Cardinals' Kolten Wong puts the take sign on this spring
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) Kolten Wong plans on taking the first pitch all spring. Even if it doesn't land him the leadoff spot in the St. Louis Cardinals order, he figures it will add discipline to his approach.
''I want to see how far I can push counts,'' Wong said. ''I'm not really worried about the outcome of the at-bats, I just want to see how far I can take it and get more comfortable doing it.''
Wong has taken this approach without discussing it with the team. He reasons spring is a great time to experiment.
''I haven't told anybody about my whole thought process,'' he said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''Regardless of whether it's 0-2 or 2-0, I want it to be the same at-bat.''
Wong first lobbied to be the leadoff man at the team's annual Winter Warmup fan festival in mid-January in St. Louis and the team encouraged him to dream big.
He is more likely to end up in the bottom half of the lineup, say sixth or seventh, given St. Louis already has one of the top table setters in the majors, and Wong understands. Matt Carpenter has a bit of an unusual profile for leadoff, hitting a career-best 28 home runs last year and without much speed, but he also is annually among the best in on-base percentage.
Carpenter leads NL players in runs, doubles and multi-hit games the last three seasons.
''I want to be like Carp,'' Wong said. ''I've put some pretty good balls in play with two strikes.''
On days off for Carpenter this spring, the Cardinals have been giving Wong some leadoff chances. He has the desired speed for that spot and is determined to make the opposing pitcher unload his repertoire.
The degree of difficulty has increased early in spring for the left-handed hitting Wong because St. Louis has seen a lot of left-handed starters.
''He's still working hard to prove he can put together those great at-bats at the top of the lineup,'' manager Mike Matheny said. ''I think we're seeing lefties coming out of everywhere, but he's in there grinding.''
Up to now, that's been against his nature. Earlier in his career, Wong swung at far too many first-pitch fastballs that looked fat but weren't.
''Guys were throwing the two-seamer over the corner and I was that guy who saw it and wanted to chase and rolled over it to second or flared it to left,'' Wong said. ''I didn't really have that plan of being super-selective, but I know I can do it. I don't want to be an easy out.''
The 25-year-old Wong has peace of mind to let the spring unfold after getting a $25.5 million, five-year contract extension at the start of spring training. The former 2011 first-round pick's agent had been discussing a deal with the team since early January.
He could have been eligible for salary arbitration after the season.
''We didn't expect to get a deal done, we were just talking about the possibility, and then when numbers started getting thrown around, things started to make sense,'' Wong said. ''They wanted to do it, and so did we.''
Wong hit .262 with 11 homers, 61 RBIs and 15 steals last year while playing in a career-high 150 games. He didn't mind doing the deal, saying the amount was ''not as much as people would think.''
''To have that security and to play here for however many years, why not?'' he said.