Heading into spring training many Cardinals were excited about the potential of prospects Shelby Miller, Trevor Rosenthal, or even Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez. However, after two weeks of camp another prospect named Michael Wacha has quickly soared up the prospect ladder. Wacha was the Cardinals first round pick (17th overall) in last year’s draft. He impressed in the minor’s last year, advancing to AA in just two months, and he has wowed hitters and coaches early in spring training. Yesterday, Wacha continued his ascension by striking out five hitters hitters over three innings pitched while yielding just one hit and no runs against the New York Mets.
It is still very early, and hitters tend to struggle with timing in February spring training games. Still, Wacha earned high praise from David Freese on Twitter and from Yadier Molina after yesterday’s game. Molina went as far as to say that Wacha can “pitch in the big leagues right now.” Center fielder Jon Jay was “admiring the movement” of Wacha’s pitches from the field yesterday according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Wacha features a sinking fastball that sits anywhere from 92-94 MPH, but his best pitch is a changeup that has excellent fading movement to right handers and a 10-12 MPH difference in the speed of the ball without a detectible difference in arm speed. Wacha also reportedly has improved on the break and consistency of his curveball.
Wacha blew away hitters in the minors last year, striking out 40 batters over 21 innings pitched with a sub-1.00 ERA. All of this may make some ask whether Wacha is the true Hope Diamond among the Cardinals’ pitching prospect jewels.
While there is evidence to support some of the optimism, there are also a couple of reasons to wait before anointing Wacha the king of Cardinal pitching prospects.
First is the sample size. Wacha has pitched a total of 21 innings of professional. Granted, those innings are stellar, but the true test of a pitcher is how he performs over hundreds of innings.
For example, Shelby Miller has proven himself over 250 innings of minor league experience, and had one successful start in a regular season game that actually meant something. Miller overcame struggles in AAA last year, which shows he is capable of making adjustments. Wacha has yet to struggle, and every pitcher, no matter how great they are, is eventually forced to make adjustments. Rosenthal and Kelly have both had success at the Major League in games that matter, which are much more convincing evidence than Wacha’s two innings in an early Grapefruit League game.
Secondly, while Wacha was highly regarded in the draft, being the number seventeen overall draft choice, there were many pitchers taken ahead of him. Wacha had very good numbers at Texas A&M, but other pitchers like Mark Appel and Andrew Heaney had better stats pitching in quality conferences. Many scouts believed that Wacha curveball was below average in college. Simply put, Wacha was not considered the next coming Stephen Strasburg. Is it possible that Wacha has since learned things to propel to a prospect level above Shelby Miller? Perhaps, but once again Wacha needs to prove over more innings before earning this designation.