Much of the drama of the 2012 draft involved the surprise selection of Carlos Correa by Houston, Mark Appel’s free fall to the Pittsburgh, and the testing of the waters of the new CBA. Thus, Michael Wacha dropping several spots lower than he should have to the St. Louis Cardinals became a minor story. The Cardinals certainly aren’t complaining as they were able to add a quality arm to their farm system with one of their two first round picks. While Wacha lasted until the late teens to be drafted, most experts had him in the 8-15 range. Baseball America ranked him as high as #8, while Keith Law over at ESPN.com had him lower down at #15. MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo split the difference, ranking Wacha at #11. By all accounts, the Cardinals got great value with the 19th overall pick.
Unlike the first trio of arms drafted in the 2012 draft – Kevin Gausman, Kyle Zimmer, and Mark Appel – Wacha’s value is not predicated on his ceiling. In fact, a realistic upside scenario for the pitcher from Texas A&M is a #3 starter. While that may not seem particularly exciting, Wacha has a really good chance to hit that ceiling and he should do it quickly too. Again, that’s not particularly sexy, but it makes him a valuable prospect. Wacha’s high floor is in large part thanks to his changeup, which is the best of its kind in the draft. Wacha throws his changeup off of a fastball that sits in the low 90′s, although it can peak as high as 96. In addition, Wacha is still slender – he’s listed at 6’6, 195 – so a velocity spike due to increased muscle isn’t unfathomable. Still, as it currently sits, the fastball is only an above-average pitch. Wacha rounds out his arsenal with a mediocre curveball or slider, depending on the day. As of right now, that lack of a plus breaking ball is what limits Wacha’s ceiling. Despite that, his deadly fastball-changeup combination almost guarantees he will succeed at the big league level, arguably giving Wacha the best floor of any pitcher in the draft.
In addition to his arsenal, Wacha has a clean, simple delivery, that should help him avoid injury. Furthermore, Wacha’s mechanics and solid natural athleticism allow him to repeat his delivery well. That easy repetition along with Wacha’s experience from college has translated into present above-average command. All signs point to Wacha, with time and experience, improving in the future to where he has plus command. That plus command, along with the fastball-changeup combination feed into Wacha’s high floor.
2010: 105.2 IP, 2.90 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 97 K, 22 BB
2011: 129.2 IP, 2.29 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 123 K, 30 BB
2012: 106.0 IP, 2.21 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 107 K, 17 BB
Belaboring the point, Wacha is not a particularly sexy prospect. It’s highly doubtful he will ever win 20 games, claim a league ERA title, or be crowned a Cy Young winner. However, that is true for a vast majority of pitchers. More importantly, for those who legitimately have the upside to have a chance of making those goals, the bust rate is often extremely high as well. That’s not true for Michael Wacha. What Michael Wacha can and will most likely become, is a solid major league pitcher that fits into the middle of a rotation year after year. If everything breaks right, Wacha could become a good #2 over the course of his career; a legitimately fantastic result. That’s not necessarily the smart bet though. What is a smart bet is that Wacha grows into his frame so he can eat innings, improves his command a tad, refines his breaking ball, and uses the tools he does have to enter the majors leagues quickly. Once there, it’s quite possible that Wacha will become a staple in the St. Louis Cardinal’s rotation for several years. It’s possible he will always be out of the limelight, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be valuable, racking up inning after inning and WAR after WAR. It might not make headlines, but that’s a perfectly acceptable outcome for a 19th overall pick. I’m sure the Cardinals would say the same.