KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Cardinals Double-A second baseman Kolten Wong hopes to be in the big leagues as early as next year. His teammate, slugger Oscar Taveras, doesn’t even want to wait that long.
“I’m ready to play in the big leagues now,” Taveras said. “Yeah, I’m ready to go.”
The Cardinals will likely wait until at least next season before entertaining the thought of promoting Wong or Taveras to St. Louis. But make no mistake. Both have a chance to be productive big league players in the near future.
The pair of promising prospects put their talents on display Sunday at the Major League Baseball Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Taveras went 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly for the World team while Wong went 0-for-2 but scored a run for the USA team.
Batting third and starting in right field for a talented World team, Taveras grounded out to Wong in the top of the first inning. He was robbed of an extra-base hit in the third inning on a diving catch by Blue Jays prospect Anthony Gose in deep center.
The left-handed hitting Taveras, who just turned 20 years old last month, singled the opposite way in left to lead off the fifth inning against talented left-handed pitching prospect Tyler Scaggs.
“It was a very good experience for me to play here” said Taveras, who launched four home runs out of Kauffman Stadium during batting practice. “To play in a big league stadium, play on a good field like here in Kansas City, it was good. I was really excited.”
Taveras burst onto the scene last year when he hit .386 in 78 games last year to lead the Low-A Midwest league. He’s moved up the prospect rankings even higher this year thanks to a .322 average – which leads the Texas League – and 17 home runs and 63 RBI.
He’s already hit nine more home runs than all of last year in the same number of games and has worked to improve his base running and defense. But it hasn’t all come easy.
Taveras was thrown out trying to steal following his hit in the fifth and made a pair of throws from right field that got away from the cutoff man. One allowed an extra run to score.
“I’m really happy with this season,” Taveras said. “It’s going really well. I’m really happy. I’m just concentrating on improving and playing my best and working hard.
“I’m only 20 years old, my power is coming now. My first year I hit eight home runs in Quad Cities and now I have like 17, so the power is coming which is good.”
Batting second for Team USA, Wong grounded out to second in the first inning and had a comebacker to the pitcher in the third. But the pitcher threw wildly to first and Wong showed off his speed by advancing all the way to third base.
Wong is third in the Texas League with a .310 average and has 10 doubles, four triples and seven home runs. He’s got a .384 on-base percentage and has scored 47 runs in 78 games.
“I think it’s going pretty well,” Wong said of his season. “I started off really hot and then I hit a point where I started to struggle but its starting to even out a bit now so it’s gong really good getting that full season under my belt.
“I’m really on pace right now. I took defense really into consideration this year and trying to get better with my defense and I think I’ve done that. My hitting has also become a lot better. I’ve become a lot more of a selective hitter and not being too aggressive.”
Drafted last June, Wong has already advanced to Double-A in his first full season in the big leagues and appears to be on the fast track to St. Louis. Some think it could happen as early as sometime next year.
And with second base appearing to be a position of weakness for the Cardinals, Wong hopes to prove to the Cardinals that he can be the long-term answer they have been searching for.
“Hopefully next year,” Wong said. “That’s a hard goal to have because it’s not your decision. You can’t tell them when you want to be there. I’m just going to keep playing how I am and hopefully I’ll get there soon but if not, I’ll keep playing.
“As soon as possible. That would be awesome. Whenever the Cardinals feel I’m ready to be there, I’ll be ready to go.”
With Carlos Beltran’s two-year deal set to expire following next season, Taveras would logically fit into the Cardinals plans in the outfield in 2014. But if he continues to progress, they might have no choice but to bring him up sometime next year.
Taveras has the confidence to think he could produce at the big league level right. And while that may be a bit of an overstatement, he’ll likely get his chance to prove it in the next few years.
“I don’t know,” Taveras said. “That is a decision for the team. Maybe I’ll stay in Double-A, maybe I’ll go next year, I don’t know.”
Regardless of when exactly it happens, both appear destined to someday end up in St. Louis. And because of it, the future appears bright for the Cardinals.