Last December, the Rays acquired Joey Wendle from the Athletics for C Jonah Heim. Since then, he as quietly put up a solid year as a bench bat, and proving that he belongs on the Rays.
Will he be part of their long, or even medium-term plans?
Wendle has never been an on-the-radar prospect, or seen as more than a bench bat. In Oakland he made just 128 PA at the MLB level, worth just 0.3 fWAR. He’s had a bigger role with the Rays. Looking at his splits, he has held his own against left handed pitching in small sample sizes, hitting 119 wRC+ with a .318/.375/.409 line in 24 PA. On the season, Wendle has put up a .282 AVG, .331 OBP, and an overall 101 wRC+ which does not imply a player here to stay.
With Daniel Robertson putting up a career best year after adjusting his swing, hitting .272/.405/.437 with a 139 wRC+, it looks like D-Rob will be the more likelt player to lock down the middle infield alongside star prospect Wily Adames, who will re-join the Rays soon.
Meanwhile, Christian Arroyo and Matt Duffy seem to be the replacements for Longoria at the hot corner, with Duffy holding it down for now, and Arroyo (although some say Adames) moving there long term.
Through two months with the Rays, Wendle hasn’t had a full time spot, even if he already has more plate appearances in this partial season than he did when he was with Oakland, and so far it’s paid off. The power hasn’t come around yet, he’s only posted a .113 ISO. So really, and we can hope for more power, but thus far it’s average production from Wendle overall.
But that’s at the plate.
It’s Wendle’s defense that has been a revelation to Rays fans.
Thanks to his strong defense, from making the easy plays with consistency to making the tough plays with surprising frequency, Wendle is the LEAGUE LEADER in DRS at 2B according to Sports Info Solutions through the first two months.
Here are your updated Defensive Runs Saved leaders through the end of May. The #Rays and #Brewers both have two representatives. pic.twitter.com/Zbhl6StKMq— Sports Info Solutions (@SportsInfo_SIS) June 1, 2018
Note: Looking at Fangraphs defensive numbers, Wendle is at 5 DRS which is tied with Ian Kinsler and Kolten Wong at 2B.
Where did the defensive surge come from? Apparently, it has been something that was expected, and I’m sure part of the Rays’ reason for acquiring him.
Mark Simon at The Athletic (paywall) was able to find out more about his defensive prowess, and how Wendle is part of the next wave of defensive-first 2B stars:
Now, Wendle estimates he spends 20 minutes a day working on defense — taking ground balls while in a stationary position to watch the ball into his glove, tracking balls off the bat and working on reading angles — since he says making the right half-step choice in anticipation of where the ball will be hit is worth an extra five feet of range for him in making a play.
(Side note: the incredibly cheap Athletic subscription seems worth it)
You could argue that, given his performance, Wendle is if anything underused given the performance in a part time role on defense. But finding playing time for Wendle, DRob, Arroyo, Duffy and Cron across the infield has proven difficult, with the impending promotion of Adames and Bauers making things even more complicated.
I believe Wendle is a part of the Rays current and even future success, even if it is in a part time role. Having a high defensive profile and league average bat is something valuable on an MLB roster. It may not block the prospects from the show, but it should secure his position on the 25-man roster moving forward when the kids finally get here.