Durham Bulls’ Kean Wong wins All-Star MVP award

Infielder waits his turn for MLB shot while racking up honors with Durham

Durham Bulls infielder Kean Wong went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI to earn International League All-Star Game MVP honors last week. (Brian Fleming / Durham Bulls)

Minor leaguers don’t get a lot of time on national television, but Durham Bulls infielder Kean Wong has made the most of his exposure.

Last season, after the Bulls won the International League Governors’ Cup, they moved on to play Pacific Coast League champion Memphis in the Triple-A National Championship Game.

In the nationally televised game, Wong hit the game-winning grand slam to cap a 3-for-4 day at the plate, earning himself game MVP honors.

“That was a great way to end my season,” Wong said. “To be able to do that in the championship. Hopefully, it opened some eyes.”

His manager agreed that the performance moved him up on the organization’s radar.

“Guys were joking in the dugout, saying, ‘Hey, this is going to put you on the map,’” manager Jared Sandberg said at the time. “This is going to get you into the big leagues and onto the 40-man roster. It definitely elevated him. This game can elevate you because everyone’s watching. Obviously, we’re super proud.”

This season, Wong has picked up where he left off at the end of last year. He’s currently second in the league with a .318 batting average, third in on-base percentage at .338 and is in the league’s top 10 in runs and hits.

The hot first half earned him a spot in the starting lineup for the Triple-A All-Star Game last week. With the chance to play in front of the country again, Wong went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBI. Again, he brought home a trophy, as the International League’s All-Star MVP.

It was the third career All-Star Game for Wong. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI in the 2016 (Double-A) Southern League All-Star Game, and, in his only hitless showcase event, he went 0-for-2 as a 2014 (Class A) Midwest League All-Star.

Clearly, Wong is at his best when eyes are on him. The viewers he cares about, though, aren’t the people at home watching on TV — they’re the MLB decision-makers, in the Rays organization and with other teams around baseball.

Wong doesn’t want to be a minor league All-Star. He’s hoping for his chance at a big league shot.

In that 2014 Midwest All-Star Game, Wong was joined on the team by fellow Tampa prospects Mallex Smith, Ryne Stanek and Jacob Faria. All are currently members of the Rays. In 2016, his Southern League All-Star teammates included Faria, Ryan Yarbrough, Jake Bauers and Willy Adames. They’re also all in the majors with Tampa.

It seems like it will be a matter of time, especially given the stat line he’s producing this year, but Wong will need to wait his turn, especially in Tampa, where the team has a logjam of talented middle infielders. If the team opens a spot with a midseason trade, Wong might get his chance.

Or he might get his chance somewhere else. Wong knows that he might end up being the player traded to help break up the crowded situation in the organization.

“I’m sure it helps to have so many teams watch me,” he said in postgame interviews after his most recent MVP performance.

Otherwise, he’ll wait patiently in Durham.

“If they need somebody, I will be here, and I’m ready for it and whenever they need me, I’m ready,” he said at an All-Star media event last week. “Playing the sport that I love, that is all I could ever ask for. Just for them to come, sit me down in their office, and tell me that they want me to play different positions so that when I get called up, I can play that one position that they need. Yeah, I take pride in it.

“I take pride in playing baseball. That’s what I played since I was born. I love it and just knowing that the team likes me, I just go out there and play 110 percent, and let the chips where they fall. I can’t control what they can control so, like I said, just come out and play every day.”