Path not clear cut, but future bright for Wong
Second baseman participates in second prospect showcase, eyes callup
NEW YORK -- The path to the Majors was expected to be quick for Kolten Wong, a first-round Draft pick in 2011 who plays a position that the Cardinals have long plugged with stopgaps, not long-term fixtures. Wong, many believed, was to be the exception.
He very well might still be, too. Wong has shored up his defensive skills over the past two seasons, particularly benefiting from Jose Oqunedo's tutelage during Spring Training. His offensive production has really never waned.
And yet -- unrelated to anything he has or has not done -- Wong has watched his climb to St. Louis stall.
Where and when and how Wong will fit into the Major League picture has become more complicated over the past few months. Matt Carpenter, who some thought could be merely a capable placeholder while Wong wrapped up his polishing in Triple-A, has become one of baseball's better first-half stories.
He'll be in New York this week, too, as a first-time All-Star, voted in by his peers as one of the elite second baseman in the league. Carpenter has found his permanent job, the same one Wong had hoped to assume this summer.
"Matt has done an amazing job," Wong said on Sunday, shortly before participating in his second SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game. "You can see in the guy that he loves playing the game and that he's an athlete. As of now, I'm just playing in Triple-A, doing what I can do to show the Cards that I'm ready, and at the end of the day, I know I advanced a level from last year."
While Wong's immediate future may be a bit more complex than it was earlier this year, the Cardinals remain plenty high on a prospect ranked by MLB.com as the organization's third best, behind outfielder Oscar Taveras and pitcher Carlos Martinez.
For Wong to be considered for a promotion before September, it would seemingly require an injury to one of the Cardinals' starting infielders. He is hopeful, however, of getting a call when rosters expand in the last month.
"That [being a September callup] is definitely something that I would love to be a part of," Wong said. "Whether playing or not, I would love to be a part of that atmosphere, and to see what that's like would be amazing for me."
Though Carpenter's emergence at second base has blocked Wong for now, it does not necessarily indicate a long-term issue for Wong. Carpenter's versatility gives the Cardinals several options on how to construct their roster beyond this season, and with David Freese due another significant raise through the arbitration process this winter, it's possible the Cards consider dealing him away.
Doing so would allow Carpenter the chance to shift to third, a more natural position for him. Wong could then slide in at second base.
"At the end of the day, if I do what I need to and show the Cardinals that I'm ready, that's all I can do," Wong said. "I can't tell them I want to be out there now. It comes down to whenever the Cardinals feel it's time for me to be up there, I'll be up there."
Wong said he would be agreeable to playing other positions if the Cardinals wanted to increase his versatility. For now, however, that is not a part of the organization's plans.
"At this point, we are pleased with his progress at second and believe he is improving every day," general manager John Mozeliak said. "What he has accomplished both offensively and defensively has been impressive. With regard to other positions, we have not considered that at this time."
In his first season against Triple-A competition, Wong, 22, has hit few snags. Through the weekend, he has hit .298 with 54 runs, 16 doubles, seven triples, seven homers and 29 RBIs. He is 13-for-14 in stolen base attempts and has seen his on-base percentage tick up through a willingness to take more walks.
The Cardinals have been pleased with Wong's development on the defensive end, too. His work with Oquendo during two Spring Trainings has been particularly beneficial and has pushed Wong to work specifically on his positioning and first-step quickness.
Wong entered Sunday's Futures Game in the fifth and singled on the first pitch he saw from Rafael De Paula (Yankees). Wong swiped second before being stranded at third. He flied out in his next at-bat.
On defense, Wong helped turn a pair of double plays for the U.S. Team, which defeated the World Team, 4-2.
Wong was the only Cardinals representative in Sunday's showcase game at Citi Field. He was supposed to be joined by Taveras, but a nagging ankle injury forced the outfielder to remove himself from the roster. Taveras did not travel to New York City to participate in any of the peripheral events, either.
"He's the one guy that you want to have here," Wong said of his Memphis teammate. "He's so exciting to watch and the perfect guy for this type of event."
Wong is set to rejoin the Triple-A club this week for the second half of its season. Memphis entered the day trailing Iowa (Cubs) by one game in the Pacific Coast League American Northern division standings. Wong, who has already won championships in the Midwest League (2011) and the Texas League ('12), has his eye on adding a PCL title to his collection.
And then, of course, he'd welcome the chance to be part of such a postseason push in St. Louis.
"That's the beauty of being with the Cardinals," Wong said. "You know that when you go up, you're going to be in contention, you're going to be fighting for a World Series. If you're part of a team like that, it's special."