Second-base prospect pushes Carpenter to third base; platoon could develop
CHICAGO -- Desiring a spark over the status quo, general manager John Mozeliak said on Friday that after weeks of considering Kolten Wong to be Major League-ready, the Cardinals felt it was finally time to shake up the look of the big league roster.
Wong, St. Louis' top-ranked healthy position player prospect, joined the Cards at Wrigley Field on Friday. The effect of his arrival was seen immediately, too, as Wong was slotted into the starting lineup, batting sixth and playing second. That, in turn, pushed Matt Carpenter over to third base. David Freese was on the bench.
Though Wong will not immediately be an everyday player, the Cardinals intend for him to play regularly. That means decreased playing time for Freese and more bouncing around by Carpenter, who has been the team's starting second baseman this season. Carpenter's natural position is third, so there are no concerns about moving him back there.
Freese, when healthy, has been St. Louis' starting third baseman since the start of the 2010 season.
"This organization is about winning," Freese said. "I'm about winning. I think everybody in the clubhouse is about winning. I hope Kolten comes in here and helps us get to the postseason. And I think he's going to do that. He's obviously a talented guy, a great person. As far as my playing time, I'm just going to be ready every day. If Kolten is at second and Carpenter at third, I'm going to be ready to come off the bench. I'm going to still have my opportunities. I've done a lot for this organization, and I plan on continuing to help this team be successful.
"To get to the postseason, everybody has to be on the same page. You want to have the best 25, especially going into the last part of the year where you're fighting for the postseason."
Manager Mike Matheny met with Freese prior to Friday's game to let him know that he will still have a prominent role on this club. While the Cards have not publicly outlined their plans, it could be that a platoon situation will emerge with the right-handed-hitting Freese and the left-handed-hitting Wong. Carpenter would then slide back and forth between second and third as necessary.
"All we're trying to do is maximize what we have," Matheny said. "Kolten has been our most consistent guy in Triple-A. ... And in order to use him, we're going to have be creative and guys are going to have to understand that we're trying to help our club as a whole."
Freese endured a terrible start to his season from which his overall numbers are still recovering. After injuring his back during a Spring Training tumble, Freese hit .209 with no homers, three doubles and four RBIs through his first 27 games. Since then, his production has more closely resembled his career work. Since May 17, Freese has batted .290 with 39 RBIs and 18 doubles. However, the power has still been slow to show.
"I'm still hopeful he can get things going," Mozeliak said. "Right now, my responsibility for the organization is to make sure we put the best team out there that we can. I still think David could be part of that, but we are also trying to inject some new life into the club."
Wong becomes the 18th rookie to appear for the Cardinals this season, and the 11th to make his Major League debut. He is also the fifth Hawaiian-born player in franchise history, and the first with the Cards since first baseman Joe DeSa in 1980.
Wong learned of the callup in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Thursday, shortly before heading to the ballpark to play in Memphis' doubleheader. Instead, he boarded a flight to Chicago, landing at about 7 p.m. CT. Wong's parents and sister arrived from Hawaii a few hours later.
"I'm just glad to be here and excited to get my professional career started," said Wong, the team's top pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. "My dream has come true just by signing a piece of paper. Just being out there will be something I'll always remember."
Though Wong profiles as a potential leadoff hitter, Matheny said he does not have plans to remove Carpenter from that spot. Wong could be an option to hit second, or, as he did on Friday, slot in toward the bottom of the lineup.
In his 107 games with the Triple-A club, Wong batted .303 with an on-base percentage of .369. He swiped 20 bases in 21 attempts this season; St. Louis, as a team, has just 30 steals in 45 tries. Defensively, Wong had a .974 fielding percentage.
"To Kolten's credit, his game is a little bit of everything," Mozeliak said. "He's going to add a speed element to our team. He's going to add a defense element to our club. And hopefully from an offensive standpoint, he can handle this league. That's always the big question mark when you bring a young position player up."
Mozeliak said he did consider how such a shakeup to the roster could affect a tight team in a tight division race. Ultimately, though, the Cardinals felt the best chance to play into October would be with Wong in the mix.
"You never know how it brings a team together and how [Wong] fits," Matheny said. "I think he has potential to be a very good defensive player, and I think he has a chance to be a very well-rounded player."