Almost one year after drafting him, the St. Louis Cardinals will start right-hander Michael Wacha today in their game against the Kansas City Royals. Obviously we have no choice but to make Wacha today's topic for Prospect of the Day.
Michael Wacha took well to college ball immediately, thriving as a freshman at Texas A&M in 2010, posting a 2.90 ERA in 106 innings as a starter and reliever with a 97/22 K/BB ratio and just 86 hits allowed. A full-time starter as a sophomore, he posted an even better 2.29 ERA with a 123/30 K/BB in 130 innings, allowing 117 hits with zero homers. As a junior in 2012 he went 9-1, 2.06 with a 116/20 K/BB in 113 innings, allowing 95 hits and four homers.
His college statistics were excellent and the scouting reports were strong as well, earning him a spot in the first round of last year's draft, 19th overall. He threw in the low-90s as a starter, but the Cardinals used him in relief last summer and his velocity kicked up into the mid-90s. This change in roles was just a matter of workload management, but his performance was spectacular. He finished his first pro summer in Double-A and overall posted a 0.86 ERA with a 40/4 K/BB in 21 innings, allowing just eight hits combined between three levels.
Sent to Triple-A after a strong spring training, Wacha has remained very effective with a 2.05 ERA in 53 innings, with a 34/15 K/BB and just 35 hits allowed.
A 6-6, 210-pound right-hander, Wacha was born July 1, 1991. As you can see from his track record, he's held up very well under an extensive workload since his freshman year of college, and has the body and mechanics of a durable starting pitcher. His best two pitches are his low-to-mid-90s fastball and his outstanding changeup. He has a curveball and a slider. Both pitches remain inconsistent, but I felt they were rather underrated coming out of college and his ability to deal with pro hitters without much trouble so far augers well.
The general consensus from Pacific Coast League observers rates Wacha as a future number two or strong number three starter. i don't see any reason to argue with that and that fits my own observations. One sabermetric data point of note is his strikeout rate: his K/IP ratio is not dominant at this point, and he doesn't have the sort of ground ball tendency that makes that easy to ignore.
It would not surprise me if Wacha has some rough introductory outings to the major leagues. By all accounts, his makeup is excellent and he should adapt and thrive eventually, even if there are some glitches at first. Considering where he was a year ago at this time, his rise has been rapid indeed.