On July 2nd, 2014, then outfielder Rowan Wick set the State College Spikes' single-season home run record -- smacking his 11th home run in the team's 19th game of the season (the previous record was held by David Washington with 10). Wick's torrid home run pace slowed considerably, hitting only three more over his next 16 games with State College, but his bat was worthy of a promotion to single-A Peoria, which he received exactly three weeks after setting the Spikes' record.
Wick learned very quickly that despite single-A still being on the lower end on the minor league ladder, pitching was much more advanced (i.e. more breaking balls and offspeed stuff) than what he faced in short-season A. In general, short-season A is a league where pitchers spend much of their time establishing their fastballs. Further, it didn't necessarily help that Dozer Park, home of the Peoria Chiefs, is a rather spacious park with center field and power alleys as deep as Busch Stadium at 400 and 375 feet, respectively. In 157 plate appearances with the Chiefs, Wick hit for a low batting average (.220) and struck out 38.2% of the time, but he kept his isolated power above .200, allowing for people to remain excited about his power potential in the future (remember, this was occurring at a time when the big-league Cardinals were struggling to hit for power).
Wick opened the 2015 season as an outfielder for the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals in 2015, who again play in a home stadium (Roger Dean) very similar to his organization's big-league park. After only 133 plate appearances with Palm Beach, Wick, and his 37.6% strikeout rate, received news that his days as a hitting prospect were finished from Gary LaRocque, director of player development.
In my article on Rob Rains' Taking Flight, I referenced the chapter dedicated to Wick, but did not include any quotes from the book, in hopes of people checking out the book in its entirety. However, considering this article is dedicated solely to Wick, I felt compelled to include the following quotes regarding his transition to the pitcher's mound:
"Pitching is 100 percent boring. The bottom line is pitching is boring."
"I thought they would give me a full season to try to figure it (hitting) out. Maybe I would have hit in the second half. My childhood dream was to hit in the big leagues. Now I'm trying to get there as a pitcher."
You barely saw any pitching statistics from Wick in 2015 (a grand total two innings for the rookie-league Cardinals) because soon after beginning the transition, the 23-year-old reported elbow soreness, something that essentially ended his season as a precautionary measure. To start this season, Wick received another chance at High-A, this time as a pitcher, and things have gone about as well as the Cardinals could have possibly hoped.
Remember Wick's 37.6% strikeout rate as a High-A hitter in 2015? Well, through 21.2 innings in 2016, he has somehow surpassed that rate as a pitcher at 40.2%, the seventh highest strikeout rate in all of minor league baseball (with a minimum of 20 innings pitched). Wick's performance has not gone unnoticed, either, as he was recently named to the Florida State League All-Star team, along with fellow Cardinal Austin Gomber.
I reached out to one of Wick's teammates for some thoughts on his All-Star performance thus far, and this, though brief, is what he had to say, "Overpowering fastball, dominant. Pitching above the league." After asking him to tell us a little bit more about Wick's velocity and repertoire, "95-98 [MPH]. Rarely uses offspeed stuff, but curveball shows good potential."
For perspective, Jason Motte, a position-player-turned-pitcher himself, did not reach the big leagues until his age-26 season. Wick does not turn 24 until November and is already dominating at the High-A level. As long as Wick is able to stay healthy (I'd imagine the Cardinals will be conservative with him in the second half), he will likely open the 2017 season in Double-A. Remember, flame-throwing pitchers have made the jump directly to the big-leagues from that level before (see Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist). Finally, if Wick is able to realize the potential on his curveball, he has a legitimate chance at making the big-league roster someday, something that almost certainly was not going to happen should he have remained an outfielder. Pitching may be "boring," but reaching the big leagues certainly is not.