In the two years since Kolten Wong was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals he has been viewed as the team’s future at second base. Many have believed that he will be the escape from the second base mediocrity that has plagued the team in recent years.
But, Matt Carpenter has the potential to give Wong a run for his money.
Wong, a first-round draft pick in 2011, has it all. He has speed around the bases, a solid glove and a consistent bat. Will that transition into major league production?
He put up numbers in Double-A Springfield last year that were well above the production the Cardinals were seeing from second base at the same time.
Of course, while he was busy honing his game, Carpenter was learning the ropes at the major league level.
When he was given a homework assignment at the end of 2012 to learn second base, the assumption by many was that he would be a place-filler at best. With Wong making his way up through the system there was little reason to think of him as anything more.
Once spring training began Carpenter started turning some heads. Being a natural corner infielder, he had to learn new angles, different fielding techniques and how to be on the other end of a double play.
He looks to have a solid handle on the defensive end which is more than I expected to see a month or more into the regular season. There will be some adjustment when the team travels to St. Louis but there’s no reason to think he won’t be able to make that trip with ease.
Matt Carpenter’s glove, though, is not the reason the Cardinals have him playing second base. He’s there because they need his bat in the lineup.
The Cardinals production at second base in 2012 was among the weakest in the league.
That’s unacceptable for a team that was one win away from it’s second World Series in as many years. Solid production at second base could have been all that was needed to make the difference.
Carpenter’s spring training performance illustrates exactly why the Cardinals can’t afford to have him riding the bench in 2013. In 17 games to date, Carpenter is batting .396/.491/.583 with seven doubles (league leader), five RBI, nine walks and nine runs scored.
Obviously he won’t continue at that pace forever, but he’s a versatile .300-plus hitter who uses the entire field and is a genuine threat every time he steps to the plate.
Last year, Carpenter alone outhit Cardinals second basemen but what may be his biggest asset at the position is his ability to get on base. His .365 OBP from 2012 is only exceeded by his .412 postseason OBP.
While his 2012 OBP may not seem amazing on the surface, when compared to the .309 OBP put up by Cardinals second basemen it paints a clearer picture of the impact he could have.
There’s little reason to expect he can’t exceed that in 2013.
Where this gets interesting is when Wong comes into the picture. If the Cardinals invest an entire year in making Matt Carpenter into a second baseman—and the project works—it wouldn’t make sense to move him again. He’s versatile enough to handle the change, but the move would be somewhat out of character.
It’s similar to the Matt Adams and Allen Craig situation. Adams has smashed baseballs all over the minor leagues but the Cardinals are reluctant to move proven major league talent (Craig) to make room for a player they hope to become a major league talent.
If Carpenter works out well, the Cardinals could hang on to Wong the way they have Adams so far as an insurance policy. However, Wong is more than an insurance policy, he’s a quality middle infielder and those are a hot commodity.
It’s possible that, in the end, Wong’s biggest production for the Cardinals could be his trade value. With Carpenter at second base, assuming he works out, production at shortstop will become top priority.
If it reached a point where the Cardinals were comfortable moving Wong, it would give them the ability to use him as a trade chip. Trading Wong would give the Cardinals the ability to bring in a shortstop while making it easier for them to hang on to more of their young pitchers.
This possibility hinges entirely on Carpenter’s ability to provide an adequate glove alongside his impact bat. There’s no reason to think that’s outside the realm of a possibility but it’s impossible to know for sure until the regular season gets underway.
I wouldn’t pick up a telephone just to search for a deal but it’s something worth keeping in mind in the coming months.
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