Every year, the UCB gang gets together to solve all the world’s problems in one fell swoop. …well, sort of. This year, I kicked off the discussion with the only question I could think to ask: What to do with Kolten Wong?
If you weren’t part of the debate, here’s what you missed…
Seems strange to be kicking this off with the postseason still in very early stages, but …it happens to the best of ’em, right?
So, let’s jump right in.
It seems the list of ways to improve the team for the 2017 season is long – and a bit overwhelming! But in my mind, before John Mozeliak and Company go making major changes, they need to settle into plans and roles for a number of current players whose jobs this season didn’t always make sense – Randal Grichuk, Jedd Gyorko, Jhonny Peralta, and Kolten Wong…to name a few. (This is the part where I ask a very predictable question, considering my rousing support for this particular individual…)
In that light, what is the best course of action for Kolten Wong and the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals? He’s never really settled into the “second baseman of the future” job (likely because they won’t let him have it long enough to get used to the idea!). When he’s good, he’s VERY good, but when he’s bad…well, you watched it. Mo has already implied there will be an emphasis on athleticism, defense, and stability, which could play right into the hands of a gifted athlete like Wong. And yet, Gyorko is lurking, without a steady position to play himself.
So, does Kolten Wong remain with the Cardinals for 2017? And if so, how should the Cardinals define his role going forward?
Great question, and one of my favorites all season — What in the world do we do with Kolten Wong, especially with the arrival and power of Jedd Gyorko? I think there’s room for both, now and in the future. In fact, the possible future role and destination for Wong could very well inform the 2017 plan for both him and Gyorko.
First off, Wong needs to get the Randal Grichuk treatment — second half Randal, not first half Randal. Stick the kid at second base and let him play everyday. Make the job his for 2017, a “make or break, do or don’t” year of sorts, as John Mozeliak is fond of saying. I think the team learned a lot about their own approach and what changes need to happen within that approach with their treatment of Grichuk in 2016. Up and down (AAA to MLB and back) doesn’t work for a player who has nothing more to learn in the minors and only lacks a firm footing in the majors. Sure, you can get Wong a mental break and a few consistent at-bats in a low-pressure environment, but if he never adjusts to the high-scrutiny atmosphere of a major-league job, what’s the point in holding onto him?
If Wong is going to be a future core player for this team, as the Cardinals have always envisioned and intended, he needs to be turned loose to play Wong-like baseball at his natural position. Tell him to focus on defense and let the offense find it’s groove along the way. And then stick to your word, so to speak, and leave him there, with that message, at least through mid to late August. He just needs reps and time, and at some point, he needs to be seen as one of the guys the club refuses to part with when things get rough. He can’t be the offensive scapegoat every year. There’s just too many ways he can contribute to this club.
Of course, Wong entrenched at second base leaves Gyorko again without a home. But that only needs to be temporary.
The Cardinals have already suggested Jedd is going to be the “man behind the scenes,” in a way, again in 2017. He’ll float around behind guys like Wong, Carpenter, Diaz, and Peralta. He’s the utility man that can play everywhere…but in Gyorko’s case, he should be eying third base. Peralta isn’t going to play every day. We’ve seen that before with him, and the break down of his body became predictable. He needs breaks, and unless the Cards sign a corner infielder over the offseason, St. Louis needs a third baseman with power after 2017. Gyorko may well be that guy.
Get Gyorko a ton of reps over the offseason and spring training at third, then turn him loose on a year-long audition for the full-time job post-Peralta. If he shows that 2016 power is likely to continue consistently, then you look to field an infield of Gyorko 3B, Diaz SS, Wong 2B, and Carpenter at 1B going forward. If he falters, however, then you make other plans, all the while sleeping soundlessly because you didn’t sacrifice Kolten Wong’s much-needed development and future at second base by splitting time on a player that may not be able to stick consistently (and you improve performance around the infield by stopping the position merry-go-round).
Because Gyorko, unlike Wong, is a one-trick pony. If he can’t hit for power every year, he won’t earn a long-time spot on the Cardinals’ roster. Wong, on the other hand, is a multi-tool, broad-impact player that’s worth investing in long-term.
Of course, the opposite could happen…Wong could sink and Gyorko could power his way to the top. In that case, 2018 needs to be the year Gyorko takes the job and Wong is moved to another team. And that makes it doubly important for the Cardinals to identify stability on the rest of the squad, effectively allowing them to let second base continue to be the only variable for much of the season.
Kevin Reynolds (@deckacards)
This is why I wait for Kevin, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to cover the issue quite throughly!
I agree, especially in the light of Mozeliak’s comments about defense being a priority, the most logical thing is to let Wong play every day, which is why you signed him to a five-year deal in the first place. Wong has been supplanted a lot already in his career, whether it was Mark Ellis or Jedd Gyorko, but it’s about time the Cards just put him out there and see what they have.
The offense is going to slip back next year, that is pretty much a guarantee, but Wong could offset some of that if he gets into a groove playing every day. Of course, we also said the same thing about Tyler Greene and we see how that turned out. Still, 2017 is the time to see if Wong really has what we think he has. If not, then maybe you do something else in 2018, as Kevin mentioned.
How appropriate that you should post this question on Kolten Wong’s 26th birthday. It’s a reminder that the time is now for him to show whether he is a productive big-leaguer or a bust.
I believe 2015 – when Wong produced 146 hits in 150 games with 28 doubles, 15 stolen bases and 61 RBI – is more indicative of his talent than was 2016.
So I see the Cardinals keeping him heading into spring training in 2017, but they will make him compete for the starting second base job. If he rises to the challenge and wins the job, they keep him. If he is erratic and cannot win the job outright, I see them trading him during spring training or early in the regular season.
I believe he will win the job in a highly competitive spring training test. I see him as the second baseman who fits into the 7th or 8th spot in the batting order.
Spring training will be paramount for Kolten. As I have written, I believe the coaching staff in Memphis far out-shines the MLB staff. That said, I feel that the coaching Kolten can receive in Spring will help him in 2017. We watched him return from Memphis in 2016 and somewhat shine and I anticipate this will continue in 2017.
I do completely agree that he needs to play each and every day or not at all. I also believe this will be forced since the focus this offseason will likely be on the outfield first. In short, put Kolten there every single day and give him rest by using Gyorko.
Dr. Michael D. Miles
Man, if you don’t get to these questions quickly, the bone is picked pretty clean. Let’s see if I can go one step further…
Kolten Wong needs to play everyday. More importantly, for me, is that Wong needs a defined role. Any time that Wong has struggled, it has eventually come out that he was approaching things incorrectly and trying to press himself. He came into Spring last year wanting to be a lead off hitter. When he started hitting after a long struggle, he revealed that he had been trying to prove that he was a fit as a lead off hitter and not approaching at bats for the position he was in.
I think it is important for the team to tell Wong he is the everyday second baseman and that he will hit in a specific position. Let him know what his role is with the team and let him prove he deserves it.
First off, I think Wong deserves to be treated like Jason Heyward was by Joe Maddon this season. Heyward played every day, even though he was putting up some of the worst offensive metrics of his career. Toward the end of the year, particularly the month of September, Heyward’s bat began to look up, and it’s silly to think that his hitting would have improved if he were riding the bench. What I’m trying to imply is that Wong, though he suffered significant offensive regression, needs to play every day in order to offensively evolve and establish consistency. And, like Heyward, Wong is a great defender, and I think Wong should have a spot in the lineup just because of that.
Given the team’s collective defensive struggles that I’d rather not relive, Wong, a, in my opinion, Gold Glove-caliber defender, should probably be playing at his natural position of second base and not, literally, way out in left field. We have seen Wong really struggle with the glove at times, but that can partially be linked to his lack of stability, especially in 2016.
I think that if Wong plays every day at second base in 2017, we’ll see an improved bat and even more polished defense.
Those are great points. The Heyward comparison works specifically for 2017 because the Cardinals were so painfully bad in 2016. I’m not sure any other year in the last five years yields a greater opportunity for Kolten to impact the team with his defense than the upcoming season. Like Heyward, his glove should be given the chance to change a game regardless of his bat.
And I like the specific role in the lineup talk too, Bill. I’ll say this…to extend my “Randal Grichuk” treatment a step further into your arena, I could see Kolten cemented in the lineup around seventh or eighth. Such a low spot in the order almost removes expectations of any such “role” and allows him to just swing…like Grichuk. Wong is so tied up in knots from trying to change and mold and follow a blueprint at the plate that he needs time to swing himself back into…well…himself. And that type of dynamic bat with hungry speed is exactly what the Cardinals need. Give Wong time to emerge again, then give him time to establish himself as the hitter he always was…and then, right when he’s ready to maintain his own identity at the plate regardless of role, slide him back up in the order again.
Kevin Reynolds (…again)
Kolten Wong, oh yes. Didn’t take long to get to his status.
I would like to find a permanent spot for Matt Carpenter. With that said, Carp, Diaz and Peralta on the infield with Gyorko backing all of them up. Put Wong in a package for someone that is a real difference maker.
FYI- If and when someone has a Jhonny question I may go to a different approach to this. Depends on who gets dealt first.
I will eagerly jump on the band wagon to keep Kolten in the starting lineup every day. I don’t think it matters whether you’re a Tony Cruz or a Matt Holliday. Any player who doesn’t receive consistent playing time is going to struggle on some level with just that: consistency. Besides, here is a kid who will bleed himself out for this team. He takes things to heart more than most players in the game today, in my opinion. And that translates to the level of intensity he exhibits on the field. As my sister and co-host, Holly, has described him in the past – this guy is a cobra ready to strike at the plate. That being said, there can be a negative flipside here for Kolten, when he puts too much pressure on his shoulders, whether it’s warranted or not. And that’s when he usually starts to slide. Those gold glove caliber plays at 2nd suddenly disappear, and he stops raking out the hits. I think this is a year, and an opportunity, for Kolten to grow. He’s no longer the baby just sent up from the farm. He’s been here long enough now to accept the responsibility of a “make or break” situation and learn how to handle the stress of that position. It may not be easy for him, but I believe he has the confidence and determination to make it work, just by sheer will power alone.
Laura, for the STLCardGals
The problem I see with Kolten that is really where he needs to improve is that he is one of those players who carries his emotions on his sleeve.
The biggest hurdle for Kolten is that he is one of those guys that carries his emotions on his sleeve. He lives and dies with each play and each at bat. And over the course of a 162 game season, that’s difficult to do day in and day out. You get spent early on. Fans experience the same too, as I think we saw a lot of that on Twitter.
But I think that’s also the reason that Matheny is reluctant to use Wong regularly. Matheny is one of those managers who preaches grinding it out, I feel like more than most. Don’t let the successes get you too far up, and don’t let the failures get you too far down.
So for Wong, that emotion and intensity is great when things are going well and disastrous when things are going wrong. He has to figure out a way to better channel that emotion and intensity so that it doesn’t have as drastically negative effects when things go wrong.
I thought I saw better maturity in this regard from Wong in the second half last year. He deserves the commitment as the Cardinals’ regular starting baseman, but I also believe he will always be a player that needs regular off days to keep him from getting emotionally spent. He is by far the team’s best defensive option at second base. There is no reason he shouldn’t end up around 500 plate appearances next season.
I also believe that getting work in the outfield will be important for him too. When they sent him down last year, I talked about him needing to add versatility to help keep him on the roster and give him more opportunities to play because the Cardinals had about six ways to configure the infield without him.
He only needs to look at the guy he displaced from second base to see why. Matt Carpenter is one guy who realized that he needed versatility and put in the work to make it happen and added first and the corner outfield spots to stick on the big league roster and then became a second baseman. It’d been 8 years since he’d played outfield and many times it showed. But getting some practice and getting back some of those instincts would be valuable, both for him and the team.
And yes, I answered my own question, too: