Fann: Mariners have ‘instant leader’ in Kolten Wong, says Brewers PxP
The Mariners’ offseason was largely quiet apart from two notable trades: a deal with the Blue Jays to acquire right fielder Teoscar Hernández, and another with the Brewers for second baseman Kolten Wong. Both veterans are expected to play key roles in Seattle’s hopeful return to the postseason in 2023.
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Wong specifically fills a void in the middle infield. While many were hoping the Mariners would chase a big-name free agent to plug into shortstop or second base (myself included), Wong should still be an upgrade over Adam Frazier. Wong posted back-to-back 2.5 fWAR seasons in 2021 and 2022, while Frazier was at just 1.1 last season for Seattle.
I caught up with Brewers play-by-play man Jeff Levering on Thursday, who expressed his belief that Wong will fit right in with the Mariners. Wong spent the past two years in Milwaukee after being in St. Louis for his first eight big league seasons.
“He’s a great human being,” Levering said. “He’s a guy that brings a ton of energy to the game. He’s got all that flare. He’s going to fit perfectly with Julio (Rodríguez). Those two guys are going to feed off each other really well in Seattle.”
Levering added that Wong is someone who won’t be bashful about being vocal immediately despite technically being the new guy in Seattle’s clubhouse.
“He’s going to be an instant leader,” Levering said. “He’s not afraid to talk to people. He’s not afraid to call people out if they’re not playing hard. He’s really good in that way.”
Wong has been a league-average hitter for most of his career while thriving as an elite defensive second baseman and winning a pair of Gold Gloves.
“He has worked so hard to be the defender that he is,” Levering said. “He’s out there every single day. His arm strength isn’t awesome but his range is really good. It’s something he prides himself on. He’s a special player.”
However, Wong was dreadful in the field last season with a career-high 17 errors. Levering mentioned Wong changed gloves midseason and was regularly too quick with his hands, leading to dropped balls in transition.
Wong has owned up to those struggles and is eager to turn things around in 2023 with the assistance of Seattle’s infield guru, Perry Hill.
“I had a very terrible year defensively that I expect to have a full change,” Wong said this week to Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk (audio in the player below). “With Perry on my side right now – just the past couple days working together I’ve taken leaps and bounds compared to what I felt last year.”
Levering suggested that MLB banning shifts in the infield should be a boon for Wong. He will no longer be tasked with playing on the left side of the infield against right-handed hitters, something that taxed his arm strength. He’ll also be on an island on the right side of the infield against lefties, something that will showcase his range.
“You’re going to see who the real good second basemen are in this league,” Levering said. “Kolten is going to be right there at the top again in terms of defensive metrics.”
In addition to banning the shift, another new wrinkle to the upcoming MLB season is the balanced schedule that will result in every team playing each other. That means Levering will get his chance to see Wong in a Mariners uniform in just a few months with Seattle hosting Milwaukee at T-Mobile Park for a three-game series from April 17-19.
Levering articulated why he believes this Mariners team is going to be a factor in the American League for many years to come.
“I love this Seattle team,” he said. “I’ve always been such a fan of the Mariners. Maybe it was the Ken Griffey Jr. effect from when I was growing up. It’s that era. It’s Edgar Martinez and Tino Martinez and Jay Buhner – guys who I loved growing up. When they’re good, I think it’s good for everybody. They’ve got such a young group. I love watching Julio Rodríguez play. I love watching their young pitching and those young dudes in the back end of the bullpen who just throw cheese.
“I think Major League Baseball is tired of the Astros winning. They’re good and they’re going to continue to be good, but I think they need new blood in the AL West, and I think the Mariners provide that.”
Everyone in Seattle hopes Levering is right, both in regard to his projection for Wong and these 2023 Mariners as a whole.
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