Throughout the month of February we’re going to be examining some of the top young arms throughout the league and which direction their stock may be pointing heading into the 2014 season. Pitchers without big league experience need not apply
The 2014 season was almost another great one for the St. Louis Cardinals. They rode a boatload of talent all over the roster, both young and veteran alike, to another World Series appearance, almost grabbing their third title in less than a decade. Instead, it was the Boston Red Sox accomplishing that feat. Nonetheless, the Cardinals present a couple of intriguing arms heading into the 2014 campaign, but none more than Michael Wacha.
Wacha seemingly came out of nowhere for the Cards in 2013, but in reality the club knew what they had in him all along. A supplemental first round pick in the 2012 draft, Wacha had made just two starts at the professional level prior to the 2013 season and none above rookie ball. He left an impression during spring training last year and scattered a trio of starts across May and June.
When he was called up in August, it was primarily as a reliever. He spent the majority of the month of August appearing an inning at a time, before transitioning to the rotation in September. It was there that we really saw Wacha burst onto the scene. Across five starts in September, Wacha only posted two wins, but as we know, wins are far from indicative of how well a pitcher performed.
Such is the case with Wacha. He allowed only six earned runs across those five starts, with four of them coming in one outing. It was that outing which was followed up by an absolutely fantastic performance in which he nearly no-hit the Washington Nationals, tossing 8 2/3 innings and allowing just one hit. During the playoffs, though, Wacha was able to reach another level.
His postseason career got off to the same type of start in which his 2013 season ended. He no-hit the Pittsburgh Pirates through seven frames before allowing a solo home run to Pedro Alvarez. In his next start, he pitched into the seventh against the Los Angeles Dodgers and didn’t allow an earned run, before completely outdueling Clayton Kershaw in the NLCS game that punched the Cardinals’ ticket to the World Series.
He fared well enough in his first appearance on the game’s biggest stage, tossing six innings and allowing only two runs, but his final start of the season left a black mark on his record for 2013. He didn’t make it out of the fourth, allowing six earned as the Cardinals dropped the final game of the World Series to Boston. Nonetheless, things are looking up for him heading into 2014.
Stock Up or Down in 2014?
There’s really no reason to think that Michael Wacha can’t build on the success he experienced in 2013 and spin that into a very strong 2014 season. He’s armed with an impressive arsenal of pitches, including a fastball that lives in the mid-90s, coupled with a darling of a changeup. He appears to have the right mentality out on the mound too, as he didn’t appear overwhelmed at any point during the postseason, with the exception of the final game of the World Series, despite his limited big league experience.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Cardinals will have a Cy Young candidate in Michael Wacha, but he should be an effective starter for them. Don’t expect him to go out and nearly toss no-hitters with every appearance, but expect him to quickly and easily win a rotation spot out of spring training and provide some consistency out of the middle of that Cardinals’ rotation in 2014.