Wendle's strong season has him in the Indians sights
Despite having played professional baseball for only one year, Carolina Mudcats second baseman Joey Wendle has already seen a great deal. From the highs of being drafted to the lows of missing time with a potentially serious injury, Wendle’s career has begun with a bang.
Wendle is currently leading the Mudcats and the Carolina League with a .307 batting average. His 12 home runs and 47 RBIs are also a team high. With team highs in all of these categories, Wendle is the Mudcats “Triple Crown” leader with one month left in the season.
Wendle hasn't changed much with his approach this season and is just trying to consistently put the ball in play and get on base to score runs.
“I’ve been working on keeping my approach consistent," Wendle said. "It’s a long season so I’ve obviously had to make some adjustments throughout. Basically I’ve been trying to barrel up as many baseballs as I can and stay within the zone and stick with my strengths. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some success this season.”
Mudcats manager David Wallace is a big fan of Wendle’s and says he is one of the most professional players at this stage that he has ever seen.
“Joey brings a professionalism to this team that is so rare for someone that is basically a first year guy,” Wallace said. “If you just walked in the clubhouse and watched him go about his day, you would never know this is his first full year playing professionally. I think that is a big reason why he has so much success on the field.”
Like many top prospects, there is one area in Wendle’s offensive game that could use improvement. According to Wendle, that area is his plate discipline. With 52 strikeouts and only 29 walks, there is room for improvement.
“I think it can get better," Wendle said about his plate discipline. "In college I didn’t strikeout a lot because I liked to swing early in counts, but this year I’ve been trying to see more pitches and get deeper in counts to become a better professional hitter. As a result of that my strikeout numbers are up, but I’ve also been able to get on base a little more and draw some walks as well.”
Wallace agrees that Wendle’s plate discipline needs to improve to continue to move up the ranks in the minors.
“Sometimes I think he tends to go a little out of the zone and he can get a little more selective at the pitches he’s swinging at," Wallace said. "It’s tough for him right now because every opposing team has identified him as ‘the guy’ saying ‘we’re not going to let Joey Wendle beat us.’ He’s seeing a lot of different pitches right now, and it’s hard to maintain your aggressiveness and try to lay off pitches."
On April 20, Wendle was covering second base as a runner attempted to steal. The throw bounced and took a funny hop and caught Wendle in the left eye, breaking his left orbital bone. Due to this injury, Wendle was forced to sit out for one month to allow the bone to heal. With no real rehab to go through, Wendle was forced to take two weeks off from all baseball activities, and then another two weeks were used to get back into playing shape before seeing his next game action on May 21.
It was just a freak play that could have been a lot worse than it was.
“Luckily I didn’t lose any of the vision in my eye, but I just couldn’t risk getting it hit again, so I didn’t really have a choice but to sit out,” Wendle said. "It was a fluke, so I’ve tried to not let it affect my play at all.”
In his first full season of professional baseball, Wendle was drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians with the 203rd overall pick. Like all draft picks say, Wendle says it was truly a great experience, having just won the NCAA Division II National Championship two days earlier.
“I was fishing with a couple of my buddies trying to take my mind off the draft when I got the call from the Indians in the 6th round," Wendle recalled. "Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about the Indians before I got drafted, but it was an exciting night. My friends and family were all so excited for me."
Wendle says he was actually very surprised by the call from the Indians saying he would not have guessed he would be headed to Cleveland.
“I was very pleased to be a part of such a great organization,” Wendle said. “It’s such a great organization with everyone going about their business the right way. Everyone here really is first class.”
Being drafted just one year ago, Wendle says he was surprised that he was not assigned to the Lake County Captains. It’s not often that a prospect gets to completely bypass a level of the minors at this stage so early in their career, but Wendle says it was a pleasant surprise after playing with Mahoning Valley last season.
“I just came into spring training playing the best I could," Wendle said. "I was pleasantly surprised I was placed in Carolina, but I didn’t think it was outside of the realm of possibility. I did get to go to Lake County for five games last year in the playoffs, so I did get to experience it there a little bit.”
This time last year, Wendle was still reveling in the fact that he was a National Champion after winning the Division II College World Series with West Chester University. Wendle calls that one of the best experiences of his life and a dream come true.
“It was awesome!" Wendle beamed. "We got on a run and that carried through to the end of the season. There are not too many people that get to end with a win in college, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. It really was a dream come true.”
The Cleveland Indians have a lot of great middle infield talent throughout their farm system, with Wendle being one of them. Despite the fact he is lower than most in the minors, Wendle says he is not worried about it, and he is just going to play his game and hopefully it will all work out in the end.
“It’s not really anything I can control, so I’m just going to go out there and be really good at what I can control," Wendle said. "Everything else is going to work out. I mean, if a player is good enough to play in the majors, they will. I know there are a lot of really good players in the organization, but I’m just focused on controlling what I can, and that’s my game.”
Other than his play on the field, one thing that stands out about Wendle is his walk-up music with Boston’s “Piece of Mind” blaring through the speakers at Five County Stadium as he walks to the plate. In a world where rap and hard rock music dominate, it is different to hear a classic rock song playing as a player comes up to bat.
“I wanted something a little different," Wendle noted. "I’ve always liked classic rock, so I figured I’d mix it up a little bit. It’s a little different pace than what most guys are walking up to, so I figured, why not?”
Baseball runs through Wendle’s blood, with two older brothers that played collegiately and his father, who played amateur baseball, and who was Joey’s little league coach from the time he started playing.
Wallace sees a bright future for Wendle saying he is a major league caliber player, and he can’t wait to see him playing in Cleveland.
“We’re very excited about his future to one day play in Cleveland," Wallace said. "You know you can count on him to make the right decisions on and off the field. He’s exactly the kind of guy we want in this organization.”
“Honestly, just play your game and stick to your strengths, that’s what I’ve done, and now I’m living a dream.”
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.
Given the very limited range, I think the best Wendle can hope for is to improve his hittling sufficiently to play 1B. Doesn't look like 3B is in the cards defensively so I think we are fooling ourselves if we believe he has a shot at 2B in this organization but things happen. It does not make him a bad player, just one that is not really ML material.
Obviously, Wendle can rake against right-handers, but until he proves to be graded as at least major league average defensively and improves against lefties, he is looking like a platoon player at the big league level and not an everyday guy. He certainly has a lot of time to shore up those areas, though he might be what he is defensively. Fielding percentage in the minors might be one of the worst stats to even look at, it almost means nothing. Lindor is 100 times the defender as Wendle, yet their numbers are similar. What it doesn't take into effect are what the staff is seeing in his daily work at the position, the balls he gets to and the ones he doesn't, the consistency with which he makes plays, the quickness with his feet/hands, and so on. Teams rely on their scouts and staff to tell them what they "see" and don't put much into any defensive stats in the minors. Right now he grades out as a below average to maybe fringe average major league defender.....he needs to get better there. Remember, it is not just being average by minor league standards, it is being average by MAJOR LEAGUE standards.
That all said, I think Norm and some others are being tough on Wendle. He's a great story this year and I am not one to poo poo on his parade. Maybe he is just a platoon player, maybe he is more. And I am always going to give a fair, unbiased outlook, but I think it goes without saying that the Indians certainly got much more than they thought!
Look, I'm not a huge Joey Wendle fan, but to be fair he is top 10-15 in range. I think his ceiling is probably a Ryan Raburn type. In other words, he's not discardable talent.