Second baseman Kolten Wong's baseball education has reached a new level this year at Triple A Memphis. (Allison Rhoades/Memphis Redbirds)
By Rob Rains
MEMPHIS – Kolten Wong’s baseball education has reached a new level this season, on and off the field.
One of the St. Louis Cardinals’ top prospects, Wong advanced to Triple A after just a year and a half in the minor leagues, and the former first-round draft pick has proved ready for that challenge.
The 22-year-old second baseman is hitting .300 for the Memphis Redbirds, 13 percentage points better than he hit at Double A Springfield a year ago, and his confidence level has been raised even higher.
What Wong has really learned about hitting this year, and his ability, cannot be reflected by his batting average, he said.
“I’ve gotten to see a lot of big league pitchers who have come down on rehab assignments, pitching against me, and catchers who have been up there,” Wong said. “I’ve been able to talk to a lot of the veterans and get a lot of insight on how I can attack the game from the mental side, what I need to be ready for, different situations.
“I had a couple of situations at bat or on the field and I came back and asked some of the guys ‘Why did they pitch me that way?’ Rob Johnson has been great. I can always ask him the reasons behind some of his pitch calling, or why a team pitched me a certain way. He’s always there to answer questions and fill me in. The biggest thing for me this year has just been learning how to approach every at-bat in every situation.”
Wong, who was 2-for-4 with an RBI and his 15th stolen base Thursday night, can see how different it is facing pitchers with more experience than he has faced in the past.
“If they get behind in the count they will figure out a way to try to change your timing, to change up your rhythm, and will throw pitches that you would not anticipate them throwing,” Wong said. “When you face those kinds of guys it gets you ready for the next step. Those guys (in the majors) are there for a reason. They know what to do and how to get you out. To see that at this level is exciting. If I can beat those guys at this level, I know I can beat them up there.
“I’ve seen a lot of veteran hitters and how they put the ball in play. It’s all a learning experience. One thing I am proud of is that I want to learn and want to play with the top competition.”
Wong also believes he has made progress defensively, not surprising for a player with just 173 games of minor-league experience prior to this season.
“One thing I’ve been very proud of is that I am constantly getting better every year,” Wong said. “I take my defense super serious because that’s the one thing people were doubting about me when I got drafted. I made it a point to prove that I am a good defensive player, you guys just haven’t had a chance to see it yet.”
Wong committed his 10th error Thursday night, in 89 games , after committing 17 in 126 games at Springfield last season.
“There is still a lot of room for improvement,” Wong said. “I can still point to a lot of areas where I can get better – reading balls off the bat, getting a better jump, being able to turn double plays better. There are a lot of things I can learn to become better. Even though I have grown a lot I can still grow a lot more.”
Wong also believes he has learned about to take better care of himself physically through the long baseball season. It was at about this point a year ago when he began to feel fatigued as he played a full minor-league season for the first time.
“Right now I feel great,” he said. “I kind of knew how to take care of my body after last year. I tried to lift more, and carry a little more weight so I would be able to keep my strength up. I feel way better than I felt at this time last year.”
Another area of the game which Wong has learned about this year is something he also has learned he can’t control – trade rumors.
He is well aware that Matt Carpenter has had a great season playing second base in St. Louis. That has led to speculation that Wong could possibly be in play as trade talks heat up between now and next Wednesday’s trading deadline, or then again in the off-season.
That’s a possibility he has tried not to think about.
“I try to ignore it,” Wong said. “It’s one of those things that you don’t want to be looking into too much because it would take away from what you are trying to do as a player. Getting caught up in that you can forget that your main job is to play well here.
“I’m doing whatever I can, but when it gets to that point, if the Cardinals feel they need to make a move, that’s their job to do what they think is best for the team. If it’s for me to leave then it was a blessing to be part of the Cardinal organization and I will go somewhere else and try to help that team win.”
While realistic to the business of baseball, there is no doubt that the only move Wong wants to make is up, to St. Louis.
“Absolutely I do not want to go anywhere else,” he said. “The Cardinal organization is number one, and having been brought up in the organization, I want to start here and would love to end my career here too. That would be something which would be very special to me.
“I’ve just got to keep playing and whatever happens happens. If I get traded I get traded, but my hope is that I stay with the Cardinals and get a call up, either in September or next year.”