One of this year’s most unexpected surprises is the success that Connor Wong has been having at the major league level. Before the season even started it was a legitimate question whether Wong would even break camp as one of the Red Sox two catchers. Jorge Alfaro had a track record of major league experience and Reece McGuire was a lock based on his experience and performance last year. Moreover, Wong had been dealing with a nagging injury during spring training and it wasn’t even clear if he would be healthy enough to handle the rigors of the job.
Wong did indeed win the job and since then he has become the dominant side of the platoon with McGuire. Wong has proven adept at controlling the run game, something that his counterpart really struggles with. His pop time and arm strength are among the best in the game at the position. In fact, his pop time of 1.89 is tied for fifth best in the majors. Coupling his elite pop time with the 8th best arm out of 58 qualified catchers and you get a special player.
On the hitting side of things, Wong has been showing off his 90th percentile max exit velocity by hitting for some serious power. His ISO of .227 ranks as the 8th best mark among all catchers and he’s 15th in home runs with six despite playing in a platoon. In addition, Wong is very fast for a catcher with 80th percentile sprint speed. He is one of just ten catchers with at least 50 plate appearances that rates positively in FanGraphs baserunning metric. The totality of his skills has him as the 13th best catcher by fWAR worth 0.7.
There is much that Wong still needs to work on to truly ascend into the upper echelon of catchers. On the defensive side he still ranks as below average in both blocking and framing metrics. This is something that he can continue to work on with Jason Varitek and his other coaches to refine over time. Perhaps harder to fix will be his swing-and-miss. Right now, Wong is striking out 31.3% of the time and in particular he is struggling mightily against curveballs. Wong will often let good pitches go by and needs to be more aggressive swinging at hittable offering in the zone.
At 27-years-old, Wong is in the athletic prime of his career and I expect that he will continue to improve. Catcher is one of those positions where players tend to mature a little later and we generally see their peak years closer to the late 20’s and early 30’s rather than in the early to mid 20’s. There are so many aspects to catching that require time and practice including blocking, framing, game calling, controlling the running game, and much more.
Wong’s success this year coupled with Alex Verdugo’s best season to date has made the Mookie Betts trade at least a little easier to digest. Although I do believe that Mookie Betts wanted to be elsewhere, I still hate the trade. However, Wong becoming a player takes a little bit of bitterness out of the fact that they whiffed on Jeter Downs. It sure doesn’t fix a terrible trade, but I am glad to have Wong on an upward trajectory and under team control for the foreseeable future.