To the disappointment of Michael Wacha supporters like myself, the St. Louis Cardinals have asked him to return to the minors after a blistering spring training. Inevitable, I suppose, given Wacha has only participated in 16 professional baseball games prior to this season.
After watching Wacha blaze through 11.2 innings during the first half of March, I wrote that Wacha should be given a shot at competing for the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation. Joe Kelly and Shelby Miller are both fine pitchers, but I’m not entirely convinced that either will be long for the rotation. The right-hander Kelly has shown flashes of great pitching but has been more of an average pitcher through his professional career. Highly touted prospect Miller will produce swing and miss stuff but with that could be a lot of home runs. There are also whispers that Miller may have an issue with nerves.
Neither Kelly nor Miller has seen a lot of action so far, but that will change soon. Kelly has the edge right now, but my gut says Miller will end up the number five by April once the innings start stacking up.
But getting back to Wacha, the 21-year old was successful as a starter all through college at Texas A&M. He won nine games in each of his three seasons with the Aggies and never posted an ERA above 2.90. He averaged a strikeout per inning his sophomore through junior year and held a ratio of 8-to-1 BB/K rate. In 21 innings last year in the minors, he had an ERA of 0.86, an incredible 40 strikeouts and a stellar 0.57 WHIP.
Comparing those numbers to what Miller and Kelly have accomplished, Wacha is leaps and bounds a more polished pitcher. You have to keep in mind, however, that Wacha did most of his work against a lower echelon of baseball talent. But Wacha did more than compete; he dominated. And that domination continued against a mix of major league veterans and minor league hitting.
It seems Wacha has never experienced a bout of failure in his amateur and professional baseball career. And that isn’t to say he never will; that would be unrealistic. But it is to say this guy could already have what it takes to pitch for St. Louis. In hindsight the Cardinals did the right thing to further test Wacha in the minors. To give him more time to stretch his arm out as the fifth rotation spot figures itself out.
And when it finally does, I’m betting you will see Wacha firmly in possession of it. Keep your eyes and ears open, Cardinal Nation. This kid will be back soon.