According to numerous reports, the Cardinals will be recalling 22-year-old infield prospect Kolten Wong, the team’s first-round pick out of the University of Hawaii in 2011. Wong was only Marc Hulet’s #5 Cardinals prospect entering the year, but that “only” comes with just about the largest caveat you can find, because saying that someone isn’t better than Oscar Taveras, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez, or Shelby Miller is pretty far from a slight.
Wong doesn’t project as a superstar in the big leagues, but the potential for an above-average ballplayer — and intriguing fantasy asset — is there. Moving quickly from Single-A to Triple-A in just barely over two years since being drafted, Wong carries a professional line of .301/.365/.446 into his promotion, and that career mark is almost exactly what he’s producing at in 2013 as well.
While Wong is unlikely to ever provide more than 10-12 homers in a full season at the big league level at most, he’s known for his hit tool and his ability to make solid contact, which should allow him to maintain a solid batting average in the bigs. He’s not a speed demon, but he does have 41 steals over the last two seasons, and he’s only been caught once in 2013, so he can help there too. Considering how thin second base tends to get in fantasy after the top tier, a guy who can contribute batting average, steals, and some amount of pop now and then is a perfectly respectable roster addition.
That’s wonderful for keeper leagues, but the question for the remainder of this season is, where is he going to play? That’s perhaps not the best way to phrase it, since he’s going to play second base; it’s the only defensive position he’s ever played in the pros. But the Cardinals do have Matt Carpenter manning the position, and all he’s done is put up a breakout .310/.380/.470 with 88 runs scored and adequate defense.
Wong isn’t around to take time away from Carpenter, though you don’t imagine they bothered to recall him to sit on the bench, either. Unfortunately, neither Wong nor Carpenter has any experience playing shortstop, which is the true St. Louis need — Daniel Descalso & Pete Kozma have combined for just a .238/.288/.332 line, with six homers and seven steals, helping out neither the Cardinals nor fantasy players.
Instead, it seems likely that Mike Matheny will take advantage of Carpenter’s multi-positional versatility to open up some time. Carpenter can play both infield corners as well as both outfield corners, and while Matt Holliday & Carlos Beltran may not need more than an occasional day to keep fresh, David Freese may want to look over his shoulder at third base.
Without diverging too far from the focus on Wong to investigate Freese, he’s struggled badly to repeat his excellent 2012, hitting just six homers and landing on Mike Podhorzer’s list of “Batted Ball Distance Decliners” earlier this month. Pair that with defensive metrics that are suddenly not a huge fan, and you get the feeling that Carpenter may be seeing more time at third base. (Freese also was lifted from Thursday’s win over Pittsburgh for what seemed to be no particular reason in the seventh, not even as part of a pitcher double-switch, though we’ve not yet heard any indication of injury.)
Wong is likely to get his fair share of playing time, but due to the uncertainty about how he’ll fit into the crowded St. Louis offense, redraft owners should look upon him with some hesitation. In keeper leagues, however, he’s definitely someone you’ll want to grab if you can, with an eye on him being the everyday second baseman in 2014, potentially good enough to be considered in the second tier at the position.