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The Debut: Joey Wendle

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Grit. Grind. Gym Rat. Other ‘g’ related words for white athletes...

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

During the last day of August during the 2016 regular season, the Oakland Athletics promoted a scrappy, gritty, annoying infielder: 26-year-old, Joey Wendle.

Long before that though, the hard-nosed Wendle was first taken in the sixth round of the 2012 draft by the Cleveland Baseball Team and signed just one day later, officially beginning his professional career. During his first taste of action, Wendle excelled as he finished the season with a 148 wRC+. As the year’s passed, Wendle became the model of consistency as the gym rat just continued to put in solid campaigns.

Entering the 2015 season, prospect pundits began to take notice of Wendle as he was ranked as the 17th prospect in Cleveland’s system.

Wendle’s hit tool might be the only one that’s plus, but that could be enough to get him to the majors. He has a short, compact swing, an advanced feel for hitting and solid control of the strike zone...He has good hands and agility at second base to go with adequate range and arm strength. His speed rates as merely fringe-average. The organization loves Wendle’s blue-collar mentality and top-shelf makeup.

Wendle also caught the attention of the Oakland Athletics and on December 8th, 2014 they traded All-Star outfielder Brandon Moss to Cleveland and received the grinding infielder in return.

Once he joined Oakland’s system, Wendle just continued to do Joey Wendle things and eventually found himself on the cusp of reaching the majors as the dawn of expanded rosters in 2016 quickly approached.

On August 31st, 2016, the Athletics traded outfielder Coco Crisp to Cleveland and the deal with Wendle’s former organization would lead to the blue collar infielder making his first trip to the show.

At the time, Wendle was gearing up to play in the Triple-A playoffs, but was told by his manager that the Athletics had different plans for him.

[He] said, ‘Doesn’t look like you’ll be joining us for the playoffs. The A’s have made a move and have room for you on the roster, so you’re going to the big leagues. I was pretty speechless. There wasn’t a whole lot to say at that time.

Joey Wendle was in the big leagues and he was starting that night’s game.

Wendle’s first taste of big league action came almost immediately as the ball found him in the bottom of the first inning with Jose Altuve popping out to him in the infield.

His first trip to the plate came the following half inning.

The rookie stepped to the plate with a runner on first and one out in the inning with Mike Fiers on the mound for the Houston Astros. Fiers delivers an 86 mph pitch right down the middle for called strike. The next pitch was nearly identical and Wendle scorched the ball up the middle where it was met by Carlos Correa. The ball was hit so hard though that Correa misplayed the ball and allowed Wendle to reached.

Wendle’s first stint on the basepaths was brief as Jake Smolinski laced a ball into center field that found its way past the Astros center fielder Jake Marisnick. Wendle raced around the bases and scored.

That was cool. I was glad I hit the ball hard, had a good at-bat, quality at-bat, and scoring a run was awesome. That’s the goal. That’s more important than getting hits.

The game slogged by after that. Wendle made a routine play on a groundball in the bottom of the second.

He had a chance to do some damage in the top of the third as he came to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded. He worked a long at-bat against Fiers, but in the end he harmlessly grounded out to end the threat.

Wendle assisted in turning a double play in the bottom of the 4th.

During his third trip to the plate, Wendle attacked the first pitch he seen and crushed a ball deep into right field. However, Teoscar Hernandez was able to range back and successfully snagged the ball on the run for the out.

Wendle snagged another pop fly later on, and in his fourth trip to the plate, Wendle managed to reach base for a second time...despite striking out. He would advance to second base on another wild pitch, but was stranded there.

And that was that. All the action that found Joey Wendle during his big league debut on August 31st, 2016.

Since that time, Wendle has been dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays where he had a breakout campaign in 2018, garnering some Rookie of the Year attention. The 2019 season was a disappointment due to injury, but he rebounded during the abbreviated 2020 season to such an extent that he was the team’s starting third baseman during the 2020 World Series.

To see all of Joey Wendle’s action in his debut, check out the video below.