Following an off-season that saw them trade away many of their more well-known players, and allow more of them to walk as free agents, most people didn’t expect much from the Tampa Bay Rays this season. Some even accused them of tanking. Instead, the Rays are approaching the end of August looking like they have a good chance to post their first .500 or better season since 2013. They recently put together their second eight-game winning streak of the season, improving their record to 70-61. Some players have their sights set on bigger things than just finishing above .500 and are even talking about making a push for a playoff spot over the final month of the season. There’ve been a number of pleasant surprises for the Rays this season to help them exceed expectations. One of those who probably deserves more attention is second baseman, Joey Wendle.
After all, this is a guy whose name MLB Network couldn’t even get right before the season. More people should know his name now, though, as he’s put together a very solid season for the Rays.
Joey Wendle Has Been an Unsung Hero for the Tampa Bay Rays
First, allow me to give some background on a player many people probably don’t know much about. A sixth-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2012, Wendle was traded to the Oakland Athletics following the 2014 season in a deal that brought Brandon Moss to Cleveland. Wendle debuted for the Athletics in the 2016 season, getting 104 plate appearances over 28 games. In that time he slashed .260/.298/.302 with one home run and 11 RBI, good for just a 64 wRC+ and 0.1 fWAR.
Wendle then barely got any opportunity with the A’s in 2017, appearing in just eight games. Over that time he went 4-for-13 with a home run, a double and five RBI, also drawing a walk. That .308/.357/.615 line graded out to a 142 wRC+, but of course, not much stock was going to be put into such a small sample size. Especially when Wendle’s Triple-A numbers weren’t all that impressive. He hit .285/.327/.429 with eight home runs and 54 RBI in 118 games. In the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, that graded out to a slightly below average 94 wRC+. Overall, Wendle ended up spending almost all of his three years in the Athletics organization with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds.
The Rays apparently saw something in Wendle, though. At least enough to trade catching prospect Jonah Heim for him after the A’s designated Wendle for assignment following the 2017 season. The Rays came into the 2018 planning to move their primary second baseman from 2017, Brad Miller, to first base to replace Logan Morrison, who’d departed for the Minnesota Twins as a free agent. That gave Wendle an opportunity to compete for playing time at second base. The Rays have dealt with a lot of injuries and roster turnover this season, which has also helped present a lot of opportunities for Wendle, whose 422 plate appearances are the fourth most on the team.
Finally given the chance to play consistently in the majors at the age of 28, it’s safe to say he’s taking advantage of his opportunity. Wendle is slashing .292/.342/.424 through 111 games, with seven home runs, 31 extra base hits and 49 RBI, good for a 110 wRC+. His .292 average ranks 14th among qualified hitters in the American League. He’s also stolen nine bases and played strong defense at second base, with four defensive runs saved and a 9.8 UZR/150. Wendle’s been versatile, as well, having also played some third base, shortstop and left field (as well as one inning in right field). Overall, Wendle’s been worth 2.3 fWAR already this season, which ranks third among Rays position players.
Even if you think his .348 BABIP is a little high and propping up his line a bit, Wendle still looks like a roughly league-average hitter. Combine that with his plus defense, versatility, and the fact that he has five more seasons of team control, and it’s clear that Wendle has become a valuable piece for the Rays.
Wendle may not have a ton of power or draw a ton of walks, but he puts the ball and play and uses his sneaky speed to his advantage. His solid performance in all areas of the game has him on pace for roughly a three WAR season. Not bad for a guy who was DFA’d last winter and didn’t get a real opportunity for big-league playing time until he was with his third organization. Wendle may not be a superstar, but people should at least know his name now.
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