Kean Wong waits his turn for MLB draft
By KEVIN JAKAHI
Tribune-Herald sports writer
Recent Waiakea graduate Kean Wong doesn’t want to give himself a headache, so he won’t pick up his cellphone during the three days of the Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
The draft will be streamed live all three days on MLB.com and the first and second rounds will be broadcast on the MLB Network (channel 208), starting at 1 p.m. Thursday. Rounds 3-11 will be held Friday, and rounds 11-40 on Saturday. Both days start at 7 a.m.
According to his dad, Kaha Wong, the general consensus from MLB scouts is his left-handed hitting son will be picked within the top seven rounds in the second year of the new draft rules, which assign pool money and pick values for the top 10 rounds.
His brother, Kolten, was the 22nd overall selection by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2011 draft. This year’s No. 22 pick is held by the Baltimore Orioles with a suggested $1,947,600 value.
There are penalties for clubs that exceed bonus pools, including a tax penalty and loss of draft picks. If a first-rounder, especially a high school player with a college option as bargaining leverage, wants more money that leaves less for others.
As if on cue, scouts are already calling to ask if the younger Wong will take less than slot money to sign. He played football at Waiakea, too, so he’s punting that headache to his dad.
“We’ve told all the scouts who call that he’s going to take slot money,” Kaha Wong said. “The bottom line is the scouts know that they missed out on Kolten and they don’t want to miss on Kean. He’s two inches taller and he’s bigger. They said he’s more advanced than Kolten when he was in high school.
“By getting drafted Kolten helped Kean. Kean knows that. He helped himself when he went to the showcase (in front of MLB teams). He ran 6.5 seconds in the 60 yards, the fastest he ever ran. He ran 6.6 and 6.7 before. He went 3 for 3 off guys who were throwing 94 mph. He made unbelievable throws from the outfield, second base and at catcher. Everything fell into place.
“It was in front of 60 scouts. The Chicago White Sox and Cleveland Indians never came to look at Kean. When they saw him, I told them they were the ones missing out.”
During his last season in the Big Island Interscholastic Federation, Wong batted .435 with three homers and 26 RBIs. He had a .563 on-base percentage and a .903 slugging average. But it was against high school competition with most pitchers throwing under 78 mph.
However, players are drafted on their potential, a reason scouts fill out two grades: present day tools and future tools. Position players are graded on their ability to hit, hit for power, field, run and throw.
At the MLB showcase, Wong was weighed at 192 pounds and measured at 6 feet, three inches taller than Kolten, who’s tearing it up at Triple-A Memphis.
The difference between the brothers is experience, a reason Kolten Wong was a surefire first-round pick. He played at the University of Hawaii for three years, competed on Team USA, and was named MVP of the Cape Cod league with a .341 batting average, considered the top collegiate summer league in the country.
Kean Wong also has a UH scholarship, a bargaining chip in case MLB teams try to lowball him. There is always the Alex Fernandez option. He’s the former first-round pick of the White Sox in 1990, who pitched for the University of Miami for a year then transferred to a junior college to be eligible, again, for the draft.
Second-round assigned values run from $1,392,200 with the Astros’ 40th pick to $820,000 for the Nationals’ 68th selection. The amount drops off a cliff in the seventh round from $202,300 to $160,100.
When Kolten Wong left UH, he was majoring in sociology and holding a 3.8 grade-point average. During the offseason, he’s trying to take online classes to get his degree.
His younger brother could follow his lead at college or immediately join the workforce. But first, Kean Wong needs to wait until his name is called.
“Tampa Bay, Oakland, Cleveland but they want him to catch, and the Yankees have shown the most interest,” Kaha Wong said. “But there might be a sleeper team out there. We don’t know. All we know is it’s exciting.”
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