Since the first round selection of soon-to-be big-leaguer Michael Wacha in 2012, the St. Louis Cardinals have implemented a player development plan known informally as the "Wacha Plan". It is designed to ease high-profile college starting pitchers into the professional ranks as relievers in their draft year, taking into account their substantial spring workload as collegians.
The Cardinals’ 2016 supplemental first round pick Dakota Hudson is the most recent example of the “Wacha Plan”. Hudson was taken with the 34th overall selection in June by Randy Flores in his first year as the head of the organization’s amateur scouting department.
"Dakota is a strong collegiate right-handed starting pitcher. (As a starter), his fastball is 90-95 mph with good life, and we really like his cutter," Flores said in a press release. "We love his potential to contribute to our Major League rotation in the future."
Like Wacha, Hudson was a Southeastern Conference standout. The Friday night starter for the Mississippi State Bulldogs began his professional career taunting prep hitters making the transition to the Gulf Coast League, posting four scoreless innings of relief with nine strikeouts.
The blistering-armed righty "jumped the fence" to High-A Palm Beach on August 7th and compiled a 0.96 ERA over eight games, recording three saves in six chances. He struck out ten batters, but issued seven walks against the more advanced competition in the Florida State League.
The 21-year old concluded his draft year on the same path as Wacha, who received an August 18, 2012 promotion to help Springfield to its first Texas League championship. Instead, Hudson was moved up to the S-Cards on the opening day of the playoffs on September 7th.
He was thrown right into high-leverage action against NW Arkansas (KC), throwing a scoreless seventh inning in his debut last Wednesday before picking up a save last Thursday, a game that was suspended and completed in Springdale, AR on Friday.
In the following exclusive interview, Hudson reflects on his draft experience, talks about the Cardinals organization, chats about his whirlwind draft year, and concludes by discussing his stuff and goals for 2017.
Derek Shore: You fell a bit on the draft board compared to where some had you originally projected. Did you have a sense the Cardinals were going to take you?
Dakota Hudson: "No, not really. You never really know what is going to happen in the draft. I think the pre-draft stuff gives you an idea. The Cardinals selected me; I felt comfortably at home with that happening.
"It has been awesome."
DS: What were your emotions as you found out you were selected by the Cardinals?
DH: "It was all breath-taking. It was kind of like a big ease in the moment. My whole family was there. It was a culmination of everything that's happened with school and playing ball for my whole life and getting the opportunity to be a Cardinal while taking the next step in my career."
DS: Prior to the draft, what did you know about the Cardinals, an organization known for its homegrown talent?
DH: "I've always known the Cardinals have a really good organization and really recruit. They are homegrown, meaning they go after guys they know are going to be good in the clubhouse. Also, they are complete people and being here; I've seen it first-hand."
DS: Were you dead-set on signing with the Cardinals or was there any consideration returning for your senior season?
DH: "I was dead-set as soon as I got it (drafted by the Cardinals). School was an awesome experience at Mississippi State, but I felt like it was time for me to start my pro career."
DS: How would you characterize your draft year from starting with the GCL Cardinals, to jumping the fence at Palm Beach, and now here with Springfield?
DH: "Kind of moving around, I guess," he said with a smirk. "I'm getting used to the whole system. I can't really put it all into words. It's amazing what has happened."
DS: What have been the differences between professional ball and the college power Southeastern Conference (SEC)?
DH: "I feel like it is guys going up there knowing what they are looking for. I would say it's more confined. Whenever you go up and bounce a breaking ball, you don't see guys swing. You see guys hold back their swings and have more disciplined approaches.
"The SEC is a tough conference, but once you get to Palm Beach, it is just guys really know what they are looking for (at the plate) and could capitalize on mistakes. They do that in the SEC too, but I feel like (pro ball) is more of an adult and mental game."
DS: Did it surprise you to be promoted here to Double-A after Palm Beach's season ended?
DH: "Yeah, I was actually packing up my stuff to go home, and I got called in last second before I was about to walk out the door. It was pretty surprising for me."
DS: Could you take me through your arsenal of pitches and how you utilize them?
DH: "It just depends on the situation in which I use them, but a fastball, cutter, curve, and change-up. The change is kind of a development pitch for me, especially since I've gotten to pro ball. I'm trying to vary speeds and throw to my strengths depending on the situation; what's going good in the bullpen."
DS: Have you gone exclusively with the fastball and cutter mix in relief?
DH: "I've used the curveball a little bit and the change here and there. It's kind of however it feels that day."
DS: How will your pitch mix alter as you will more than likely be a starter next summer?
DH: "I think it will be similar, but it will be adjusted to where I can get quick outs, quick groundballs. It will just depend on the situation I'm coming in compared to starting a clean inning. It's just trying to keep the pitch count down and going deep into a game as I can.
“That will be the goal I want when I start next year."
DS: Scouts rave about your raw stuff, but question the consistency in your mechanics. How can you find that consistency?
DH: "That is something that comes with reps. It's nothing you can do immediately. You're just trying to find consistency with appearances and how you get out there and do it. I don't feel like it's that big of a deal because I'm becoming more consistent every day I'm out there."
DS: How will you approach your first offseason as a pro this winter?
DH: "I have it all written down from what I did this last spring to get ready for the season. I'm going to try to get a bit stronger, increase mobility here and there, and come back ready to go."
DS: Any goals for next year?
DH: "Just pitch, do the best I can, and see how it goes."
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
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