The preseason means the annual United Cardinal Bloggers roundtable. Redbird Rants had the question yesterday and it focused on none other than Michael Wacha.
My question to the UCB was the following:
Wednesday saw the first televised Cardinals game of the spring, even if it was the SNY feed for the broadcast.
For those of us not living in the minor league affiliate cities, what impressed you about Michael Wacha’s performance?
Daniel Shoptaw: I watched the highlights on MLB.com and what struck me was the fact that he wasn’t just a one-note guy, but that he really seemed to have a feel for pitching, for using everything in his arsenal.
When Yadier Molina says you can pitch in the bigs, that’s an endorsement.
Bill Ivie: It impressed the announcers and me alike…his third best pitch is one of the best breaking balls in the game.
On top of that, he changed speeds with ease, kept hitters guessing, and his mechanics were outstanding.
Wes Keene: I was only able to watch the MLB.com clip as well. However, he made some good hitters look really silly. In addition to the results he got, he looked confident to me. It didn’t seem to phase him to be facing big leaguers…and to sit them right back down.
John Nagel: What has impressed me is his high K rate. As I tweeted out yesterday, in his professional career of about 25 innings, he is averaging 16 K’s per 9 innings. In 2012 at TAMU he averaged over 9 which is still very impressive.
I am trying not to get too hyped up for this as its still early, but according to Baseball Reference Wacha has an opponent quality rating of 9.1 which means he is facing some top hitters.
I’m hoping that fans’ expectations for him are not rising too much with this performance. He is closer to his ceiling than Miller or Rosenthal. I don’t think he can be a top of the rotation guy but a very formidable middle starter for sure.
Bill Ivie: One thing that deserves to be said is the ringing endorsement from his catcher. Molina was quoted yesterday as saying that Wacha was “major league ready.”
Kevin Reynolds: I loved a few things about Wacha. First, the downward angle he has on the ball. At 6 foot 6, it would be easy to take that for granted, but not all pitchers use an arm slot or motion that really takes advantage of their starting pitcher frame. Wacha, however, seems to reach way over the top and fire his fastball over the plate, creating a sharp downward plane that makes hitters swing over the top…and it makes his changeup and breaking pitch harder to recognize since hitters are forced to watch everything in the zone “drop”. To me, that downward angle means he can be effective even when his stuff isn’t quite “on” from day to day. That could be the difference between a sporadically successful pitcher and a consistent, top of the rotation guy.
I also loved his control. There were a few pitches here and there that got up in the zone on him, but it’s early. For the most part, he got strikeouts more than once by being able to bury pitches exactly where he wanted them to go. Down and in. Down and away. etc. He commands the zone.
Third, the way he goes about pitching on the mound impressed me. He got the ball and got set before the hitter could step in the box. He combined that ability to prevent hitters from meditating on what pitch was coming next with a willingness and ability to switch things up a bit. Fastball, changeup, breaking pitch, etc. He was using everything effectively. The only thing that concerned me was a slight tendency to sometimes telegraph his changeup a split second before releasing it. It seems his follow-through with his fastball is noticeably faster and more violent than his changeup. Good MLB hitters could pick up on that.
Finally, I really liked how hard he throws. Jon and I talked about this on the UCB Radio Hour last night, but I’ll say it again here. Whenever I hear about a pitcher drafted out of college and being “nearly major league ready,” I automatically think of a more polished pitcher who is likely close to his ceiling if not already there. But I also think of a smaller framed pitcher who throws 90/91 with decent offspeed stuff. In other words, I think number 4 or 5 starter…hopefully. But Wacha seems to have a LOT more upside than I would ever expect a college pitcher to have. Honestly, I kept thinking “how did this kid not get drafted out of high school?” I’m sure there’s a reason – maybe he wanted to go to college, maybe he was a different pitcher then – but for the most part, a 6′ 6″ pitcher with a polished changeup and a 94/95 mph fastball never sees a college textbook. So his potential upside really impressed and surprised me.
Matt Whitener: I watched the game last night, and his performance along with Lance Lynn’s were what I watch the closest.
Wacha is very poised to have just over 40 innings of pro experience, which is a great asset to him. However, his stuff is much better than I expected live. Maybe I’m still recovering from the Jon Garland comparison that was laid on him on Draft day, but he was a much more lively arm that I thought. His delivery slot reminds me a lot of Wainwright’s, and the fact that he’s been working with him on a breaking ball (that already looks pretty damn tough.
When a guy with his arm can change speeds with his best pitch, while being able to locate with both, the minor leagues aren’t something that are designed for them for long.
Mark Sherrard: I only saw the limited footage of him on MLB.com, but from what I saw, I was impressed. Wacha doesn’t have the power fastball like Miller or Rosenthal (the gun only showed 91-92 mph), but he locates it well. What impressed me most was his changeup that sits in the mid-80′s and just completely drops off the table (it certainly had Justin Turner muttering to himself). I didn’t see enough of his curveball to make a comment on it, perhaps because he doesn’t feature it much or more likely because the clip was just 48 seconds long. In any case, I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.
Corey Rudd: I didn’t get a chance to see him pitch yesterday, but the thing that impresses me is his ability to throw strikes. His strikeouts in the minors last year has already been mentioned. He whiffed 40 guys in 21 innings, which is impressive. What is more impressive is that he walked only four!! I will take a 10:1 K/BB ratio any day of the week.
Kevin Reynolds: It should probably be noted that I saw at least 94 mph on the gun when he wanted it. May have been more…not sure.
Dathan Brooks: Sorry I’m late on this one. “My opinion of his performance?” I always think of the Lasorda/Kingman/Bevaqua interview when I hear those words in that order.
I didn’t see much of the game, and certainly not enough to make an educated statement about him. Maybe it’s too much Missouri in my blood, but as good as he has been, he’ll have to “show me” he can pitch at the big league level. If Yadi says he can, well that certainly counts for something–maybe we’ll see it come September. Maybe more (much more?) next year & beyond. Miller-Rosenthal-Wacha-Kelly-Garcia isn’t out of the realm of possibility–it might not be the most likely, but if running that rotation out there can save us $20M/yr, or allow us to spend it elsewhere, I might get to see more of Wacha sooner than I thought.
I asked Cardinals farm director John Vuch about whether Wacha might be pitching himself onto the opening day roster. Here is Vuch’s response: “Wacha has been very impressive so far. Obviously, Mo and Mike would be the ones to make any decisions regarding his ML future. I think Michael has a very good chance of being a productive major league pitcher, and he’s been outstanding so far this spring, but until we hear otherwise from the major league staff, we’re still planning on him opening the year with us in the minor leagues.”