Pipeline Perspectives: Wong tops at second base
Strong bat, plate discipline gives Cards infield prospect nod over Boston's Betts
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Remember a time when playing second base was seen by some as a demotion for former shortstops? Such players were perhaps thought of in the same category as relief pitchers back in the day, when they were perceived as little more than failed starters before bullpen roles rose in importance.
It does seem like we now live in a different world. Sure, maybe many of today's second basemen started out as shortstops long ago, but there's no failure attached to sliding over to the right side of the infield. Dustin Pedroia winning the 2008 American League MVP Award got things going, for sure, while Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler have also added to the cachet of playing the position. The 2013 MVP Award voting had two second basemen finish in the top five, one in each league.
Look at this year's Top 100 Prospects list and you'll see there's more impressive talent coming from the keystone. There are four second basemen on the list, double the number from 2013. There was only one on the 2012 rankings, the first year it was expanded from 50 to 100 names. Clearly, it's a renaissance time for the position, making it a good time to talk about some of the best second-base prospects in this week's Pipeline Perspectives.
I have the easy job this week, taking the highest-ranked second baseman in Kolten Wong. Jim Callis has decided to argue for Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts, who is ranked third on the list of Top 10 second basemen and No. 62 overall.
Wong is ranked No. 58 overall, with the Rangers' Rougned Odor sandwiched between Wong and Betts at No. 59. And while Jim may argue about Betts' athletic upside, I'm more than happy to have the certainty of Wong's bat on my side of the debate.
The Cardinals prospect gets a 60 ranking on the hit tool (on the scouting scale of 20-80). That represents Wong's future grade with the bat, and that qualifies as above average. Individual reports have put his bat as high as 70 -- high praise indeed. There is little question that Wong is going to hit.
I know what you're thinking, and I'll tell you this right now: You can forget about Wong's big league debut in 2013. That was 59 at-bats spread over 32 games. It screams small sample size, not to mention how the lack of regular playing time made it impossible for him to find any rhythm at the plate.
Wong moved into the first round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft because of scouts' belief in his hitting ability. Hitting .378/.492/.560 in his junior year made believers out of many, though he hit throughout his time at the University of Hawaii (.358/.450/.563). Wong looked like a quick-to-the-big-leagues advanced college hitter, and he hasn't disappointed. He has hit .301/.365/.446 in the Minors, and he made it to St. Louis in just over two years.
Wong has good strike-zone discipline and doesn't strike out much. He may not be that big, but he has compact strength with more than enough bat speed to drive the ball. Wong is going to run into 12 or so home runs a year and hit the gaps with enough doubles to be a real threat.
But Wong isn't just an offensive-minded second baseman. Despite the World Series pickoff, he's a savvy baserunner, and even though he's not a burner, he's put in work to become a threat to steal. Because Wong has played second base for a while now, he's comfortable there and has the chance to be an above-average defender.
Wong is ready to show it at the Major League level. Betts will be a solid big leaguer, too, but he hasn't played above Class A. Seeing him do well at a higher level would help his cause.
The Cards traded one-time World Series hero David Freese to the Angels this offseason mostly because they needed outfield help, and they got it in the form of Peter Bourjos. But they also felt comfortable in moving Matt Carpenter (one of the aforementioned top five MVP vote-getters at second base) to third and giving Wong every opportunity to be an everyday player in St. Louis this season.
The Cardinals went to the World Series in 2013, won it in 2011, made it to the National League Championship Series in 2012 and have been in the postseason in four of the past five years. I'm not saying they're always 100 percent right, but if Wong is good enough for them, he's certainly good enough for me.