who is wacha? well, our first notice of wacha's existence in this electronic space was this evaluation of him by our own baron way back . . . uh. . . 14 months ago.
give our resident prospect expert some credit for the eval. i don't think he was way off base in terms of wacha's overall skills. he probably undersold wacha's ceiling and called him "boring." that may ring false now, but was certainly true in a prospect hound's sense: wacha was a Division I pitching prospect with well-established skills. he was "boring" compared to some raw high school talent, or a college tosser who threw 98 mph but didn't know where the ball was going. he was boring in the sense that buying a new BMW is less exciting than restoring an old Mustang. he was boring because he wasn't a project and there wasn't a lot of guesswork as to who he would become.
speaking as someone who is probably aptly described as "boring," i'm kind of fond of boring.
here's all that david copperfield stuff, if you want to hear it (and you probably don't):
michael joseph wacha was born on july 1, 1991 in beautiful iowa city, iowa, which is either cardinals territory or at least lies somewhere in the DMZ between cardinals territory and cubs territory. somewhere between birth and high school, he and his family moved to not-so-beautiful texarkana, TX. he led his high school team to the state semifinals as a senior.
after high school, he attended Texas A &M. he mixed roles as a starter and a reliever in his freshman year, striking out almost four guys for every one guy he walked. he began starting exclusively in his sophomore year at A &M, again keeping a 4:1 K:BB ratio. by his junior year, he went from being excellent to completely dominant, logging a 6:1 K:BB ratio for the season. he was drafted after his junior year by the st. louis cardinals.
he signed quickly following the draft, taking on a relief role in the minors, where his statistics were, frankly, staggering. at palm beach and springfield, he struck out more than half of the batters he faced. he walked 4 of the 56 batters against him at those two levels.
one criticism that i disregard is concern about his perfomance at memphis this year. he has looked a little shabbier by his peripherals at memphis, with his K rate in 9 starts dropping to below-average levels. it's unclear whether that's a sample-size issue or whether he was working on specific pitches. he was oddly good at suppressing hits (.197 BABIP against), but oddly susceptible to homers (5 homers in 52 innings). ignoring his peripherals, his results were fine overall, with a 2.05 ERA at Memphis.
i don't think you can really draw any conclusions about his pitching from either his 9-game ERA or his 9-game FIP. i don't have any anxiety about his performance at the major league level based on his short season results so far.
i am full of ambivalence about the michael wacha debut today. i think he's a very legit prospect. i think he's a pretty good pitcher now. i just wish we didn't have to call him up now.
i will be surprised if wacha is absolutely terrible. i will be surprised if he looks totally outclassed. even based on his fairly scanty minor league record, the projection systems like him just fine as a starter: oliver predicts a 3.73 FIP, and steamer a 3.91 FIP.
more importantly, given the sample sizes at issue, he's impressed people on a scouting level. memorably, yadier molina gushed after a spring training performance that wacha was ready to pitch right now. yadi knows good pitching, at this point, and he is not a fellow prone to gushing. wacha got rave reviews from both journalists and members of the org.
wacha is a bona fide prospect with three good pitches. what i worry about is whether he is being rushed, both in terms of his conditioning and his development.
so far this season, wacha has already thrown 52 innings and made 9 starts in memphis. at Texas A &M, wacha threw 105, 129, and 115 innings in each season. so, he came to us with some conditioning under his belt. on the other hand, college pitchers do not throw on a 5-day schedule. i'm not sure how much credit we can give to college innings as mapping onto major league innings.
he also racked up 21 innings in relief in the minors last year, which again means pitching on a different schedule and a different kind of stress on the body than a starter's schedule in the major league.
my ideal would have been to see him throw 140-150 innings in memphis this year, maybe make a couple appearances in september and enter the 2014 season ready to compete for a rotation slot. but in the plans of mice and men there is many a slip between cup and lip and then god laughs at us or something.
we are a long way from "ideal" right now. right now, we have 80% of a rotation -- in fact, a pretty good rotation -- on the DL. i can think of a lot of teams that would trade any 4 members of their current rotation for healthy specimens of chris carpenter, jaime garcia, jake westbrook, and john gast.
i don't know that we're going to work any real serious harm to wacha's prospects by promoting him. i would monitor his innings pretty carefully to make sure he's not overwhelmed by the wear and tear associated with being a major league starter with a handful of minor league starts under his belt..