Take a look back at how the Tampa Bay Rays turned a player to be named later into a Rookie of the Year finalist, a fan favorite, and their starting second baseman.
In an offseason that saw Evan Longoria, Steven Souza Jr., Jake Odorizzi, and Corey Dickerson traded away, the most impactful move was one that none of us could have predicted. Prior to the historic upheaval of the Tampa Bay Rays roster, the front office began the 2018 Winter Meetings with the acquisition of a 28-year-old second baseman who would go on to take Tampa Bay and the league by storm.
On the first day of the Winter Meetings, the Rays sent a PTBNL to the Athletics in exchange for none other than Joey Wendle.
It was an under the radar move. A move for depth. He could hit and play defense, and he had shown that at Triple-A for the Athletics, but there were no lofty expectations. He had performed at length in the minors, so it was natural for the Rays to make a low risk move to acquire him. Similar to Ryan Shimpf who was also acquired during the winter meetings, Wendle would be given a chance to compete for the second base spot alongside Daniel Robertson, Brad Miller and Tim Beckham.
Catching prospect Jonah Heim was sent to Oakland in exchange or Wendle. Heim was acquired by the Rays in 2016 in exchange for Steve Pearce. Following last season, the 23-year-old was ranked the 23rd best prospect in the Athletics system by Baseball America. The young catcher would perform well at High A, but would struggle at the plate after a mid-season promotion to Double A.
Wendle, determined to make permanently make it out of Triple A where he had been stuck for parts of 3 seasons, went on to have a fantastic spring slashing .327/.386/.558 with a bomb and three triples. His work ethic impressed everybody in camp and he emerged with a spot on the opening day roster. Wendle got a chance to perform on a daily basis once Brad Miller went down with a groin strain in early April.
By the time Miller returned 11 day later, Wendle had cemented himself in the everyday lineup. His defense was impressive and he was hitting .250. He would finish the month on a tear raising his average to .329.
On June 7th, Miller was designated for assignment and traded to Milwaukee three days later. Wendle, once an afterthought in camp just months earlier, had chased the incumbent second baseman out of a job. The rest is history as Wendle would go on to finish 4th in the rookie of the year race while amassing more bWAR than all other rookies.
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It isn’t very often that a team can turn a PTBNL into a Rookie of the Year candidate. Kudos to Neander and Bloom on a season changing trade.