Cards P prospect Michael Wacha: Ready or not?

Those clamoring for the promotion of Michael Wacha to the majors are getting ahead of themselves.

Arguably the most impressive pitcher in St. Louis Cardinals spring training camp was right-hander Michael Wacha, who threw 24 2/3 scoreless innings between big league and minor league camps. One result of his strong showing was him earning a step up to Triple-A Memphis to start the season.

Wacha
Heading into his fifth start of 2013, scheduled on Monday night, the 21-year-old has a perfect 3-0 record and a 1.96 ERA for the Redbirds.

Some would have that be Wacha's final Triple-A appearance. Couple his fast start with a rocky April from the St. Louis bullpen and cries for Wacha's immediate ascension to the majors have intensified.

Depending on to whom you listen, he should either bump one of the Cardinals incumbent starters to the bullpen or assume a prominent late-inning relief role himself ala Adam Wainwright in 2006.

Putting aside 40-man roster and service time considerations, consider Wacha's relative inexperience. His four 2013 appearances with Memphis are his only professional starts to date. By 2006, Wainwright had thrown almost 800 innings over 138 minor league starts. He was clearly in a very different place then compared to where Wacha is now.

Even more important is to realize how fortunate Wacha has been in the early going this season. His BABIP is an amazingly-low .177, according to Fangraphs. Further, Wacha's FIP is a full 2 ½ runs higher than his ERA – 4.46 vs. 1.96. One would have to assume this is going to correct itself over a longer period of time.

A big part of the Wacha-mania in 2012 had to do with his out-of-this-world total of 40 strikeouts against just four walks in 21 innings, accrued from the Gulf Coast League through Double-A Springfield.

The Ks are not coming nearly as frequently this year, though, and the free passes have increased. In fact, Wacha's strikeout to walk ratio is a very pedestrian 12:9 in his initial 21 Pacific Coast League frames.

Let's give Wacha a chance to find his way around the Pacific Coast League. In fact, speaking of short-term, let's see how he does Monday night at the launching pad known as Albuquerque.

According to 2010-2012 park factors provided by Baseball America, Isotopes Park was the most extreme hitters' park in the full-season minors. The pack factor of 1.229 means that batters receive roughly a 23 percent boost there.

To try to equalize this a bit, the Dodgers affiliate began using a Colorado-like humidor for baseballs in 2013. The jury is still out. Coming into Sunday, the Isotopes were still the third-highest scoring team through the first 22 PCL games this season.

Don't get me wrong – I remain very high on Wacha's potential. Just give him more opportunity to acclimate to Triple-A. We might even see him in St. Louis at the end of the season ala Shelby Miller last season – if things work out well over the next four months.

Bottom line, this article is simply a reaction to those overreacting over St. Louis' short-term bullpen problems and specifically thinking, incorrectly, that Wacha should be part of an immediate fix.



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brian@thecardinalnationblog.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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