Cardinals use first-round draft pick on Wong

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

St. Louis opted for the second baseman from Hawaii with the 22nd pick overall in the 2011 MLB draft

ST. LOUIS -- A telephone call to Kolten Wong a handful of picks before it was the St. Louis Cardinals' turn finalized their decision to take the Hawaii second baseman.

Wong eased worries about signability, telling the Cardinals that would not be a problem and that he was eager to begin his pro career. The franchise addressed organizational need with the 22nd pick Monday night, selecting a middle infielder for the third time in four years.

"I want to get out there and play," Wong said in a conference call. "I'm ready to go."

A bonus was a chance to perhaps play with Albert Pujols one day.

"Oh my god," Wong said. "Just hearing that name gives me chills. He's a legend."

Wong was a 16th round pick of the Twins in 2008 and batted .378 with seven home runs and 53 RBIs in 57 games last season, plus was MVP of the Cape Cod League last summer and played on the U.S. National team in 2008. Baseball America rated the 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior, who had a career .358 average in college, as the second best pure hitter in the draft.

The Cardinals had only one pick among the top 78 in the draft, losing their second-rounder as compensation for signing free agent Lance Berkman. They believe they made it count.

Director of scouting Jeff Luhnow attended six of Wong's games and said he was one of the best hitters the Cardinals saw all year. Filling a position need was a bonus for the franchise, which plans on leaving him at second base.

"We're optimistic that this is not going to be a deadline deal," Luhnow said "This is going to be the type of player who will go out and benefit from signing quickly and having a full short season under his belt by the time spring training rolls around."

Luhnow said the Cardinals focused on five players, and said Wong was the only player remaining from that group.

Luhnow is hopeful the 20-year-old Wong can quickly advance through the minor league system, following in the footsteps of last year's top pick. Third baseman Zack Cox, the 25th overall pick in 2010, already is at Class AA Springfield.

Brett Wallace, drafted as a third baseman in the first round in 2008, was in the Matt Holliday trade in 2009 and is the Houston Astros' starting first baseman.

Wong is the first Hawaii position player taken in the first round and the fourth player overall. One was former double play partner Greg Garcia, a shortstop taken in the seventh round by St. Louis last year. Garcia recently was promoted to High A Palm Beach after starting at Class A Quad Cities.

Wong's father, Kaha Wong, was a utilityman who played in the minor leagues in 1989 and 1990. A batting cage in the backyard helped Wong hone his skills.

Wong said he's never been to Missouri, but was well aware of the franchise he's about to join.

"I know enough. I know about the Cardinals, I know how much of a baseball town that is," Wong said. "I'm just super excited."

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