I can’t tell if Kolten Wong really loves playing in Memphis -- or if he really hates it.
The deposed St. Louis Cardinals infielder made a huge splash Thursday night for the organization’s top minor league club. He bashed two home runs -- including a walk-off grand slam -- in his 2016 Class AAA debut.
Either Wong was able to let loose by getting away from the big league pressure, showing what he really can do. Or else general manager John Mozeliak succeeded in his effort’s to light a fire under the enigmatic second sacker.
Wong was hitting only .222 with a homer, a double and a pair of triples in the big leagues so far this season. He’d lost his starting job first to utilityman Jedd Gyorko and later to the Cardinals’ best hitter, Matt Carpenter.
With his talents, there is no concern that Wong just isn’t up to par as a big leaguer. A lot of players have made it much farther with less natural ability.
The concern seems to be what’s going on -- or what’s not going on, for that matter -- between Wong’s ears.
He doesn’t seem to be able to follow instructions of coaches, adapt to changing game situations or bounce back from inevitable disappointments in a difficult game.
Moved back to his old job at second base to allow returning slugger Jhonny Peralta to take over at third, Carpenter may prove difficult for Wong to dislodge.
I’m not sure if Wong, despite having all the ingredients to be an exciting and productive player, has a future in St. Louis. At least not in 2016.
Either someone would have to be injured or someone would have to be traded to make a spot for Wong on the roster. It doesn’t make any sense for a 25-year-old player to sit on the bench in the majors.
▪ Peralta has been sorely missed while he recovered from a torn ligament in his thumb. He figured prominently in the Birds’ series win against Cincinnati with a homer, two doubles and five runs batted in over his first three games.
▪ Carpenter, who led the Cardinals in homers in 2015, has been red hot lately after an uneven start. He’s hitting .281 with 39 batted in -- from the leadoff position! Over the past two weeks, Carp is hitting .391 with nine doubles and a pair of triples.
▪ A month ago, it would be easiest to believe that playing time for Wong would radiate from the first base position. No, the diminutive middle infielder wouldn’t play at the initial base. But Carpenter might have found a home there as Matt Adams struggled to produce.
But Adams has been on fire since then, raising his average to .338 with eight homers and 31 batted in.
He’s hitting .394 for the past two weeks and .500 for the past seven days.
If that wasn’t enough to take playing time at first base off the depth chart:
▪ Brandon Moss is keeping his name on the lineup card with timely power hitting.
Moss isn’t much of a fielder anyplace, but he’s better in the outfield corners than at first base. Still, Stephen Piscotty and Matt Holliday have the corners nailed down. So Moss has to take a sizable portion of his playing time in an awkward platoon with fellow lefty Adams.
So... there really isn’t an easy place to pencil Wong’s name onto the lineup card -- unless someone gets hurt and there is an unforeseen need.
I wonder, if he puts on a big display in the minors, would the Cardinals be able to convince another team to give up something good over the idea that Wong could finally reach his potential with a change of scenery.
I’d rather see Wong mature into the player the Cardinals believed he could be when they handed him a $25.5-million contract this spring. But the clock is ticking on his opportunity to get back in the team’s good graces.