We continue our pre-season projections reviews today with a look a Kolten Wong. The rookie fell short of VEB's heady projections, but I don't think anyone who participated would consider the rookie's season a disappointment. Let's take a look.
Kolten's slash line of .247/.292/.388 fell far short of VEB's projections, yet his sturdy slugging percentage, buoyed by more homeruns in fewer PA's than any system foresaw, kept VEB's positive outlook from looking too foolish in the end. That surprising power is even sunnier news considering that Wong had to deal with playing through a shoulder injury for a portion of the season, and his three post-season homeruns don't even show up here.
Wong was outstanding on the bases in 2014, swiping 20 bags in 24 attempts despite reaching base far less often than anyone anticipated. The entirety of his baserunning was even more impressive, as he was 17th in MLB in fangraphs' BSR score, while having fewer opportunities than anyone above him on the list. His defense graded well, recording the eighth best UZR/150 among second basemen, a ranking not unexpected by those who saw his work in the field. The Cardinals haven't had a player steal 30 bases since Edgar Renteria in 2003. It will be fun watching Wong challenge that plateau in the future.
If Kolten ends up as a plus fielder and elite baserunner with a bit of pop but poor on-base skills, he'll be a valuable player at the keystone for the Cardinals while he's cost controlled, but even beyond the fact that the bright side of the aging curve appears ahead, there are a couple of reasons to think Wong will be better than what he's already shown.
First, he had a paltry .275 BABIP in 2014 despite his outstanding speed and above average groundball rate. Considering the power coiled in his swing, his swift legs, and strong groundball numbers, Wong appears a good bet to have a higher than league average (.299) batting average on balls in play going forward.
Second, Wong exhibited good discipline and contact skills in the minors. In AA in 2012, he had a 12.8 K% and a 7.6 BB%, and backed those up in AAA with a 13 K% and an 8.9 BB%. The 16.4 K% in 2014 seems about right for a player of his pedigree in their first shot against major league pitching, but his anemic 4.8 BB% was a major factor in Wong's poor OBP. Between the eye he showed in the minors and the ability to hit for some power, an improvement in walk rate should be expected in 2015.
And of course we shouldn't dismiss Wong's injury. He certainly hit like it was healthy after his return from the DL, but Kolten played in 10 games after hurting his shoulder on June 3rd, and in those 30 PA, he hit .067/.067/.133. That accounted for nearly 7% of his PA on the year, and weighed his season numbers down a bit accordingly.
We'll see how optimistic we are as a group about Kolten's sophomore campaign in March, but personally I'm more positive about his future today than I was when I filled out last year's projections despite the fact that his 2014 numbers were a slight disappointment to our hopes a year ago.