Kolten Wong, St. Louis Cardinals, 2B, 25
Extension Details: Five years (’16-’20), $25.5 million with a $12.5 million team option for 2021
Career Statistics (3 seasons): 1,108 PA, .250/.303/.374, 43 2B, 7 3B, 23 HR, 2.97 K/BB, 86 OPS+, .297 wOBA, 88 wRC+, .246 TAv, 14 DRS, 2.6 UZR/150, 3.9 fWAR
2015 Statistics: 613 PA, .262/.321/.386, 28 2B, 4 3B, 11 HR, 2.64 K/BB, 92 OPS+, .310 wOBA, 96 wRC+, .259 TAv, 5 DRS, 0.5 UZR/150, 2.3 fWAR
After struggling in his debut season as a 22-year-old, the Hilo, Hawai’i native had a successful rookie season for the Redbirds in 2014, batting .249/.292/.388 with 14 doubles, 12 home runs, and 20 stolen bases in 113 games at second base. Finishing third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind the Mets’ Jacob deGrom and Reds’ Billy Hamilton, expectations for the young infielder were high entering his age-24 season in 2015. Wong didn’t disappoint, improving in nearly every offensive category, finishing with a .262/.321/.386 line, adding 28 doubles, 11 home runs, and 15 stolen bases.
Defensively, Wong has been solid in his short tenure with the Cardinals, compiling 14 defensive runs saved and a UZR of 4.5 in nearly 2,300 innings at second base. Wong’s range and athleticism are top-notch, but he boots a few too many balls (29 errors between 2014 and 2015) to be considered an elite defender just yet. However, Wong has plenty of time to work on his fundamentals and improve his glove so that he could become one of the top defenders at the position as he matures.
While Wong doesn’t have the level of experience that the other three men on this list have, he does have the asset of youth on his side, as he’ll be just 29 when the guaranteed portion of his contract expires. This means that the Cardinals have locked up most, if not all of Wong’s peak years, and at a relatively low price tag. Wong won’t earn more than $7 million until the last year of his deal, when he’ll make just over $10 million in 2020 as a 29-year-old. After that, the club will have the option to extend him an additional year at the still-affordable rate of $12.5 million.
Wong’s deal looks quite good on paper now, but his lack of major-league experience (in relation to the other three players) makes him a bit more of an unknown heading into 2016 and beyond. This season will be huge for Wong; should he take another step in the right direction as he did in 2015, the Cardinals will look very good for extending him cheaply when they had a chance. Should he fail to keep up and adjust to the pitching he faces, and regress back towards his 2014 numbers, St. Louis might be scrutinized for making a long-term commitment to a largely unproven player.