Jason Hunt takes a look at a starting pitcher prospect who is getting a lot of buzz this spring, the Cardinals top draft pick from last year, Michael Wacha.
After seeing (and writing about) the excellent outing that Michael Wacha had last week against the Mets, I felt a more in-depth profile was in order. Wacha did make our top 50 pitching prospect rankings, slotting in at #44. However, it is possible that we may end up a bit low on him if he has a good year in 2013.
Weight: 196 lbs.
On 40-man roster: No
Age as of 4/1/13: 21 (Turns 22 in July)
Wacha was not drafted out of high school, choosing to attend Texas A&M University, and had a very solid career there. He started for most of his freshman season and all of his sophomore and junior seasons, posting nearly a strikeout per inning across his college career while limiting walks to less than 2 per 9 innings. He was drafted by the Cardinals with the 19th overall pick in the 2012 draft, and signed for a bonus of $1.9 million.
The Cardinals sent Wacha to their rookie league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League to start out, making three appearances but throwing just five innings. He had four appearances at their High-A affiliate and then four more at AA, but only threw a total of 21 innings across all of his appearances in 2012. Across them all, he struck out 40, walked just 4, and allowed just 8 hits.
The Scouting Report - Scouting reports are gathered from other internet sources and written reports, unless otherwise noted.
I watched Wacha's outing last Wednesday, and had this to say about it:
He was sitting 90-93 with his fastball according to the television radar gun, and was sitting pretty consistently 83-86 with what appeared to be his changeup. The key for Wacha was nearly pinpoint command, as he was painting the inside corner very consistently to each batter.
According to Baseball America, his changeup was "the best available in the 2012 draft", and BP rated it as a potential 60 grade pitch. Wacha also features a curveball, which is expected to be at least average as well. The key for him though, is his excellent command, which helps him to stay ahead of hitters and use his offspeed pitches more effectively.
What's Keeping Him From Contributing Now?
It's hard to be alright with a pitcher who hasn't thrown more than three innings in any game as a professional, which makes you wonder whether he will be able to do so long term. Realistically, the Cardinals need him to show that he can handle a starting pitcher's workload in the Majors, and he'll be given that opportunity at AA to start the season. If he is able to do that, he could see himself get a shot at a rotation spot in 2014, potentially replacing Jake Westbrook (who has a mutual option for that season).
What Could He Do For Fantasy Owners Once He Gets There?
Wacha's control leads me to believe he can post low ratios in the Majors, along with the possibility of a strikeout rate somewhere between 7 and 8 per 9 innings. He has posted excellent groundball rates, both last season and so far in spring training, but the sample size doesn't really allow us to make too much of a judgment about that. If he can stretch himself out and work deep into games, he has the upside of a mid-rotation starting pitcher in real life, which would likely translate to the 5th or 6th starter on a fantasy roster.
When Could He Arrive?
Given the glut of starting pitching in front of him, both at the Major and Minor league levels, it seems unlikely he would debut during the 2013 season. However, he appears to be very close to major league ready despite the lack of innings, and could definitely be used in a pinch if needed. That said, he is not on the 40-man roster, and I don't think they call him up unless they have no other options available, so as not to burn any service time or options for a spot start. I would be surprised if he wasn't up during the 2014 season.
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