Joey Wendle is gift that keeps on giving for Rays

Rays infielder Joey Wendle runs down the Yankees' Neil Walker along the third-base line at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (JIM DAMASKE  |  Times0
Rays infielder Joey Wendle runs down the Yankees' Neil Walker along the third-base line at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (JIM DAMASKE | Times0
Published September 26 2018
Updated September 27 2018

ST. PETERSBURG — The list of remarkable achievements by Rays infielder Joey Wendle in his first full season in the majors is impressively long.

After Wednesday's 8-7 win against the Yankees, Wendle led all American League rookies with a .300 average, six triples and 4.4 WAR (by baseball-reference.com). He was second with 32 doubles, 60 runs, 15 steals, a .354 on-base percentage, 208 total bases, 39 multihit games. He ranked in the top five with 58 RBIs, 36 walks, 45 extra-base hits, a .790 OPS. He has started at four different positions (and played a fifth, all well) while hitting everywhere in the lineup and hustling continuously.

And he had played his way into the conversation, as well as the competition, for AL rookie of the year.

The degree of surprise at these achievements, for a 28-year-old who had played only 36 games previously in the majors with Oakland, is, apparently, relative.

Rays officials, who were pleased to get him off Oakland's December discard pile in a small trade, admit Wendle has surpassed their best-case projections.

"I think what we've seen from Joey this year is everything we hoped to see, but really just so much more of it,'' senior VP Chaim Bloom said Wednesday. "We knew he was a very good defensive player, and he's even exceeded our expectations. We knew he had a good head for the game. We knew he was wired right and made up well. All that has played even better than we expected. And he certainly exceeded our expectations at the plate, against righties and lefties. He's not intimidated in any situation. He's puts together quality at-bats night after night. The whole thing has been more than we could have asked for.''

But what about the A's players, who saw him grind every day for most of three years at Triple A with a little big-league time mixed in?

Not surprised so much.

"Not even for a second,'' infielder/outfielder Chad Pinder said. "Not at all. He's one of the most consistent players I ever played with day in and day out. You're always going to get the same thing from Joey. He's going to play as hard as he can. He's going to give you competitive at-bats. He's going to play great defense. And he couldn't be a better teammate, one of the best I ever played with.

"So it's no shock to me whatsoever that he's having the success he's having right now.''

A's first baseman Matt Olson said the Wendle we are seeing in the majors is what they saw in Nashville and other stops along the minor-league circuit.

"I played with him for almost two full years, and it's the same thing he's doing now,'' Olson said. "He's just a good all-around player who puts together good at-bats consistently and plays a good second base. I don't have enough good things to say about him.''

The A's said goodbye to Wendle in December because he didn't fit their plans with the rise of Franklin Barreto and the addition of Jorge Mateo, designating him for assignment and getting only Class A catcher Jonah Heim in return.

"We loved Joey Wendle,'' manager Bob Melvin said. "There just wasn't room for him, unfortunately. We think he's a terrific player. We're all really happy for him. He's always had the ability to do that. It was more what we were looking at in our organization with him not getting a chance. And he got to an organization where he's gotten a chance. It doesn't surprise anybody here.''

The only thing the A's didn't know, Melvin admitted, was that Wendle could be so versatile, able to play shortstop and third base, plus an outfield fill-in (which Wendle himself didn't know until the Rays asked him to give it a try.)

Ultimately, what allowed Wendle to emerge, to earn the nickname Joey Ballgame, to become what Rays manager Kevin Cash said was the example for how he would wish everyone in the organization played with all-out effort and attention to detail, was the opportunity.

Bloom said the Rays started looking more closely at Wendle over the second half of 2017, thinking there might be a fit since he may become available and they might have a spot to give him a look.

Wendle insisted he had no hard feelings toward the A's, no sense of redemption, but he couldn't be more appreciative of the opportunity the Rays gave him.

And, no, he isn't that surprised with what he has done either.

"I feel like I've always had the ability that I've shown this year,'' he said. "I really haven't shocked myself. I feel like maybe I've maximized the opportunity I've gotten to this point.

"There's still areas I can improve on, and I'll look to do that this offseason and come back to spring training and address them. I'm always looking to get better.''

That's certainly no surprise either.

Contact Marc Topkin at mtopkin@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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