How about Kolten Wong?!
Finally, we’re seeing the version of the young second baseman that we all
expected hoped for. Since he rejoined the team (and overcame the ill-timed stomach bug that delayed his first game back), he’s done nothing but collect five hits (including two bunt base hits in one game and a bases-clearing double on Sunday), drive in three runs while scoring three of his own, draw a walk, and swipe two (ultimately important) bases.
Basically, he single-handedly brought the power of small-ball back to The Lou.
Not bad for a guy simply trying to “shorten his swing,” eh?
I think we’re all in agreement that his swing and/or his defense was the cover story for the real reason for his two-week stint back at AAA Memphis. That reason went deeper. However, unlike many, I have a theory that doesn’t involve Mike Matheny’s personal grudge or John Mozeliak’s baseball incompetence.
Let me assume something else for a moment, not because I have direct knowledge of the M&M duo’s grand plan, but because it’s simply what we do.
We heard many words used to describe Wong’s implied problem; many key phrases were attached to his demotion. Most of the explanations left most of us scratching our heads because it didn’t quite add up.
But, hind sight, as they say, is 20-20.
…okay, that doesn’t quite apply because, again, I’m completely on the outside looking in at the decision making for the St. Louis Cardinals. My hind sight and theirs is likely dramatically different But I digress.
The point remains. Now that we’ve seen Wong react in a seemingly positive way at the Big League level, I think it’s fair to asses the demotion a bit differently. Things that seemed ridiculous now seem plausible.
For example, Matheny claimed that Wong was not “handling things” particularly well emotionally.
What if the club realized that they’d named him the everyday starter a bit prematurely? That he wasn’t really as ready for that role as they’d hoped? What if Kolten suddenly found himself in over his head and inexperienced enough to not know how to get out? Maybe, and I know I’m coloring a bit outside the lines here, his excitement to be at the Big League level and his “I’m just happy to be here” attitude was not cutting it as his average dropped, his strikeout rate rose, and his confidence plummeted? I mean, correct me if I’m wrong, but “I’m just happy to be here” isn’t how most Big Leaguers handle rough patches.
It’s quite possible that “maturity” really was an issue. Wong is only 23, and he’s had a pretty accelerated rise to the top. The fact that he seems like a good kid with his wits firmly about him doesn’t disqualify him from the possibility of acting (and playing) young. I would argue the “maturity” issue was a matter of approach. Instead of facing an at bat in fear of striking out, he needed to show some fight. Rather than feeling over matched from the get-go, he needed to believe that no one was more capable of getting him out than he was of getting on base.
It’s the “attitude” or “confidence” thing we keep hearing about. Since he’s returned, he’s utilized skills we hadn’t yet seen — the bunting, the running, etc.. Suddenly, he’s more well rounded than previously shown. Not only is he not afraid, he’s determined. He belongs. There’s a difference in confidence given (by someone else’s word) and confidence earned (by personal achievement). As much as I can tell from just three games, Wong is finally the later.
Oh, and this “he hasn’t had to deal with much adversity” nonsense? That sounded especially silly. However, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. While Kolten was surely disappointed with the demotion, he suddenly had to find a way to prove M&M wrong. Since the injury to Mark Ellis this spring eliminated any real competition for the second base position, Wong really hadn’t had to prove himself. What if the demotion was less about what he did back in the Minors to “fix his swing” and more about reigniting a fire that would translate into Major League grit?
Maybe – just maybe – this was the plan all along. Perhaps this was exactly what they were trying to inspire. Dating back to last season, Kolten has been labeled a potential “spark.” Until now, it just wasn’t lighting. If the last three games are any indication, though, he’s finally the spark everyone believed he could be.
Since his return, he’s batting .455 with a 1.084 OPS (I know, small sample size police. It’s three games). The club’s won four in a row (2-1 with Wong in the lineup) while scoring four runs or more in the last seven. Four of the last five games, the starting pitcher has finished the seventh inning. And the intangibles like energy and excitement are at season highs (which isn’t saying much, but it’s a moral victory nonetheless!).
Let’s be honest with ourselves: planned or not, it worked.
Mozeliak and Matheny are either incredibly lucky or brilliant. Either way, Kolten Wong 2.0 appears to be exactly what the Cardinals needed.