As expected after he was pulled from the Memphis Redbirds' rotation on Monday, Michael Wacha is joining the St. Louis Cardinals' pitching staff this week. (Here's Derrick Goold.) To be fair, though, it was a weird kind of expectation.
If you were in favor of seeing Michael Wacha before the All-Star Break, this move was expected inasmuch as it just seemed self-evident that the Cardinals would bring up the last of their top pitching prospects once his peripherals improved in four May starts—the John Gast and Tyler Lyons eras were just preamble, fig-leafs behind which the Cardinals could set up their actual rotation.
If you weren't in favor of seeing Michael Wacha before the All-Star Break, this move was expected inasmuch as it just seemed self-evident that the Cardinals wouldn't be able to resist, even though it shouldn't have been. Joe Kelly is a perfectly good candidate for the rotation who's had no success at all carving out a role in the bullpen; Seth Maness is a perfectly good candidate for the rotation who did have some success doing that.
Both of them were supposedly up for the job, and each of them would have made at least as much sense as Wacha does. But if you were wary of bringing Wacha up so soon it seemed like a foregone conclusion that neither of them would get the gig.
And he did. I don't think calling Wacha up is a bad decision, exactly, but it does seem like an unnecessary one; if Joe Kelly can't break in as a starter a year after a completely successful rookie season, with John Gast already in and out of the rotation in front of him, I'm not sure it's even worth pretending he's a long reliever.
And if Wacha is the Cardinals' best remaining pitching prospect, it's not that he's a sure thing. Wacha's reputation is built on two impressive minor league feats that are, confusingly, almost entirely separate from each other: His incredible peripherals as a pseudo-reliever pitching against his innings limit in his professional debut, and his perfect competence in two months of starts in the Pacific Coast League, where competence is a significant achievement.
It reminds me, for some reason, of a fast-forward version of the prospect case for Daric Barton or Bryan Anderson: Extremely impressive numbers in the low minors, followed by impressive-enough-for-his-age numbers in the high minors, all conflated in a way that's not quite as telling or illustrative as it seems like it should be.
I think Wacha's an excellent prospect, but I'm not sure that combination makes him a sure thing in the major leagues right now. And if he's not a sure thing I don't know that it makes sense to call on him this week.