2016 Fantasy Baseball: Breakout Candidate– Kolten Wong
The Cardinals are one of the model franchises in the big leagues. They’ve established a pipeline of talent that consistently seems to produce one or two surprise players every year. Yet, they also have a consistent pool of veterans that keep them in the pennant race. The Chicago Cubs have become the favorite to win the NL Central and the NL pennant, but we’ve come to understand that counting out the Cardinals is a huge mistake.
Picking a breakout candidate on this squad is difficult at best. Both Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty came out of nowhere last season to produce good numbers. Both would be excellent picks as a breakout players under normal circumstances, but we are going to go in a different direction. Kolten Wong has been a regular for them for two seasons now and he has gotten progressively better each season. If he takes the next step he could become the next star born in the Cardinals farm system.
Like many of his comrades (including Grichuk), Wong didn’t exactly come out of nowhere. He was a first round pick (like Grichuk) and he was fairly highly regarded coming up the chain. Still, he was never the sexy prospect like many others around baseball. The Cardinals rarely come up with a sexy prospect, they just seem to hit on more than the average organization. Wong certainly hasn’t put up sexy numbers either, but they have been sneaky good.
Where he has been
In typical Cardinals fashion, none of these numbers jump off the page, but Wong isn’t deficient in any single category. Those players tend to be as valuable, if not more valuable than the players who dominate in one or two categories but struggle in the others. The question for Wong is whether he will continue to grow as a player. That is an impossible question to answer at this point, but it is one that has to be considered this early in the game.
Former hitting coach Tom McGraw said that hitters tend to find their level in their fourth full big league season. This will be season number three for Wong. If he continues to progress we could be looking at a .280 hitter that could hit up to 15 home runs and steal 20 bases. There simply isn’t enough of that out there to ignore on draft day.
Where he could go
Experts have their limitations. All of them have methodologies they must remain true to. If they didn’t then their numbers would amount to nothing more wild conjecture. We wouldn’t pay attention to wild conjecture. So, they base their projections on what a player has already done and not to anything that he may do in the future. In short, they can’t predict real improvement. They simply take a look at the basic numbers, contact numbers, and batted ball specifics and try to come up with some kind of a middle ground. So, here is the middle ground.
What keeps the Cardinals in contention is having enough younger players that take the next step in their development. They normally don’t add big time free agents, so they must rely on improvement from within for their team to improve. Outside of Mike Leake, they didn’t sign any significant free agents, but they still might be better than they were last year because of their younger players.
A Rosy Picture
The rosy picture follows the same rules as the experts except it extrapolates the data over 600 plate appearances. The Cardinals have more depth in their infield after acquiring Ruben Tejada and Jedd Gyorko. Tejada will play short until Jhonny Peralta is healthy, but he could stick around on the bench when Peralta comes back. So, Wong might not get 600 plate appearances simply because they have significant depth this year. However, if he does take the next step in his development, he could easily post a .280/15/80/70/20 type of season.