AFL Spotlight: Joe Wendle
The Arizona Fall League (AFL) season ends today.
It finishes up a five-plus week of extra games and development opportunities for several minor league players across all 30 major league organizations.
Some players received more playing time than others, but for all, it was an experience to practice and play with some of the best the minor leagues has to offer for a little over a month. One of those players is Indians second base prospect Joe Wendle.
Now, Wendle’s AFL season is technically not ending today as his Surprise Saguaros clinched a playoff berth and will play a one game playoff on Saturday afternoon to determine the champion of the six team league.
Obviously, the players participating in the AFL are there not to win a championship, but instead to showcase their skills and perform in front a multitude of scouts and executives for every major league team. It also provides an extra set of 30-some games for players to fine tune the adjustments they made over the course of the season and to maybe get a head start on some adjustments they plan to make going into next season.
Wendle, 23, is having a solid showing in the AFL hitting .298 with 1 HR, 12 RBI and .855 OPS in 15 games. It is a good bookend to a very successful 2013 season that he spent the entirety of at High-A Carolina.
Wendle was exceptional at Carolina and dominated the Carolina League. He was the IBI’s Offensive Player of the Year thanks to some impressive numbers in 107 games where he hit .295 with 16 HR, 64 RBI and .885 OPS. He missed a month due to injury but still finished 7th in the Carolina League in hitting (.295), 13th in hits (122), 7th in doubles (32), 4th in home runs (16), 9th in RBI (64), 4th in total bases (212), 6th in on-base percentage (.372), 2nd in slugging percentage (.513) and 2nd in OPS (.885).
Wendle’s impressive showing in 2013 might be even more remarkable had he not missed close to a month with a left orbital fracture that he suffered at the end of April and cost him four weeks of play.
“It was kind of a funny hop on a runner coming down toward second stealing,” Wendle recalled. “Unfortunately, I caught it with my face instead of my glove (chuckles). It definitely could have been worse. It was just a small fracture, and they were just concerned that if it got hit again it could be a blow out fracture so they just wanted to be cautious with it.”
The excitement from a very good showing in Carolina is still fresh on Wendle’s mind, but it is the strides he made behind the scenes he is most happy with than his good numbers.
“Obviously, it was my first full year so I learned a lot about myself,” Wendle said. “[The Carolina League] is a small league so you learn a lot about yourself as a hitter just learning how to take care of your body every day, what you need to do to stay healthy and stuff like that. I definitely learned a lot about myself with what my limitations and strengths are, so I have a pretty good idea of what I need to work on in the offseason.”
The grind of his first full season was a big adjustment for Wendle. When the AFL wraps up he will have been involved in close to 150 or more games this season, a huge increase in workload from his days in college.
“This is definitely the most I have ever played,” Wendle said. “In college, I was playing between 95 and 100 games between the season and summer ball. This is 30 or so more than I have played before. I have definitely learned more about my body and what I need to do to prepare for games.”
Probably one of the more surprising things that surfaced with Wendle this season was the good power he showed. He came in as a 6th round draft pick in 2012 as an advanced offensive-oriented player so it was no surprise that he hit well in High-A, but few expected him to see such a jump in his slugging percentage (.469 to .513) and isolated power (.143 to .218) from his pro debut at short season Single-A Mahoning Valley in 2013 to Carolina this season. The jump in power is even more impressive when you consider he did it skipping Low-A completely and doing it in the Carolina League which is a reputed pitcher’s league.
But for Wendle, the jump in power was really not much of a surprise to him. If anything, where he felt he made some strides was in his general overall knowledge of how pitchers were attacking him.
“I can’t say I was particularly surprised with the amount of power that I had,” Wendle noted. “Maybe a few more balls went out of the yard than I would have expected, but in college my senior year I was able to blow it out of the yard a little bit. I think overall it was just a good year as far as understanding the scouting reports that pitchers are going to developing against me and learning how to prepare myself to have an approach for each and every pitcher.”
It may be cliché in baseball, but maintaining consistency is a separator and something Wendle preaches.
“Yeah, you have to be consistent with your play but also with your mentality,” Wendle said. “How you are emotionally throughout the season to make sure you are not too high on the highs and too low on the lows - stay on that even keel. The Indians - as well as myself - feel that is the best way you are going to play throughout the course of a six month season.”
Wendle understands that in order to keep moving up in the system and to create a major league opportunity for himself, he needs to keep improving. This means shoring up areas in his game that are perceived as a weakness or that could be better.
“I definitely want to work on my plate discipline and working deeper into counts,” Wendle said. “That was one of my goals coming in [to this season] that I think I accomplished to some extent, but think it is something that I still need to improve on. There are some things with my defense I think I improved on, but there are things I need to improve on with my lateral range and being a little more consistent out there. Overall just becoming a better rounded baseball player; I am not a big tools guy so I just need to be able to help a team win any way I can.”
As the offseason approaches, Wendle will enjoy some time away from the game by doing some fishing and hunting. He may also look into giving some lessons, maybe work a little in a physical therapy clinic or possibly get involved in some ministry at his church. But no matter what he does his main focus will be about preparing himself for next year.
Tools are often the things scouts and fans latch onto with prospects, but there are countless examples of players that had a lot of success in the big leagues simply by being an overachiever because of their work ethic and consistency in their play and mentality. Those are the traits that Wendle possesses and what he values.
“I feel like it is about being more consistent and bringing something to the table every day,” Wendle said. “Just becoming better at every aspect of my game.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.
My fault, I was only speaking about that bat