Wong wants shot at Cardinals' leadoff role

Wong wants shot at Cardinals' leadoff role

ST. LOUIS -- More than two months before manager Mike Matheny will have to fill out his first regular-season lineup card of 2016, he finds himself already being lobbied for a new spot in that order.

Kolten Wong, speaking at the Cardinals' Winter Warm-Up event over the weekend, petitioned for consideration as a leadoff hitter, a job that has fallen mostly to Matt Carpenter over the past three seasons. Wong wasn't so much insisting that he could fill the role better than Carpenter, who has been one of the Majors' best at getting on base in recent years, but rather contending that his placement atop the order could deepen the lineup.

"Seeing what Carp did last year, the power numbers he put up, you have me in leadoff, I'll get into scoring position, and if he hits one in the gap, I'm going to score," Wong said. "I think that would be a good thing to do. ... We'll see what happens. Hopefully, No. 1 is the spot."

So what did Matheny think of Wong's preseason campaigning?

"I love it," Matheny said. "For me to hear that from Kolten is kind of just him looking at the landscape of our club and thinking, 'How can I jump into this and help us more?' And he thinks him being at the top of the order could allow him freedom to do other things. I'm excited to watch what he does."

Wong's leadoff homer

Carpenter led the club in home runs (28) and RBIs (84), which would suggest that placing him in more of a run-production spot could be advantageous for a club looking to improve upon the 3.99 average runs per game scored in 2015. But the decision isn't so obvious.

Wong started 51 games from the leadoff spot a year ago after the Cardinals, searching for an offensive jolt, tried hitting Carpenter lower in the order. There was little discrepancy between Wong's numbers batting first -- .247/.303/.400 -- and anywhere else in the order, yet he didn't stick for the long term.

If Wong is to make a case for slotting in permanently in the lineup's top spot, he will have to up that on-base percentage. His career OBP of .303 would have ranked 39th last season among those with at least 150 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter. That's far from sufficient for the Cardinals, who have gotten a .383 OBP from Carpenter since he first moved atop the order in 2013.

Nevertheless, Wong hopes to make his case for consideration this spring.

"If Mike does decide to put me at leadoff, have me lead off from Day 1 of Spring Training," he said. "If I can really start buying into being a leadoff batter from the beginning, I feel like that will help me and help the team come this season."

Wong would bring a unique approach to the spot, in that he's had much of his success in the Majors by being aggressive. Carpenter, in turn, makes his mark by working counts. Last season, Wong averaged 3.72 pitches per plate appearance compared to Carpenter's 4.22 mark, which was second-best in the National League.

Perhaps the leadoff spot would also afford Wong, who stole 15 bases in 23 attempts last year, the chance to be more aggressive in that area of his game as well.

Wong steals second

Regardless of any one player's aspirations -- and for the record, Carpenter said he has no preference on where in the order he hits -- Matheny intends to let the lineup play itself out in spring.

"I don't think it's a great idea to make up our mind ahead of time when these guys spend the whole winter working and preparing and trying to improve in certain ways," Matheny said. "We'll wait and see. And after that, we'll adjust."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.