It seems like every year, without fail, a middle infielder (or two) vaults into dynasty must-own territory from relative obscurity. 2012 gave us Matt Carpenter, 2013 gave us Brad Miller and 2014 gave us Joe Panik. They weren’t listed on top 100 lists, they weren’t guaranteed starting jobs, and by the time you realized they needed to be rostered, it was too late. Getting in front of these types before they become household names is an extremely profitable, but almost impossible strategy.
These players all seem to have some things in common. First and foremost, they are hitters and seemingly nothing else. They are not world-class athletes and their defensive homes were never obvious. Explosive athletes make top 100 lists. These guys don’t. They all played college ball and and they all walked more than they struck out. It’s probably irrelevant, but those guys are all left-handed hitters.
This is fantasy baseball. I don’t care if my second baseman has zero range. As long as it isn’t Hanley-in-LF bad and he’s hitting, he’ll be in the lineup.
Let me introduce you to Joey Wendle, a left-handed hitting second baseman in the Oakland A’s organization. If you are at all familiar with that particular organization, you will recognize that they don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to a player’s warts. If a player can create runs, he is welcomed with open arms. Mr. Wendle checks off all of the boxes from above. He was a four year starter at West Chester University in Pennsylvania and hit .366/.434/.595 in 208 games. He struck out a total of 35 times. I’m not going to pretend that I have any idea what the competition level is like in a conference that hosts West Chester University, but I can safely assume it takes an extreme level of talent to avoid striking out 833 times in 868 plate appearances while maintaining a .229 isolated slugging percentage in any league that doesn’t toss the ball underhanded and allow you to play four outfielders.
Wendle was drafted in the 6th round of the 2012 draft by the Cleveland Indians, signed immediately and managed to play in 67 games at Low-A Mahoning Valley that year. Here’s a surprise, he hit and he didn’t strike out. A .327/.375/.469 slash line and a sub 1o percent strikeout rate earned him a promotion to High-A Carolina to begin 2013. I don’t think I’m allowed to use emojis or I would embed a surprise emoji here. He raked to the tune of .295/.372/.513 in 107 games and was promoted to Double-A Akron to begin 2014. Facing his first real test as a hitter in his life and a serious injury, Wendle maintained a strikeout rate below 16 percent and hit a roughly league average .253/.311/.414 in 370 plate appearances before being traded to Oakland for Brandon Moss. In two full seasons at Triple- A Nashville with the Athletics, he’s hit .285/.323/.447 while averaging 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases.
Wendle was promoted to Oakland for the final month of 2016 and and struggled to a .260/.298/.302 slash line in 104 plate appearances. On the surface, his debut was not all that positive, but he managed a better than league-average strikeout rate and swinging strike rate. He put the ball in play 96 times and did not register a single pop-up/infield fly ball.
As a hit-first player listed at 6’1, 190 pounds, there is some room to dream on a strong power/speed player developing. Wendle is going to get his shot in 2017 and based on his history of success and the history of hit-first, defensively-challenged players, I’m not betting against this guy.
On a parting note, Wendle spent the winter in Mexico learning to play third base to increase his versatility for an organization that loves versatility. He did this while he was there.
My Spanish is a bit rusty, but I believe they said to add this guy in deep leagues before the Joey Wendle bandwagon is too full.