Cardinals Stick To The Formula With Hawaii's Wong





ST. LOUIS—When it came to making the most of their only pick among the first 75 of this year's draft, the Cardinals went with a formula that's worked recently for them.

They took the best college hitter available.

Like Brett Wallace (2008) and Zack Cox (2010) before him, Kolten Wong offered familiar traits that the Cardinals have come to bank on when it comes to their first-round picks. Like Wallace and Cox, Wong, a junior at Hawaii, is an infielder who leaves college with both the reputation and the statistics of being a refined, high-average hitter.

"The fact that he plays all the aspects of the game, and he plays them well—that's what we really looked at," said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of player procurement. "We like how he plays. We know he will hit. And that was too appealing to pass on at that point in the draft."

Luhnow arrived at this year's draft with quite a tailwind. The Cardinals' active major-league roster on draft day included 16 players developed internally; 11 entered the system after Luhnow took over as the director of the draft and scouting in 2005. That didn't include Wallace, who is Houston's starting first baseman and was dealt in 2009 to get Matt Holliday. That 11 also did not include the past two first-round picks, Cox and righthander Shelby Miller, though both of them recently earned promotions to Double-A.

Wong, 20, fits so many of the indicators the Cardinals have used under Luhnow's stewardship—not the least of which was an impressive turn in the Cape Cod league—and he fits a need. The Cardinals have sought to land a bat-toting middle infielder with a first-round pick for several years. Wong hit .358/.449/.563 for Hawaii, and he did not see the dip in power with the new bats that other college hitters did. Wong doesn't project to hit for the power of someone like Cox, but he does bring a savvy eye to the plate and the potential for steady on-base skills. Wong is also a heady baserunner with above-average speed.

The Cardinals expect to sign him in time to play at an affiliate this summer, and they are weighing whether he'll go to low Class A Quad Cities or short-season Batavia. They'll develop him as a second baseman.

"He's right there with them," Luhnow said when asked where Wong fit on the Wallace-Cox spectrum. "He's a patient hitter, low strikeouts, nice number of walks. He's a contact hitter and does a lot of what we were looking for."
 
Redbird Chirps

• Miller advanced to Double-A Springfield in late May and won his debut. Miller, the club's top pick in 2009, led the Florida State League with 81 strikeouts in 53 innings at the time of his promotion. He struck out five with seven hits allowed in six innings pitched for Springfield.

• With only two picks in first 108 of this year's draft, the Cardinals could be more aggressive in the international market to infuse new talent into the system that they won't be able to land via the draft.