Wendle excited for what's in store this season
One’s first season playing pro ball is full of adjustments, lessons and personal tests. Cleveland Indians infielder Joe Wendle understands the importance of learning everywhere, from between the foul lines to off the field.
Wendle, 22, was taken by the Indians in the 6th round of the 2012 Draft during his senior year at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. There, he and his teammates won the Division II National Championship, marking a memorable week for Wendle as he was drafted three days later. Wendle started the learning process of his pro career that week, as he had to learn about his new team.
“I really didn’t know anything more about the Indians than I did about any other club so I certainly had a lot to learn,” he said. “It was a pretty new experience for me and I was really excited just looking forward to the opportunity. That week was pretty crazy for me.”
The week of his college championship and his draft was just the beginning to Wendle’s life in the pros. He knew he was going to sign if offered a chance to play, and he doesn’t feel his status as a 6th round pick applies any more pressure, unless he allows it.
“I think if you let it, it can be more pressure, but if no one played well under pressure, they wouldn’t challenge themselves,” he explained. “I think just playing relaxed and calm and focused, I play at my best level. I try not to let any of the pressure build up and just try to stay focused on the task at hand.”
Last season, the task at hand for Wendle was adjusting to life in the minors. Luckily, his experiences playing in summer collegiate leagues were a beneficial factor in the process. Wendle played in summer leagues in North Carolina and Maine, where he adhered to the task of playing every day.
“The season isn’t quite as strenuous as short-season A and competition-wise, not quite as good, but I was used to playing all through the summer, playing close to 100 games a season, so I think that really helped me get adjusted,” he noted.
Adjusting to consistent play is important, and to Wendle, it’s also a blessing.
“Not everybody is granted that opportunity, so that was a big part of my success. That, and just staying focused throughout, trying to do whatever’s best for the team, best for myself and just try to better myself as a baseball player,” he said.
Wendle received an extra task in his first year as a pro, as he also had to learn a new position. Drafted as a second baseman, Wendle played nearly half his games at third base with the short-season Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The position was new to him, so he spent the season working on learning the ropes and defensive facets. By the season’s end, he found himself feeling more comfortable at the hot corner, and is simply happy to get a chance to play.
“There’s definitely a learning curve involved and I think I’m slowly starting to get the hang of it and I enjoy third base,” he said. “I like being on that side of the infield and I feel comfortable there and I’ll evolve into whatever they need me to be, whether it’s a third baseman or second baseman.”
As he worked on the positioning, footwork and framework required at third base, he also developed his offensive output, which he accredited to the Scrappers’ coaching staff. “Everybody just had a wealth of information that I was just trying to fill up on,” he said.
Wendle took advantage of the learning opportunities offered from his coaches, as he hit .327 with four home runs, 37 RBIs, 15 walks and 25 strikeouts through 61 games. He was also named to the New York-Penn League Midseason All-Star team, an experience he won’t soon forget.
“That was certainly an honor with how many good players there are,” he recalled. “It was really fun playing at home in front of a home crowd and I was able to play in front of my family.”
In addition to his All-Star status, Wendle joined the low-A Lake County Captains to assist the team with its postseason run in the Midwest League playoffs in September. The Captains made a formidable run until they fell to the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the final round. Though he hadn’t expected to join them, Wendle noted the friendly welcoming he received from his teammates there.
“They greeted me with open arms, which was really nice considering they had played 140+ games together and then I just came up there to play,” he said. “It was great knowing they had my back as I was playing. I was glad I got to know that group of guys. It was great knowing that team and those players were my team as well.”
Wendle spent time with other guys in the organization in the fall as well, where he spent four weeks in Instructional League to see the team facilities and receive feedback on his performance from the season.
Now, he’s ready to continue the learning process as another season approaches. He’ll be on a plane to Arizona in a few weeks to start spring training, which he sees as another opportunity to learn and grow.
“I just want to focus on third and listen to feedback that the coaches have for me, just anything they think I need to work on,” he said. “Obviously I’ll have open ears and continue to better myself as a baseball player. They’ve been around the game for longer than I have and they know better than I do, so I’m just going to listen to them and whatever suggestions they have, I’m just going to try to improve on.”
Wendle is learning off the field as well, as he spent the past offseason interning at a physical therapy clinic to complete his degree at West Chester. As he enjoys the remaining weeks of the offseason with his family, friends and new puppy (a golden retriever), he’s hitting, lifting and throwing as he prepares to reenter the academy of bunts, steals and sac flies.
There’s a little way to go before the season starts, but Joe Wendle has come a long way since his first days in an Indians uniform. He’s excited to continue learning, though he’s already passed the test of the first season with flying colors.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.