When the Tampa Bay Rays selected Kean Wong in the fourth round of the 2013 MLB Draft, everyone was talking about one thing: his brother, Kolten Wong. While Kean was starting his professional career, Kolten was tearing up Triple-A and making his final preparations to join the St. Louis Cardinals’ infield. Kolten had been so successful, and here was Kean, another left-hitting second baseman with a sweet swing.
Beyond his older sibling, however, much was uncertain for Kean Wong. Scouts loved his pure hitting, but his speed and defense at second base were questionable as he lacked Kolten’s athleticism. Could Wong’s smooth stroke and baseball background possibly be enough to overcome his flaws? We cannot yet be sure, but Wong is poised to give himself the best possible chance.
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In his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League in 2013, Wong hit to a .328/.377/.390 line in 194 plate appearances, but it did not mean too much. Wong was going to have to keep hitting like that as he progressed through the minor leagues. The Rays gave him an opportunity to start establishing himself, though, when they jumped him all the way to Low-A Bowling Green to begin 2014. Until Willy Adames arrived in the David Price trade, he was the youngest player on the entire team. Nevertheless, he was one of the team’s best players, hitting to a .306/.347/.370 line.
Rays farm director Mitch Lukevics was quite impressed with the work Wong did both offensively and defensively.
"“He can really hit. And he’s starting to learn how to drive a baseball. Mentally, he’s pretty solid. As he grows and gets stronger physically, he’s going to be able to drive the ball, and that’s something obviously we welcome.”“At first he couldn’t throw real well,” Lukevics said. “And now you can see him playing in the big leagues as a second baseman.”"
Wong clearly is not his brother on the field, but he does need to be. He has the bat speed and plate approach to hit for a high average moving forward, and while speed is not a part of his game, he could make up for it with solid power for a second baseman. That power has yet to show up in games–Wong has just an .064 ISO through 648 professional plate appearances–but we can cut him a break for being such a young player relative to his leagues and remain confident that his pop will surface eventually. Add Wong’s potential at the plate with the strides he has made defensively, and the Rays could have themselves an interesting player in a few years.
For years and years the Rays drafted toolsy high school prospects that simply could never get their games together. Kean Wong goes starkly against that, but that could very well be a good thing. The Rays found themselves a young player who may not be the flashiest athlete, but has a feel for the game superior to so many other prospects in their system. He knows how to hit and understands the challenges ahead of him as he hopes to refine the rest of his abilities. That is an exciting proposition in its own right.