's good bat control allows him to take pitches deep and see the pitch long enough to drive the ball exactly where it is pitched. He is rarely out front on pitches, thereby avoiding hitting countless foul balls to right field, his pull side. His eye-hand coordination is another one of his outstanding hitting qualities.
More often than not, I have seen Wong's base hits come from spraying the ball on a line to all fields or just over the head of the second baseman.
In the Arizona Fall League this past season, Wong hit a very respectable .324 with one home run and 12 RBIs. He stole five bases, but he was caught stealing three times. Like he has done in his Minor League career to date, he had an outstanding on-base percentage of .342.
While hitting for average is probably Wong's most advanced tool, he also has the ability to run well and potentially steal bases.
Smart and solid running the bases, Wong has good instincts and realizes risks he can take and risks to avoid. This past season he stole 21 bases, but he was caught 11 times. He has the speed and athletic ability, but he needs better base-stealing technique. He has to refine his ability to "read" pitchers.
Defensively, Wong is probably Major League average at second base. That's the only position I've seen him play.
In the Arizona Fall League, Wong had 94 chances at second base and made three errors.
Wong may "think" too much on defense as opposed to acting on his instincts and reacting naturally.
His first step is rather slow to both sides, impacting his overall range. In addition, he has a bit of a delay coming in on short-hop grounders in front of him.
I have seen a strong and accurate arm as well as good footwork on the turn of the double play.
Some scouts I have spoken with think he may be best suited as a center fielder or catcher. To the contrary, while I don't think he'll become Robbie Alomar, I do think he will continue to improve as a second baseman. I would not change his position at this time.
Of the players I saw this past fall in Arizona, Wong was among a handful I felt were closest to finishing their baseball skill development. He may, indeed, find himself in St. Louis before the 2013 season concludes.
Wong could prove to be a good table-setter at the top of the order for the Cardinals' power hitters.
Players like Kolten Wong, with the ability to make contact, hit for high average, bunt, accept walks and execute the hit-and-run provide the impetus for the main objective of the game -- scoring runs.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.