The St. Louis Cardinals made their first big move of the offseason Friday when they traded third baseman David Freese to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and got center fielder Peter Bourjos in return, but one of the players most affected had never played a Major League Baseball game until Aug. 16.
That was the day the Cardinals called up rookie second baseman Kolten Wong. He went 0-3 in seven innings against the Chicago Cubs and proceeded to hit a paltry .153 through the rest of the season, which included 62 plate appearances in 32 games.
Granted, that sample size is incredibly small for a player thrust into a pennant race in just his second full season of professional baseball.
However, the Cardinals drafted Wong 22nd overall in the 2011 June Draft, and ever since Cardinals Nation has clamored for the young second baseman with speed who could finally put an end to an otherwise endless stream of new second baseman each season.
St. Louis has had just one second baseman start on Opening Day in more than two consecutive seasons in the past 20 years, and that was Fernando Vina from 2000-03.
Aside from Vina, the Cardinals have had 12 different players start at second base on Opening Day since Jose Oquendo held the position from 1990-92, and that does not include Matt Carpenter, who opened the 2013 season at third base while Freese was injured before manager Mike Matheny installed Carpenter as the full-time second baseman later in April.
Amid all of the turnover, Cardinals fans have tried to look to the future to find a player who could actually establish a career as the second baseman in St. Louis instead of making a one- or two-year stop at Busch Stadium toward the end of his career.
So when the Cardinals drafted Wong, fans jumped to the conclusion that he is going to be the second baseman of the future.
Cardinals management apparently thinks the same way, because they all but handed Wong the job by trading Freese. Carpenter will move to his natural position of third base, and general manager John Mozeliak said Friday he would like to see Wong get 500 or more at-bats in the 2014 season.
Now, it’s great the Cardinals have confidence Wong can be their full-time second baseman next season, but Wong will step into a spot filled with quite a bit of pressure.
No, he’s not playing center field for the New York Yankees, but Cardinals fans have lofty expectations for Wong, who has been considered the franchise’s No. 2 position player prospect behind outfielder Oscar Taveras.
Wong does have the experience of the 2013 postseason with him, although it was surely not the most pleasant month of his baseball career. Sure, he was on a team that reached the World Series, but he did not have any hits in five at-bats through the first two playoff rounds.
His one hit came in the World Series against the Boston Red Sox, but his most memorable moment of that series came in Game 4 when manager Mike Matheny put him in to pinch run in the bottom of the ninth and he got picked off to end the game 4-2 with right fielder Carlos Beltran at the plate.
Still, Wong’s brief big-league career has been an aberration from his career track record in the minor leagues. He has a career batting average of .301 and stolen 50 bases in 280 games from Single A to Triple A.
The Cardinals could certainly use a player with his skill set, especially if they are unable to find much of an upgrade at shortstop after Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso combined to hit .228 as they shared the position in 2013.
A veteran shortstop who can hit would help not only the Cardinals lineup, but it would also likely take a little pressure off of Wong, who could then hit low in the order and start to ease his way into his big-league career.
If the Cardinals don’t find a shortstop, they will need Wong to put up numbers very similar to what he did in the minor leagues.
Like it or not, Wong better be ready for that type of pressure.