Scouting Report, Michael Wacha

Despite their best efforts, the St. Louis Cardinals have promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha in order to make his MLB debut on Thursday. The Cardinals wanted to keep Wacha in Triple-A in order to control his workload and prevent him from reaching Super-Two status, which would allow him to reach arbitration four times, instead of the normal three. Wacha was the 19th overall pick in last season’s Amateur Draft out of Texas A&M. Wacha will be the fourth player drafted in the 2012 draft to reach the Major Leagues, following Kevin Gausman of the Orioles, Paco Rodriguez of the Dodgers and Michael Roth of the Angels. The 6’6” right-hander is still just 21 years old. Wacha dominated across three levels last season, allowing just 2 ER in 21 innings total at Rookie Ball, High Single-A and Double-A. This season, Wacha has impressed with a 2.05 ERA across 52 2/3 innings at Triple-A. However, his peripheral statistics are a little more concerning as his K/9 is just 5.81 and his opponents BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is just .197, which suggests he has been a little lucky and explains his 4.00 FIP. His K/9 is down from 17.1 in 2012. He works with three pitches: fastball, change-up, curveball. Wacha works his fastball from 90-94 and actually reached 97 as a reliever last year. When Wacha can keep his fastball down in the zone he has good sink to it, but it flattens out when he elevates the pitch. His change-up is easily his best off-speed pitch, which is usually in the mid-80’s and has great fade, which makes it incredibly difficult to square up down in the zone. Wacha’s curveball is the reason he fell to the 19th pick in the draft, at the time it had very inconsistent break and he had trouble commanding the pitch. However, since joining the Cardinals’ organization, Wacha has greatly improved the pitch by making the break more consistent and more sharp. It is still not a plus pitch, but if it continues to improve it can be an average Major League pitch and a nice complement to the fastball and change-up. Wacha has tremendous command and control for someone his age, with just a 2.3 BB/9 and .7 HR/9 in 73 2/3 professional innings. His tremendous size helps him get great downward plane on all his pitches, which helps get the great downward movement on his pitches when they are thrown down in the zone. Wacha has a very fluid delivery, in which he uses everything effectively to generate great velocity and deception. He slightly turns his back to the hitter, which creates good deception by hiding the ball from the hitter a little longer. He is able to get great extension towards home plate and uses every inch of his 6’6” height and by getting this extension he keeps the ball down in the zone. He also creates deception by cutting his arm action short, which gives the hitter less time to see the ball, but I also wrote about the concerns with this when I wrote about Dylan Bundy, who has not pitched this year due to elbow discomfort. This is especially concerning for Wacha because even by cutting his arm action off, Wacha is still not able to get his arm back up by foot strike. The only other concerning part of his delivery is that Wacha slightly pulls his head off-center when throwing the pitch, which raises his arm and forces him to lose direct route to home plate. By raising his arm, he puts more stress on the arm rather than the entire body. He has a enough big frame to hold up as a workhorse even with these flaws. Plus he generates quite a bit of power from his lower half, which alleviates some of that extra stress he puts on his arm. It remains to be seen how long Wacha will be in the Cardinals rotation, because it mainly depends on Westbrook’s recovery from elbow discomfort, but Wacha seems ready to step in like so many other rookie pitchers for the Cardinals. Down the road, it seems very likely that he can develop into a #2 or #3 starter.

Anthony Cacchione

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