It's rare that a top hitting prospect will be called up early in the season without a regular lineup spot. Despite the benefit of being around big league veterans and coaches, they simply need to play every day to develop the necessary skills to compete in the major leagues.
The Cardinals and reserve first baseman/pinch-hitter extraordinaire Matt Adams have made it work, though. The 24-year-old rookie has started 40 games at first base, keeping him just sharp enough to have success coming off of the bench (10-for-29, 3 HR).
Another rookie prospect, second baseman Kolten Wong, is now in a similar position after getting called to the majors today. Unlike Adams, the 22-year-old Wong has had the benefit of regular playing time in the minors this year—he hit .303 with 10 HR, 21 doubles, eight triples, 41 walks and 20 stolen bases in 107 Triple-A games—but, like Adams, he'll likely find himself on the bench more than he's ever been throughout his baseball career.
This team is banged up, though, and Wong, the team's first-round pick in the 2011 draft, could find himself making at least three or four starts per week as long as he's productive.
A polished left-handed hitter with good, but not spectacular all-around skills, Wong is unlikely to be overwhelmed by major league pitching. At his peak, he projects as a .280-.300 hitter who can hit 10-15 homers, 30-40 doubles and steal 15-20 bases annually.
He doesn't appear to be far from his ceiling, which is why the Cards felt comfortable bringing him up now. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him starting in the playoffs after just a month-and-a-half in the big leagues.
Wong was in the starting lineup on Friday—he went 0-for-3—with Matt Carpenter sliding over to third base and David Freese getting the day off. While Freese is injury-prone and his overall numbers aren't great (.731 OPS, 6 HR in 102 games), he's healthy now and having a strong month (14-for-45, HR, 6 2B). But with Wong now in the picture, Freese could ultimately lose playing time and could end up in a platoon situation with starts coming mostly against left-handed pitchers, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
Other potential scenarios exist, however. Carlos Beltran, who is battling a sore foot, has been taking a day off every three to four games with Adams playing first base and Allen Craig starting for Beltran in right field. Matt Holliday's sore ankle could also give him problems, opening up a similar scenario where Adams starts and Craig shifts over to left field.
But the addition of Wong and the versatility of Carpenter give them an extra option to consider. In addition to second and third base, Carpenter can also play either corner outfield spot. If they feel comfortable enough with Wong in the lineup, expect Carpenter to spend more time in the outfield. He's made just one start in the outfield thus far in 2013, but that could change now.
With a two-and-a-half game deficit in the NL Central, the Cards can't afford a drop off down the stretch. Wong's arrival gives the team a chance to give regular rest to Beltran and Holliday while allowing them to keep an extra power threat on the bench in Adams.
Bringing up Wong now also ensures he could be placed on the playoff roster. Not only is it important because he needed to be on the 25-man roster prior to September 1 to become eligible, but also because the Cardinals will have a good amount of time to evaluate him and decide if he could make a positive impact in the postseason.
With a six-game lead over the Diamondbacks in the wild-card race, there is a very good chance they'll make it. They're not taking any chances, though, and calling up Wong now without the guarantee of regular playing time is a strong indication they weren't happy with a team that is only 12-16 since the All-Star break.