Junior, University of Hawaii
Height: 5′ 9″
AZ’s Snap Take: This is a pick that most Cardinals’ fans are going to deride and compare with Pete Kozma’s 2007 selection. The comparison falls short in that Wong is a more advanced college bat and requires less projection. That said, there isn’t much to project. He hit in the Cape Cod League, which is heavily scouted by the Cardinals. He’s drawn comparisons to Carlos Baerga but the Cardinals are probably hoping for something closer to Dustin Pedroia. Expect Wong to draw comparisons to every undersized infielder in the history of the game.
It’s a pick that tends toward the safe side but it’s not as bad as Pete Kozma. Personally, I don’t think Wong was the best player still on the board. That said, I think his swing is quiet and efficient with good loading mechanics — it is a fundamentally sound swing. I’d rather see him center his weight more while waiting but once the swing starts, everything moves to the right places in the right ways. He should hit and if his fielding is up to par at second, he could be a solid regular in the majors in 2-3 years.
At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Wong will likely be the smallest first rounder this year. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in tools, with his hitting ability standing out the most. With a compact lefthanded swing and good bat sped, Wong profiles as an above-average hitter who will spray line drives from foul pole to foul pole. He hadn’t been pitched to much this year but hasn’t gotten anxious or expanded the zone. He has a professional approach at the plate and a good understanding of the strike zone. He has surprising pop for his size and should hit 10-15 home runs a year as a pro. He’s also willing to do the little things—he can bunt for a base hit and hit-and-run with the best of them. Wong has average speed and good instincts and is fearless on the basepaths. He’s just as versatile defensively as he is with the bat. He profiles best at second base but could become a Chone Figgins type who moves around the field. He played center field as a freshman and has also started games at catcher and shortstop.
There aren’t that many pure college bats in this year’s Draft class, but Wong has one of them. He gets overlooked because of his size, his position and the fact he plays in Hawaii. But, drawing comparisons to Carlos Baerga, Wong can really hit. He’s got a professional approach at the plate, with a little power, and is the kind of hitter who should not take a long time to get to the big leagues. He’s an above-average runner, and while he may not be a Gold Glover, he’s a solid defender at second base. There tends to be a knock against guys who enter the Draft already at second, but Wong is a much better all-around player than perhaps he gets credit for. Even if he’s underappreciated, he’s still going to come off the board at some point in the first round.
Wong is a one-tool player, but fortunately for him, it’s the tool that matters most, the ability to hit, something he’s done well over the last year between the Cape and his junior spring.
He has very good hand-eye coordination and lets the ball travel deep on him, loading his hands well behind his shoulder and producing line-drive contact without much loft in his swing. He’s a below-average runner who can stay at second base but isn’t likely to be more than average there; you could see him move behind the plate at some point, as he has the body for it but not the plus arm most converts to catcher have. He was completely overmatched as an underclassman trying out for Team USA in 2009, and declined the chance to try out in 2010, perhaps fearing a repeat performance.
Because he has hit so well in school and on the Cape last year, Wong will probably go off the board in the top two rounds, but his upside is limited compared to some of the toolsier options on the board.
Pros: He just drives opponents nuts with his ability to reach base and then cause trouble with his baserunning ability. He works the count exceptionally well and laces line drives all over the park when he gets his pitch. Think of him as Wally Backman with more gap power and no platoon issues. Excellent performances in the Cape Cod League leave scouts confident his abilities will translate.
Cons: He’s just 5-foot-9, so there isn’t much to project, and he’s merely an adequate defender. Second basemen are always a risk because they either project as big-league starters or they aren’t prospects.
Pound for pound, there may not be a better prospect in the 2011 draft class than the 5-foot-9, 190-pound Wong. He has well-rounded skills and may have solidified his status as a potential first-rounder last summer by passing up an offer to return to Team USA’s college national team for a second season. He elected instead to play in the Cape Cod League, where he earned league MVP honors for a .341-3-11 season along with a league-best 22 stolen bases. Wong showcased polished offensive skills with a sound approach from the left side of the plate, and surprising pop for a player his size. He drove the ball hard consistently. He also became an accomplished base stealer. Moreover, he found a home defensively at second base after being destined for a utility role with Team USA. If nothing else last summer, he proved to the scouting community that he is a quality everyday second baseman for the purposes of professional baseball. [...] But it wasn’t until last summer, playing against superior competition on the Cape, that Wong’s game truly came together. He became a top-of-the-order catalyst, capable of making things happen offensively with his scrappy approach. More than just a tough out, he showed a very professional, well-rounded approach to hitting. He had surprising pop in his small, but powerful frame. He was adept at using the whole field, and equally proficient at playing small ball and dropping down a bunt as going deep. Though not blessed with blazing speed, Wong is aggressive on the bases and has excellent base-running instincts. [...]
In a draft where multi-tool position players are hard to come by, Kolten Wong is a rarity – a left-handed hitting second baseman with plus offensive potential. Don’t let the body fool you. The former high school running back has a low center of gravity and is powerfully built through the shoulders, hips and thighs. But that doesn’t make him stiff. Wong has a very live body, which he shows if you keep your eyes open.
Overall, this is a guy who is going to be fairly close to the big leagues after he signs. He needs to play every day, and in my experience, that’s the real difference maker for future major league starting position players.