His first Gold Glove confirms that Kolten Wong has reached a defensive pinnacle, but his .285 average and .361 on-base percentage suggest that he is on his way to becoming an elite offensive player. And his durability, which had been questioned before, was not an issue last year as he played 148 games and stayed off the injured list for the first time in three seasons.
Wong had reached the point where the club was considering another long-term extension, but the coronavirus and resulting lack of revenue for the Cardinals may complicate that snapshot. His five-year contract has a club option for 2021.
Now 29 years old, Hilo’s Wong recaptured his bravado on the bases last season, stealing 24 times in 28 attempts after trying only 11 times (six successful) in 2018 and just 10 (eight successful) the year before. Having the green light helped, and Wong should have more opportunities when he hits first in this year’s lineup.
When first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, a three-time Gold Glover, came to St. Louis last season, he instinctively went for balls to his right, only to discover that Wong was already waiting for them. So Goldschmidt can shade even closer to the foul line, knowing that Wong has a good chance of catching or at least knocking down anything else headed on the ground to right field. Wong led all National League second baseman in assists with 412 and, sure-handed with quick feet and a strong arm, he can turn double plays with anyone, finishing second in double plays last year at 103.
For the second consecutive season, Wong was a terror in the second half, which speaks in large part to his conditioning. After hitting .317 following the All-Star break in 2018, Wong batted .342 after the break in 2019, ranking fifth in the league.
Perfecting another weapon he didn’t always use, Wong also led the league with 10 bunt singles last year.
Barring injury, Wong should be good for 55 to 60 appearances and his game against left-handed pitching has improved to the point where he no longer needs to be platooned. He actually hit higher against southpaws in 2019, at .288.
It would seem time for Wong to be chosen to his first All-Star team. When he was signed, it was mostly because of his offense, with his defense an emerging commodity. But those two have meshed.
A team leader in his 10th season in the organization, Wong is an energetic player, and that is likely to rub off on his teammates, especially now that he is on the field every day. Having hit 11 homers and knocking in 59 runs last season — both figures just off his career highs — his concentration now will be more on reaching base. His mission, as he sees it, is to hit .300 with an on-base percentage close to .400.
Should Wong be injured for an appreciable length of time, versatile Tommy Edman would step in. Veteran Brad Miller also has played considerable second base in his career.
Hummel writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch