Prospect Wong staying patient in Springfield
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – When the text message arrived to his phone last December, Cardinals second base prospect Kolten Wong wasn’t sure what to think.
“When I first got the text message, I kind of thought it was a prank,” Wong said.
The message said it was Matt Holliday and he wanted to invite him to St. Louis for a few days to work out, hit and get a chance to see the city.
“You don’t ever hear something like that,” Wong said. “I showed my dad and he was drawn back also because we hadn’t heard of anybody doing that. I texted Matt back right away and said absolutely, I’d love to come there and work out.”
So Wong, the Cardinals first round draft pick out of the University of Hawaii barely five months earlier, took the three-flight, day-long journey across the ocean to St. Louis for an experience he’ll never forget.
And one that helped jumpstart his prominence in the Cardinals organization.
“He basically took us around and showed us St. Louis and how he works out,” Wong said. “He took me to my first hockey game, which was awesome. I’ve become a big fan of hockey now. We did a lot of really cool things.”
Holliday also invited slugger Matt Adams and Memphis shortstop Ryan Jackson to St. Louis for the impromptu prospect mini-camp. In addition to working with Holliday, the trio hung out and became close with third baseman David Freese.
The camp paid huge dividends for Wong when he arrived for his first big league spring training in February and already was friends with two of the most prominent players on the team.
Learning from infield coach Jose Oquendo and watching the likes of Rafael Furcal, Tyler Greene and Dan Descalso up close, Wong soaked up as much information as possible. He even contributed, knocking home the game-winning hit against the Atlanta Braves in the bottom of the ninth inning in a spring game at Roger Dean Stadium.
“It really just kind of showed me what I needed to do to be there some day,” Wong said. “I saw a lot of guys like Holliday and Freese and how they carry themselves and it’s made me want to be that much more of a player and that much more of a professional.
“When you have coaches like we have, that’s all you want to do, just learn everything you can. I was fortunate enough to work with all of them and just soak it all in. It was great.”
The way Wong is playing, he’s well on his way to soon joining Holliday and Freese in St. Louis. He was so impressive during the spring that the Cardinals elected to have him skip High-A Palm Beach and start the year with Double-A Springfield.
Barely a year since the Cardinals drafted him, Wong appears on the fast track to St. Louis. He’s hitting .307 in 53 games with Springfield with five home runs, six doubles, four triples, 36 runs scored and 23 RBI.
The left-handed hitting Wong has nine stolen bases and a .370 on-base percentage while batting in the leadoff spot.
“I’ve really been pleased with Kolten,” said Springfield manager Mike Shildt. “This time last year he was in college baseball playing at Hawaii, so in his first full season to be at the Double-A level, he’s more than held his own. He’s in the top ten in hitting at the moment. He’s got ability and it always helps to have that obviously.
“He has a good swing. He’s got a good idea what he’s doing. He’s got a low maintenance swing, he has a feel for it which is important. If he gets a little out of whack which is not very often, he can get it back. He also has a good approach and knows what he’s doing with the bat.”
Wong has once again teamed with former Hawaii double-play partner Greg Garcia up the middle for Springfield, helping ease his transition from Low-A Quad Cities last year to Springfield.
Garcia, drafted a year earlier by the Cardinals, played shortstop for Hawaii while Wong played second base and is now again playing across from him at shortstop for Springfield. The two are roommates both in Springfield and on the road.
While Wong’s fast arrival at Double-A may have surprised some, count Garcia among those who expected it to happen.
“From the moment he got to UH, he hit,” Garcia said. “He was just born to hit. His defense, he’s been playing an exceptional second base this year and he continues to grow as a baseball player. It’s fun to watch.
“He squares up so many balls and I think what separates him is he’s so competitive. He doesn’t want any pitcher to beat him, no matter the situation. He goes up there trying to hit the ball as hard as he can.”
Wong appears to be the Cardinals’ second baseman of the future, which could be as early as next year. The Cardinals have used three different second basemen – Tyler Greene, Dan Descalso and Skip Schumaker – but none have taken a stranglehold of the position.
Some say the current trio is just keeping the spot warm until Wong arrives at some point in the near future. And with those expectations already being thrown his way, Wong is trying to take it all in stride.
“There’s going to be pressure because they didn’t draft me with their first pick for no reason,” Wong said. “They had that idea, but that’s the one thing I told myself, just go out there and play. We have guys like Tyler Greene and Daniel Descalso who are up there and who are doing a really good job. They are playing the position well right now and I’m going to keep playing as hard as I can here and whatever happens, happens.”
Wong knows his chance will soon come. He could go to Triple-A at some point later this summer, putting him on track to potentially make the Cardinals roster out spring next season. Or his path could be a little bit slower.
Regardless, Wong is expected to be a contributing player for the Cardinals in the near future. And he’s doing everything he can to be ready when the time comes.
“I know I’m going to get a shot and that’s the reason I’m so relaxed right now,” Wong said. “Because I know the Cardinals are confident with me and they know I can play there someday. I’m going to keep working hard and doing whatever I can to show these guys that I will be that person one day.
“I’m just going to keep playing as hard as I can. Hopefully they give me a shot but if not I’ll keep playing and keep doing what they ask me to do. Whatever they need me to do to win.”
The way he’s hitting, Wong could help the Cardinals do a lot of winning in the near future.