The last thing that the St. Louis Cardinals were concerned about going into Spring Training was their starting pitching.
Not with Jaime Garcia coming off shoulder surgery, not when Chris Carpenter went down, and not when Shelby Miller was set back by shoulder soreness.
No, the team wasn’t going to be concerned, because they knew they were loaded in starting pitching depth to handle it – and Michael Wacha is proving the Cardinals’ point early on in Spring.
The 21-year old, who was drafted out of college at 19th overall by St. Louis in last year’s draft, was considered polished enough to be on a fast track to arrive in 2014 after a year of seasoning in AAA. At the rate that he’s been throwing the ball, though, the team may accelerate his arrival even further.
To put it simply, Wacha has been putting on a show.
He’d already impressed the Cardinals enough by throwing two innings of one-hit, three-strikeout ball, and followed that on Wednesday by being the first redbirds pitcher go go three innings. Facing the New York Mets, Wacha struck out five batters over his outing, with only star third baseman David Wright being able to get to the righty with a single.
With that performance, Wacha finds himself an early leader in the majors this spring in both strikeouts (eight) and innings pitched (five).
Yet, despite turning heads in thus far, the prospect knows that he probably won’t have the opportunity to break camp with a spot on the Cardinals rosters. Not while the team still has Miller, who is on tap to make his first appearance on the weekend, and arms like Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly behind him.
However, every bit of continued success will make his fast track just that much faster, even if that there won’t be too many more innings left for him, as the projected starters and relievers get their workload increased over the next few weeks.
That won’t leave him with a very large body of work, and baseball fans know not to pay attention to small sample sizes.
Still, after posting a 18.0 K/9 over eight innings of advanced-A ball, and 19.13 over as many innings in AA, Wacha now has a 14.4 K/9 in his first big league camp at just 21-years old.
Even if those numbers are based on the smallest of sample sizes, it’s difficult not to pay attention.