'Next best' to Trout? It's All-Star Wendle

Kidding aside, Rays infielder 'thankful and excited' to be named first-time All-Star at age 31

July 10th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG -- After the Rays’ win over the Blue Jays on Friday night at Tropicana Field, manager Kevin Cash called a team meeting inside the home clubhouse. He had an announcement.

“Mike Trout was selected for the All-Star Game, but he can't come. So they wanted the next-best player in the league: .”

Wendle was officially added to the American League All-Star roster on Saturday morning, earning the first All-Star nod of his career after a strong first half for the defending AL champions. The 31-year-old infielder was selected by MLB as one of 10 players replacing All-Stars unable to play in the Midsummer Classic on Tuesday night at Coors Field.

“I think humbling is the best word,” Wendle said. “And thankful and excited.”

Wendle has been the Rays’ most productive player this season, totaling a team-leading 2.5 WAR. He is in many ways the quintessential Ray, too: unheralded upon arrival, under the radar on a national level, versatile in the field, valuable in a variety of ways and a consistently top-shelf defender. Now, he’ll join catcher Mike Zunino in Denver and receive the recognition Tampa Bay believes he deserves.

“A guy who shows up every single day, loves the game of baseball, plays as hard as anybody,” veteran left-hander Rich Hill said. “Couldn't be happier for him. The entire locker room was thrilled when that announcement was made. Really, really cool.”

Wendle is the second Rays third baseman to make the All-Star team, joining franchise icon Evan Longoria (2008-10). He’s also the second Tampa Bay player to make the All-Star team while making starts at three different positions, joining former super-utility man Ben Zobrist (2009). He’ll be the oldest Rays position player to make his first career All-Star team, surpassing Carlos Peña in 2009.

Wendle entered Saturday’s game hitting .275/.337/.453 with a career-high-tying seven homers, 21 doubles and 33 RBIs. He has totaled six defensive runs saved and four outs above average, according to Statcast, while spending most of the season at third base (48 starts) and mixing in time at shortstop (14 starts) and second base (four starts).

“It's super exciting. I'm definitely honored,” Wendle said. “You look in our clubhouse, and I see just so many guys deserving of the All-Star Game, so many good players. And then you think about around the league, too, I mean, there's so many good players that won't be playing in the All-Star Game. So I'm just truly humbled to even be in consideration, and then to be picked as kind of like the last-minute guy, it's just really humbling and exciting. I'm looking forward to it.”

It has always been Wendle’s defense that has set him apart. The day the Rays acquired him from the A’s in a low-profile deal for player-to-be-named-later Jonah Heim -- fittingly, on the same day the AL East rival Yankees made a big splash by landing Giancarlo Stanton -- general manager Erik Neander described Wendle as a “grinder-type player” who’s “really a high-quality defender and is about as reliable as they come."

Those traits won’t land Wendle on many highlight reels, and they haven’t made him a household name like many of the players he’ll share a clubhouse with in Denver. Cash still loudly refers to Wendle as “Mendle,” a running gag about an MLB Network graphic that misspelled his last name, and joked Saturday that he wants to have an All-Star “Mendle” jersey made.

But four seasons into his time with the Rays, those traits have defined Wendle and, now, made him an All-Star.

“The elite-level [defense] and doing it at really three different positions, and we've watched it for many years now,” Cash said. “And then this year, you add in that he's swung the bat really well. He's gotten big hits. He's always in for a big at-bat for us. But I'm glad people are recognizing and appreciating his defense, because we certainly did.”

Given how late he learned of his appointment on Friday, Wendle said he texted family and friends to share the news. But they were clearly thrilled to learn of his All-Star nod, as Wendle said he wound up speaking to “most” of his family. He’s most excited to share the experience with his wife, Lindsey, and two sons, Jack and Luke.

Wendle said he was also looking forward to spending the week with Zunino, another first-time All-Star, along with Cash and the Rays’ coaching staff, who will be overseeing the AL team as a reward for reaching the World Series last year.

“Not that you're going to pick and choose what years you make the All-Star team,” Wendle said, laughing, “but I couldn't have really picked a better one than this year.”