St. Louis Cardinals: Will Kolten Wong break out in 2016?


St. Louis Cardinals have a couple of second basemen on the roster. Will the younger player break out and claim the spot for good?

Which Kolten Wong shows up in 2016? Fans have seen two different players throughout his two plus seasons. The kid who wants to get on base more and hit leadoff. The other has legit natural power that hasn’t been tapped yet. Which one does Wong embrace now?

It’s a big year for the young Hawaiian second baseman. Coming off the impressive 2014 debut season for the St. Louis Cardinals, there were high hopes for Wong last year. He did not disappoint in the first half.

Wong hit 9 home runs, slugged .436 and got on base at a .343 clip. He drove in 37 runs before the All Star Break and was primed to break out. Then, he was driven into the ground. His bat disappeared in the second half, outside of a few spurts of production.

What was once hot was gone suddenly. His OPS dropped from .777 in the first half to .614 and he stole half the amount of bases(1o to 5) while getting caught the same amount of times(4). At one point, Wong played 35 straight games, due to the fact that light hitting Pete Kozma spent more time on the club mentoring young players like Stephen Piscotty than actually seeing the field. Due to the lack of depth behind him, Wong didn’t get many days off and his bat disappeared.

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However, on the whole, his 2015 wasn’t bad. Playing in 150 games, Wong collected 43 extra base hits, raised his OPS 27 points from 2014, and improved across the board. His HR total went down a single four bagger with the enhanced playing time, but if you look at the two years, a progression was noticeable.

Wong’s season was so uneven, it just didn’t feel that way. His 2015 was like an action film with a thrilling 30 minute opener, followed by a mild mid film twist and fizzling ending. By October, he had nothing left. No zip or pop left to offer.

At the Winter Warmup, Wong was ready to quiet the doubters, hit leadoff and get moving. While that all sounds great and makes for juicy articles, can the kid ascend and improve or just 2015 his ceiling? He’s only 25 years old but when I see this player, again, I see two different types of hitters.

The one who tries to adapt his swing and get on base more, with mixed results. Then there is the lefty with a quick power stroke that can hang a crooked number faster than drawing a walk or massaging a single through the hole. His offensive production can also attach to his defense. Wong lets all the outside noise and internal judgement creep in after an error or when a hitting slump progresses past comfortable grounding.

Wong’s defense didn’t exactly slip in 2015, but with nearly 250 more chances, he committed five more errors(17 from 12) but increased his overall fielding percentage from .975 to .977. He isn’t near gold glove worthy but he can make a highlight reel play. The simple step plays are the ones that hurt him, and that points to a kid overthinking or cramming too many thoughts into his head. It all ties back to his defense.

There is the Jedd Gyorko factor. The trade acquisition isn’t here to ride the bench and space out for weeks like Kozma. Gyorko has more experience and just as much pop as Wong while being able to play multiple positions. His highest innings total exists at second, so he will challenge Wong for playing time.

Management, Wong and Gyorko can pour team friendly syrup on top of their answers, but this is a slow boiling competition. If Wong struggles and Gyorko shows consistency, there could be a legit playing time battle, and that isn’t a bad thing for the Cardinals. Nothing is a given in this game. You have to fight for it.

Wong’s response to this newfound competition and what kind of hitting style he embraces will determine how his third full year goes. He is full of talent, young, and I believe his ceiling is still out of his reach.

If I were Wong, I’d embrace the power side(something the Cards lack) and forget about leadoff. As inviting as it sounds, Matt Carpenter does a great job there and isn’t screaming for a replacement who may not be as effective. Wong can slide into the 6th spot and do plenty of damage. That’s my prognosis.

Next: Is the Cardinals' rotation still the best?

Second base still belongs to Wong, but his 2016 performance may tell how long he keeps it.