ST. LOUIS — Kolten Wong’s 2014 was exactly how you’d imagine a promising rookie’s inaugural season. He mixed moments of brilliance in the field with boneheaded mistakes. At the plate he demonstrated both power and discipline, but rarely in consecutive at bats and almost never for long stretches. Still, he proved his potential and ended the postseason on an impressive tear, slugging .724 in October.
So what to expect in 2015?
If it goes well
Wong showcases a more discerning eye at the plate and avoids the 0-2 hole he so often found himself in last season. He sees his average climb as a result and finds himself on base enough to bump his OBP well over .300. He’s now able to showcase his speed, stealing 30 bases and putting himself in position to score more runs.
Better discipline forces pitchers to work harder, and Wong jumps on mistakes enough to keep his home run totals comfortably in the teens. He’s not a 30-homer player, but his fast hands and impressive strength make him a constant threat.
In the field, he cuts down on the ugly plays and continues to make web gems that save hits and runs. More repetition will result in consistency, and his claim over the position will never be in doubt.
He closes the year hitting .300, notching 15 homers, 35 doubles, 30 steals and scoring 70 times. He flirts with his first All-Star nomination.
If it doesn’t
His average flounders in the mid-.200s as he struggles to control counts. He has brushes with stretches of dependability but goes cold for a series at a time, struggling to climb out of the bottom of the order. His play in the field keeps him in the lineup, but as the pressure mounts to perform at the plate, mistakes appear more frequently on defense.
He still hits a few balls out, but it appears more the work of an opportunist, not a predator. Wong tightens, and the joyful, high-energy performance that defines him as a player dims. His speed is neutralized by a low on base percentage and the season closes with him hitting .245 with five homers and 18 steals.
I’m very optimistic about Wong’s chances for the first scenario. He’s a gifted fielder (a broadcast of him fielding 100 grounders before a game would be compelling television), and he has a lightning-fast compact swing. I see Wong finishing somewhere around .285 and clubbing double-digit homers. He’ll score more and be able to use his speed to harass defenses. So much of his struggle was overcoming his own stratospheric expectations and the inability to allow the game to flow to him. With two years chock full of pressure and high drama memories (good and bad) already in the bag, he comes in to 2015 relaxed and ready to cut loose.