Kolten Wong came into this season with a solid pedigree and a strong minor league track record. He hit no lower than .341 during his 3 years at the University of Hawaii and showed double-digit power and speed. Wong was drafted in the first round by the Cardinals in 2011 and moved quickly through their minor league system showing the same skills he displayed in college. In 2013 at AAA, Wong batted .303 with 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 412 at bats. He flopped when called up for a brief cup of coffee later that year, but that did not deter St. Louis. They were confident in what they had and were determined to move ahead with Wong as their starting second baseman for 2014.
Fast forward to spring training 2014, Wong seemed primed for a breakout. Over the course of 18 games (53 at bats), he batted .375 with 2 home runs and 2 stolen bases. Granted spring training stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but his hot spring combined with the preseason hype moved Wong up draft boards and on to a number of sleeper and breakout lists. There was some skepticism over how well Wong would produce, but the overall belief was that if he could maintain the batting average he produced in the minors, he would be a worthy fantasy addition.
Kolten’s spring numbers briefly carried over into the regular season, but that early success was short-lived. He went 3 for 9 in his first 3 games, scoring 2 runs and walking 3 times. After that, things started to go south. Wong showed flashes of potential at times with several multi-hit games; for the most part, he was lucky to come away with a single over the next 3 weeks. While the Cardinals were still high on their second baseman, they thought it would be best if he worked out his issues in the minors so he was sent back to AAA. He ended the month of April with a .221 batting average.
The change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered. Over his next 18 starts for the Memphis Redbirds, Wong batted .360 with 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 6 steals and scored 16 runs. This is what the Cardinals were hoping for when they first handed him the job. Since he appeared to have righted the ship, Wong was brought back to St. Louis on May 16th. He still struggled at times but showed vast improvements over his first month of play. By the end of May, Wong’s batting average was up to .269. In that 2 week stretch he hit .333 with 4 doubles, 5 stolen bases and scored 7 runs.
I guess April showers do bring May flowers, but things weren’t all sunshine and roses for the month of June. Wong cracked his first home run of the year on June 3rd, unfortunately he injured his shoulder later in the game which threw his month into a tailspin. He missed a number of games due to the minor injury, and his batting average took a hit when he was in the lineup. All the work he had put in to bring the average up to .269 was quickly erased and by June 20th, that average was back down to .228. He managed only 2 hits in the 30 at bats after his grand slam, and the Cards decided to place him on the DL The issues with his left shoulder obviously weren’t going away without rest, and just like his demotion to AAA in April, the DL trip turned out to be for the best.
At this point of the story, fantasy owners had mixed emotions when it came to Kolten Wong. The ones that expect all rookies to hit right out of the gate had already tossed him back and moved on to or awaited the next blue chip prospect to come up from the minors. Some of those that threw him back in April were quick to pick him back up in May only to drop him again in June. A few owners held onto him in June despite his struggles, but I’m sure most of them were scratching their heads wondering if it was worth it. Was Kolten Wong worth it? Can he hit for average? Will he turn things around soon or will it take him a few years? Can he be a fantasy relevant player or is he nothing more than a AAAA guy who only impresses us in small doses? All legitimate questions. You don’t want to dump a guy who has the potential to be a top 10 player at his given position, but you can’t waste a roster spot on someone when there are several better options on waivers that can help you now.
Wong had his ups and downs over the first 3 months; while there were some positives to take away there were also some negatives. In 155 at bats he had 9 walks and only 17 strikeouts. While we would like to see more walks from Wong (8.3 Walk percentage in the minors), the low strikeouts were encouraging. While the month of May was encouraging batting average wise, it was driven by an unsustainable .381 BABIP. A ground ball rate over 50% is a good thing for someone with Wong’s speed, but with his contact skills you would expect a line drive percentage above 16. I’m sure owners and fans were hoping for the best, but I don’t think many expected what would come next for Wong.
In his first game back from the DL, Wong went 2 for 4 with a home run. Two days later he went 2 for 4 again with his third home run of the season. The following day he hit another home run and stole a base. The following 4 days he either hit a home run or stole a base. The power spike was unexpected, almost reminiscent of Jean Segura, but the speed had finally arrived. His walks deteriorated and his strikeouts spiked, but the batting average increased in July from .228 up to .244 (a modest beginning). Wong finished July with a .284 batting average, 5 home runs and 6 stolen bases. His OBP was only .319, but just like his average, it was a big improvement over what he had shown to date. Unlike in May, his average wasn’t driven by luck. Wong’s BABIP for July was .308 which is easily sustainable. While this was only 67 at bats and a small sample size, it was an encouraging sign and a reason for hope.
Wong continued his hot hitting in August. So far this month, Wong is batting .286 (even with last month) with 3 home runs and 2 stolen bases. His .314 BABIP is right in line with what he produced in July so again, luck is playing no part here. Part of the shift in average could be due to his shift in line drive and ground ball percentages. His GB% was over 50 for the first 3 months but has dropped below 40 for July in August. In turn, his line drive percentage has gone up to almost 24%. I’m assuming Wong decided that walks are fascist so he’s no longer taking them, but he still is enjoying the occasional strikeout. You can’t expect improvements everywhere at once, but at least the gains he is making are the ones that count in fantasy. The best part about Wong this month, he’s back in the two hole after being moved to 8th upon his return from the DL.
So what should we expect of Wong moving forward? I expect the average to come down in September. It won’t be enough to make Wong unplayable, probably in the .265 – .270 range. That’s right around where ZIPS and Streamer predict him to finish, but don’t be surprised if he surprises everyone and continues to hit .280 or higher. The power we saw in July and so far in August, you can hit the ignore button on that. His average fly ball distance this year is 272 feet, that’s Matt Carpenter, Derek Jeter and Chris Owings territory. He was never profiled as a home run hitter so don’t expect more than 4 from here on out. He does have speed and a very good success rate so an additional 6-8 stolen bases isn’t out of the question. As long as Wong is hitting at the top of the lineup you’re only going to get about 8, maybe 10 RBIs for the remainder of the season. Runs will come down to how well he hits. If he can maintain a batting average of .280 or higher, 12 to 15 runs could be in the cards. If it falls down to the .265 range, I wouldn’t expect more than 10 (unless he learns to take a few walks). If Wong hits in the .280 range, you’re looking at a top 10 option at second base for the rest of the season, but if that average falls to where ZIPS projects it to be, Wong will probably rank just outside the top 12. This is still good enough for those leagues that use a MI slot.
For next year and beyond, I expect continued success for Wong. Next year will be similar to this year with the occasional ups and downs (although the lows will be less extreme). Overall he should produce a solid bottom line and finish in the bottom half of the top 10 for second base (or just outside of that). Long term I expect his value to fall between Elvis Andrus and Jose Altuve. He has a little more pop than both men but a little less speed. His batting average will be the tell-tale, but Wong has enough plate discipline to be a .290 hitter for years to come. Expect 12 home runs and 25 stolen bases annually. I don’t see him as a top 5 option, but he will be one of the best options to grab once the big names are gone.
If you need help at second base and by some chance Wong is available, pick him up.