Prospect spotlight: Cardinals' Kolten Wong plays big
Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong says his 5-foot-9 frame has made him into the player he is today -- that and his father Kaha, a former minor-leaguer himself.
Most discussions of Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong begin with his size. He's just 5-foot-9, but to him, that's not a disadvantage, it's an advantage.
No, it's not an advantage because he has a smaller strike zone or lower center of gravity, it's because he's always been short and it's made him into the player he is today. The Cardinals' first-round pick last season is hitting .298/.371/.439 for Double-A Springfield, after recording a .335/.401/.510 season in low-Class A Quad Cities last season. The way Wong has been able to perform in his brief pro career has led some to believe that he could end the Cardinals' rotation door at second base as soon as next season. And all that because, he says, he stands just 5-9.
"Everyone has that prototypical player, 6-foot-3, pure athlete. I wasn't that, but what I had was I could play all aspects of the game," Wong said. "I had decent speed, I can hit, I can throw. And I know the game inside and out. If someone had the same talent as me, I knew I was smarter than them on the field, I knew what to do in any situation. It comes back to my dad and being a young kid and he drilling it into my brain all these things of what to do in different situations.
"I learned to play to my size. I don't try to play above. I try to play how I know I can play and how I can succeed."
And even when he does get to the big leagues, he won't be the shortest second baseman in the National League Central because at his size he'd easily be able to post up the Astros' 5-foot-5 Jose Alutve. A year ago, Altuve was right where Wong was, the Texas League. Since then he's made a name for himself in the big leagues, starting last season and hitting .321/.361/.472 entering Thursday's game in San Francisco.
"I see myself as a guy like that -- we have kind of the same approach to hitting. We're both decent infielders," Wong said. "I remember those guys last year and the first time I saw him play, it clicked. I knew this was the kind of guy I liked to watch play because he reminded me of me."
You don't have to go far to find people who think Wong could be a lot like Altuve. He hit .378 at Hawaii his final year of college and had been the MVP at the wood-bat Cape Cod League in 2003. A line-drive hitter, he has more power than Altuve. He's also a patient hitter who works counts and could be an ideal No. 2 hitter.
The Cardinals knew he would be ready for the minors when he was drafted with the 23rd overall pick, and he showed his desire to prove them correct when he signed quickly after the draft and asked to be assigned to the Midwest League, bypassing the rookie level.
"I told them that's where I wanted to start. I didn't want to start in rookie ball or a lower league, I wanted to be challenged," Wong said. "I asked to be in the Midwest League and they let me play there. It was good for me, and it was fun."
His .911 OPS showed he belonged, so the Cardinals had him skip high-A on his way to Double-A in 2012. There, he's more or less picked up where he left off, despite the jump in competition. As big of a help as that was, he was just as excited to spend time in big league camp this spring, where he could watch the likes of Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina go to work every day.
"To get to watch how they worked on and off the field, it shows you how a winning team goes about their business," Wong said. "I learned if I'm not doing good, how I carry myself, if I'm doing good how to carry myself. You watch these guys and you can see how they've been able to play so many years when you see they get ready for the game and how they take care of themselves."
But those weren't Wong's first role models -- his father, Kaha, played two seasons of Class A ball. Kaha Wong drilled his son on the mental side of the game just as much as the physical. And growing up in Hawaii, weather was never an issue, so he could play baseball year-round, even though he spent time playing the state's most popular sport, football.
"Hawaii's a football state, that's the one sport everyone always played," Wong said. "Growing up, I knew I wasn't going to play football, I didn't have the size. I told myself at an early age that football wasn't going to be my sport. I played football through high school, it was just to get in shape for baseball season and get that toughness. There were only a few of us that took it seriously. And now it's starting to get really popular back in the islands. Kids are starting to realize that if you work hard, you can do it. They've seen us go off and have success. They see if you work hard, it doesn't matter if you're from Hawaii or the mainland, you still have a chance."
• You want to see some stolen bases? Anyone who has followed any bit of minor-league news knows to watch Billy Hamilton at Bakersfield. The Reds' prospect has 74 steals in his first 64 games, but he's not the only player on the team who can run. Outfielder Theo Bowe has 31 steals between Dayton and Bakersfield. Since being called up to Bakersfield, he's hitting .363/.454/.471 with 19 stolen bases in 30 games.
• Mariners left-hander Danny Hultzen, the second pick of last year's draft, hasn't allowed a run in 27 2/3 innings. He allowed just four hits and a walk in five innings for Double-A Jackson on Wednesday. He's 8-3 with a 1.19 ERA and leads the Southern League in strikeouts (79), in addition to wins and ERA.
• The Mets' deal that sent Carlos Beltran is looking better and better for the team. Right-hander Zack Wheeler is 6-2 with a 1.92 ERA in 11 starts. That's even after giving up three runs in six innings on Thursday. He has 70 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.
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