Oakland Athletics 2016 Preview: A Make or Break Year for Joey Wendle
Oakland Athletics infield prospect Joey Wendle must reach the majors this year or be left behind.
Oakland Athletics prospect Joey Wendle is far from the only young infielder in the A’s system, but last season, he had one of the better showings among A’s prospects. He posted a .289/.323/.442 line with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. In 137 games, Wendle hit 10 home runs and eight triples, and he swiped 12 bases in the process.
Overall, it was a very solid showing for the A’s potential future second baseman. It was also a marked improvement over his 2014 season with Cleveland’s Double-A Akron affiliate, when he suffered a broken hamate bone and struggled to find his timing at the plate after his return.
But Wendle didn’t perform nearly as well in Spring Training this season. He only had 15 plate appearances, with one walk and three hits, including a double and a triple. It was a pretty lackluster showing for the 25-year-old, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Chad Pinder is trending upwords in terms of attention and rankings, and will likely start the year at Triple-A Nashville with Wendle. That means the two will be competing for potential call-ups.
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In addition to Wendle and Pinder, Eric Sogard is likely to begin his season in Triple-A as well. Currently, Sogard is on the disabled list with a neck strain, but there isn’t likely to be room for him when he returns. As one of the only players with options remaining, it’s hard to envision the A’s keeping him on their big league roster. It appears that Billy Beane and company have been carefully saving Sogard’s option year for a rainy day, and this year’s overcrowded roster is the perfect use for it.
That means that once he is healthy, Sogard is likely to be the first to fill in with the A’s in the event of a trade or injury. With those typical call-up scenarios eliminated, it appears that Wendle will need to impress the Athletics so much that they just can’t keep him in the minors any longer – and he’ll have to do it before Pinder has the chance to overtake him on the depth chart.
It seems probable that Wendle will at least reach the majors in September this season. He has a history of making solid contact, with a bit of pop in his bat, and he’s an average defender – although he is better known for his offense than his glove. The Athletics are interested in getting him every day at-bats in the minors, so it would take a strong showing to warrant an earlier debut.
Before that happens, Wendle will need to focus on his ability to take walks. Last year, he walked at a rate of just 3.6 percent. Considering his isolated power was only .153, he doesn’t have the home run ability to make up for a low on-base percentage. Yes, Wendle is stronger than he looks and can hit his fair share of home runs – but not enough to make up for a complete inability to take pitches.
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This is probably the last season before he is surpassed by Pinder and the rest of the shortstop prospects, and figuring out how to walk more often is one of the best ways he can show that he’s truly developed into a major-league ready player. If he can’t do that this season, it’s likely that Pinder will assume his spot on the depth chart and be the first to reach the big leagues.
The 2016 season is a make or break season for Wendle, even though he only has a single year of Triple-A ball under his belt. Will he be able to stay ahead of Pinder, or will he miss his opportunity?
Bold Prediction: Joey Wendle hits above .300, but can’t get his walk rate over five percent. He makes his debut in July, but is back in the minors within a month and doesn’t return until September callups.