ST. LOUIS — Though Mark Ellis got a contract that pays starter money, the St. Louis Cardinals are planning for rookie Kolten Wong to be the regular second baseman next year.
Wong batted just .132 in 59 at-bats and was embarrassed in the World Series when he got picked off first base to end Game 5. He was a first-round pick in 2011 and climbed the system quickly, batting .303 last year at Triple-A Memphis with 20 steals in 21 attempts. He showed a bit of power, too, with 10 home runs.
“I don’t think you look at the sample size and try to judge that talent,” general manager John Mozeliak said Tuesday. “We realize what he’s capable of doing.
“Obviously, spring training has to happen,” Mozeliak added. “But our goal was to give Kolten a very good opportunity to play.”
Mozeliak said Ellis’ one-year, $5.25 million deal was a product of competitive bidding for a player who’ll help balance the lineup. The 36-year-old Ellis adds another right-handed bat to a team that was vulnerable against lefties and got shut down twice by Boston’s Jon Lester in the World Series.
“I certainly think you have better odds today than you did yesterday,” the GM said. “Everybody scratched their heads when we faced left-handed pitching with no definitive answers.”
Ellis said Monday he turned multiyear offers for a chance to win a World Series with St. Louis.
“Part of that’s market-driven,” Mozeliak said. “Frankly, I’m fortunate we got him.”
The Cardinals batted .280 against right-handers last season, third-best in the majors, but were 27th-best with a .238 average against lefties.
Ellis is a right-handed hitter and could platoon with the left-handed hitting Wong. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who got a four-year free-agent deal, and center fielder Peter Bourjos, acquired from the Angels, also bat from the right side.
Last season, lefties neutralized Jon Jay (.220), Matt Adams (.231, no walks) and Daniel Descalso (.183), all left-handed hitters, and righty bat Pete Kozma (.183) also scuffled. Jay moves to bench along with either Descalso or Kozma. Matt Carpenter, the leadoff man last year, and top prospect Oscar Tavares also are left-handed sticks.
“I think we really improved how we look from the right side,” Mozeliak said. “We had to address some things in a very quick manner and I think we did that.”
Thus far, upgrades have not cost the Cardinals any of their young talent.
Even before signing Ellis, Mozeliak said he’d be happy taking the team to spring training. He was especially satisfied given the Cardinals played an extra month.
“I did not think it would happen this quickly,” Mozeliak said.
Ellis said Monday he’d be open to playing elsewhere in the infield and welcomed the possibility of serving as a mentor for Wong. He said Randy Velarde and John Mabry, now the St. Louis hitting coach, were influences when he was a young player.
The Cardinals appear to have enough depth that Tavares, who is coming off ankle surgery, could start next season at Memphis.
“All arrows point to him being ready to go when camp opens, so that’s exciting,” Mozeliak said. “But he hasn’t played in a while.”
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