If you trust the A's internal scouting and believe that when they set their sights on a guy it's for good reason, then you're likely bullish on A's second base prospect Joey Wendle. If you've been following the daily box scores from AAA Nashville, however, you might not be so sanguine.
Considered to be a steady defender with great overall makeup, Wendle's offensive numbers have been pretty pedestrian all season, bogged down by a low walk rate, and at the All-Star Break his slash line sits at a particularly low point: .257/.295/.393.
Minor league stats are highly subject to "grain of salt" warnings, because context is so very important. How old is the player relative to the league he is in? Has he made some recent strides? Is he repeating a level? Wendle's slash line is not impressive but should we be worried, or just patient?
To me the key number in that analysis is "25" -- that's Wendle's age. I say this because I realize that as disappointing as his hitting so far has been at AAA, if Wendle were 22 or 23 I would shrug it off and attribute all the struggles to "new level, young prospect, give it time".
The problem is that Wendle is not young for his league and was supposed to be knocking on the big league door right about now. Far from dominating AAA, though, Wendle is being chastened by it and he is not even trending upwards.
The optimist can see Wendle as having lost much of 2014 to injury and having been promoted to AAA after only 336 AA at bats, can see a player who is simply struggling in his first taste of AAA but who will soon figure it out, handle AAA, and quickly slide into handling the big leagues.
The pessimist can see Wendle as failing at AAA at age 25, poised to repeat that level at age 26 in hopes of earning a promotion to the big leagues as an older rookie. 26-27 year old rookies can contribute but are rarely players worth getting excited about. "Old for your league" + "Not successful there" =/= "Cause for great optimism".
When trying to decide whether I think players can adjust, grow, improve, learn, and ultimately succeed, I tend to fall back on character over tools. If he's as mature, hard-working, and coachable as portrayed, then Wendle will probably succeed if the tools for success are there. You can't draw blood from a stone, no, but you might get penicillin from cheese if you're willing to be patient.
Then again, what if the tools to hit big league pitching just aren't there? It's not as if Wendle came out of college a hot shot prospect widely scouted as a pure hitter destined for big league success. He was a 6th round pick projected to be "solid and unspectacular".
Of course "solid and unspectacular" can mean a lot of things. It can mean Mark Ellis and a steal of a trade, or it can mean Eric Sogard and a useful big league player with little offensive value. If I had one guess, it's that Wendle will have, sometime late this season, that "aha!" moment where it all gels and he starts to hit AAA pitching the way he should; that it will carry over to 2016 earning him an early call-up and that he will carve out, beginning at age 26, a career as a "super-Sogard" -- basically Sogard's defense, and somewhat his batting only with significantly more pop.
That being said, "bust" is a real possibility here. Maybe scouts were right and the A's were wrong, and the tools just aren't there no matter what the character. At this moment, honestly I would have a hard time handicapping it. I thought Wendle would hit AAA pitching this season a lot better than he has, and again he is already in his mid-20s being handled by many pitchers less experienced than he.
So I am highly agnostic, along with still being optimistic. I am, I suppose, a Wendle agnoptimist.