In recent times, the A’s have tended to fill their Triple-A roster with plenty of veteran players whom they feel are capable of stepping in at the major league level if and when needed. And this year is certainly no exception, as the average age of players on the Nashville roster is currently between 28 and 29 years of age.
The one position player presently on the A’s Triple-A team who truly fits the “prospect” mold is second baseman Joey Wendle. At 25, the left-handed hitter is the only position player at Nashville under the age of 27. Wendle has also been one of the Sounds’ biggest offensive weapons this season, leading the team in total bases and slugging percentage. And he’s the most likely everyday player for the Sounds to end up as an everyday player for the A’s in the near future, especially considering the team’s lack of middle infield depth.
Wendle joined the A’s this offseason in one of the more surprising deals for A’s fans, when the team traded popular first baseman Brandon Moss to the Indians for the Double-A second baseman whom most A’s stalwarts had never heard of, but Wendle really wasn’t expecting it either.
“It definitely surprised my wife and I,” Wendle said during a conversation before the last game of Nashville’s homestand on Tuesday. “It was bittersweet for me because I really enjoyed being part of the Indians organization…but I was also really excited to be joining the A’s. I knew that it was an organization where people go about things the right way.”
And one would expect that being dealt for a proven big leaguer like Brandon Moss at least had to make a young prospect feel good about himself.
“It was definitely an honor,” Wendle admitted. “The numbers speak for themselves and just what he was worth to the organization, and I’m sure he’s been a great attribute to the Indians. So I definitely felt that I was valuable to the organization almost immediately as a result of the trade.”
Of course, Wendle certainly wasn’t the only new face joining the A’s this spring, and adjusting to things with a new team isn’t always easy. But Wendle had a solid spring, hitting .282 in 22 games for the A’s, and his transition to the A’s organization seemed to go as well as could be expected.
“It was awesome. I really enjoyed getting to know the guys on the team. Everybody was welcoming to me and really just accepted me as if I’d been with the organization for years,” said Wendle. “It also helped that there were a whole lot of new guys. A lot of people seemed to be meeting each other for the first time. The coaching staff was awesome. They were outgoing and very approachable. I definitely appreciated how the organization treated me, how the players treated me. Even the veteran guys went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. So that’s something that I certainly appreciated.”
Wendle definitely made a positive impression on one member of the A’s coaching staff, former major league infielder Make Gallego, who seemed particularly impressed with Wendle’s defensive prowess.
“That is one of the best second base prospects I’ve seen come through camp in many, many years,” Gallego told A’s Farm about Wendle during the spring. “This guy’s a pure, solid, future major league second baseman. He’s just so fundamentally sound…it’s hard to find a flaw in his defensive game.”
“Well, any compliment from him I take very seriously,” Wendle said when told of Gallego’s praise. “He’s seen a lot of infielders, so those are certainly very kind words from him…I’m just always working on every part of my game and trying to get better.”
“It was awesome,” Wendle gushed. “It was my first time in Nashville, first time in Triple-A. The environment around the ballpark was fun. Everybody was excited about the new stadium.”
Of course, every stadium is a little different. And word has it that the Sounds’ new home, First Tennessee Park, has been shaping up to be a bit of a pitcher’s park, a place that tends to favor hurlers over hitters.
“Well, it seems like with every ballpark, if you ask a pitcher, it’s a hitter’s ballpark, and if you ask a hitter, it’s a pitcher’s ballpark,” Wendle joked. “But I think, to be honest, it’s a pitcher’s ballpark. It plays pretty big in the outfield. Balls that are elevated have a tendency to kind of get caught up and run down more than they do maybe in other ballparks…but the field is beautiful, the playing surface is really nice and just the overall atmosphere has made it really fun to play here this year.”
Whatever effect the ballpark has on hitters, it hasn’t seemed to bother Wendle much, as he was one of the team’s hottest hitters in April, putting up a .286/.338/.557 slash line for the month, and the left-handed hitter currently leads all A’s minor leaguers in extra-base hits this season with 19 (12 doubles, 3 triples, 4 home runs).
“At this level, you’re going to have weeks where you’re seeing the ball well and the balls are dropping for you, and then you’ll have weeks where they don’t,” Wendle claimed. “At this point, it’s just about continuing to make adjustments and trying to better yourself as a hitter. This season already has had some high points, had some low points and had some challenges.”
Despite otherwise solid offensive numbers, Wendle has drawn just 6 walks against 29 strikeouts in 151 at-bats so far this season. And one of the challenges that the second baseman will face, particularly in the A’s organization, is improving his plate discipline. Have the A’s specifically brought up the issue with him yet?
“Not specifically towards me, it hasn’t been addressed. But they do have that reputation certainly. And any good, professional hitter is going to develop that as they go through their career,” Wendle stated. “I would consider myself more of an aggressive hitter, and that helps me sometimes, but it’s also a detriment sometimes. So that’s an area that I’m looking to improve at.”
Spending the season at Nashville, Wendle has already seen teammates like Max Muncy and Billy Burns make their way to the A’s and make an impression at the big league level. That must make the prospect of a call coming from Oakland someday seem like a real possibility for a hot prospect like Wendle.
“I try not to think about that kind of stuff. It’s something that really is out of my control. What I can control is how I prepare to play both mentally and physically and the effort level that I play with out there.” But Wendle admitted, “It is real exciting though seeing Max and Billy up there. I couldn’t be happier for those guys and the success that they’ve been having. I saw Muncy hit his first home run – he’s here one day and then hits a home run in the majors the other day – so that is fun to see! And it’s encouraging for me to know that if he can do it, then maybe I could do it too.”
But for now, Wendle is just working on controlling what he can – having solid at-bats and trying to get better everyday – while he waits for the opportunity to take his game to the next level.
“You’re constantly making adjustments and you’re constantly looking to better yourself and have more professional at-bats. And that’s something that I’m continuing to work on and will probably continue to work on until the last day of my career.”
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