OPINION: Wong Making Case for NL Rookie Of the Year Contention
While Major League Baseball struggles to maintain its national relevance, Kolten Wong has been doing more than his share to make sure that folks back home are still talking about it.
Every time the Kamehameha-Hawai`i graduate hits a home run — and it’s happening at a frequent pace as of late — it brings back memories for some of his younger days, showing off his power bat at local county parks.
A friend of mine, an active contributor to youth and high school sports on the island, posted a Facebook status after Wong hit a home run Saturday against Milwaukee in a game televised nationally on Fox Sports 1. One person on that status commented, saying that he remembered Wong hitting balls out of the park in Honoka`a during his youth. Similar stories at other county ballparks are shared from time to time, too.
Wong’s MLB stock has never been higher, despite a temporary minor league demotion and his first ever stint on the disabled list. Coming into the league’s All-Star break, the Hilo native holds a six-game hitting streak and has hit six home runs in his last nine games.
Going into the all-star break, Wong hit .257 with six home runs and 24 runs batted in. He also leads his squad with 12 stolen bases.
The most important aspect of Wong’s play is his growth, and his power numbers are a testament to his ability to continue to improve and grow. Yes, he’s hit round-trippers in the minor leagues, but it is different to do it against pitchers at the major league level.
And there is even more room for Wong to grow, especially on defense, where he has committed six errors and has a fielding percentage of .973. For someone who was primarily a catcher at Kamehameha-Hawai`i and an outfielder at the University of Hawai`i, it was known that he would need to improve his defensive fundamentals at second base.
Thanks to his early work with Jose Oquendo, Wong has improved at second base, and can still get better, making him a potential power-player at the position.
With an NL Rookie of the Month award received back in May, Wong is in the conversation for the Rookie of the Year honor. He’s got some competition, though, as Cincinnati center fielder Billy Hamilton leads all NL rookies with 38 runs batted in and 38 stolen bases. He is also fifth with a .285 batting average, and has played 90 of his team’s 95 games, which gives him a leg up on anyone else in the race.
Wong may be a distant second in stolen bases and home runs (Chicago’s Mike Olt also has 12), but regular playing time may make a dent in those numbers.
Numbers aside, Wong’s presence is important in the final few months of the season. The Cardinals are in the thick of a tight division race with Milwaukee and Cincinnati, and a wild card berth is no guarantee for the team that doesn’t lead the NL Central at the end of the year.
And if you know Wong and his work ethic, those numbers won’t mean a thing if he can’t get a chance to hoist a championship trophy at the end of the season and make up for his not-so-glorious World Series moment last year.