Take Five - with Adam Wainwright

Ray Mileur asks, "The bottom line is Adam, if you are going to be here, you have to believe you belong here. At this stage of your career do you feel you belong and can pitch in the major leagues?" Wainwright's response.....

Acquired from the Atlanta Braves with pitchers Jason Marquis in exchange for outfielders J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero back in 2003, in what may turn out to be one of the best deals, Cardinals' General Manager Walt Jocketty has ever made in his illustrious career.

Born and raised in the rich pitching fields of the Atlanta Braves organization. Adam Wainwright has long been considered one of the best pitching prospects in the country.

In 2000, Baseball America ranked him as the Braves 7th-best prospect in their organization.

It took Adam just one season to rise to the top of the ranks, with the Atlanta Braves naming him their top pitching prospect in 2001 and Baseball America ranked #2 overall. In the same season, he was ranked by Baseball America, as the South Atlantic League's Best Pitching Prospect.

The Braves Minor League Pitcher of the year in 2003, with a 10-8 record and a 3.37 ERA, Wainwright captured the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals, while they were looking for pitching in exchange for J.D. Drew.

The deal was made that sent, Jason Marquis, Ray King and Adam Wainwright to St. Louis for, J.D. Drew & Eli Marrero. Today, looking back, it is hard to see how that deal was ever cut.

Wainwright's first two seasons in the Cardinals minor league system, didn't lived up to the hype. There had been some speculation, that the problem with Adam is, he believes he should already be pitching in the majors and is frustrated by still playing in the minors.

Certainly his record in the first two seasons with St. Louis would suggest there is something wrong considering his talent and makeup.

In 2004, Adam went 4-4 for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds, starting 12 games and finishing the season with a bloated 5.37 ERA and allowing opposing hitters to hit .280.

Last season, Wainwright in his second season at Memphis led the league with 182 innings pitched (a very good sign) but a less than spectacular record. Another .500 season with a 10-10 record and a 4.40 ERA. Adam still allowed batters to hit .282.

Near the end of the 2005 season, Wainwright earned his first taste at the major leagues, appearing in two games, pitching two innings, giving up three earned runs.

My take on Wainwright this winter was, the kid needs to show somebody something, if he is going to even maintain his status of a Top Prospect. The Birdhouse Staff recently ranked him as the Cardinals' #2 prospect with some reservations.

At the time of the rankings, I voiced my concerns;

"Wainwright isn't as polished as Anthony Reyes, but according to some reports his stuff is supposed to be just as good. I'm not sure I agree that he is as good as Reyes, but he has the stuff to be ranked higher than the other pitching prospects in the organization.

"His fastball is above average, hitting around 92-93 MPH, but it looks a lot faster because his change up and curve are very good. He is a fierce competitor that is going to make it to the majors eventually. The Cardinals are trying to get him to pitch more inside and there has always been questions about his conditioning. His 10-10 record and a 4.40 ERA gives me some cause for concern, considering in 2004 in 12 games at Memphis, Adam was 4-4 with a 5.37 ERA. As you can see his ERA at AAA dropped down almost a whole run, so that is a good sign.

"He needs to be more consistent, he has never dominated opposing batters for any extended period of time. I have a little concern about his mental approach to the game as a starter and he may be better suited as a reliever. He'll be in the starting rotation for AAA Memphis to start the season."

Brian Walton, the editor of the Birdhouse made these observations about Wainwright before spring training;

"I would like nothing better than to see Wainwright go to Memphis and pitch lights-out, forcing the Cardinals to bring him up and use him. My second choice would be for them to trade Wainwright while his value as a minor league prospect is still on the high side. The flip side is that if this season is another disappointment, Wainwright may start to slip off radar screens. After all, he participated in the Futures Game 3-1/2 seasons ago. For Wainwright, it's time for the future to arrive in 2006."

I agree with Walton, Wainwright's future is now, and this spring Adam has responded to the challenge of being in the major league camp, by appearing in two games in relief, pitching a total of 6.2 innings and giving up just seven hits and one earned run, for an ERA of 1.35 that is catching everyone's attention.

The battle for the 5th spot in the Cardinals starting rotation was suppose to be a two man race between Sidney Ponson and Anthony Reyes. With Wainwright's early success it has turned into what I believe is a three man race.

Here is the highlights of a conversation I had with Adam.

RM: "Adam how are you feeling this spring?"

AW: "I feel great, it's good to be here."

RM: "You have been pitching very well so far, what have you heard and or do you believe you are in the race for that 5th starting job in the Cardinals' rotation?"

AW: "I don't know what have you heard?"

RM: (laugh) "Well I can tell you, Tony La Russa isn't going to let me in on any secrets. Based on your performance so far, I would have to think they have to consider you for that role."

AW: "I would hope so."

RM: "Adam, how is your preparation for spring training games different than in the regular season?"

AW: "One thing here is, I've come into the games here in relief, so that is different. But I still prepare and think of myself as coming in as the starter."

RM: "Do you guys have pitcher and catcher meetings before the games, going over the opposing batters?"

AW: "No, we don't do that. I just go with my best pitches and get my work in."

RM: "On days that you are limited to 45-50 pitches, do you go into a game thinking, I need to throw so many fastballs, curves, or changeups?

AW: "No, I don't approach a game thinking like that."

RM: "I know you guys have been talking down here in clubhouse meetings about the mental approach to the game and the psychological aspects of playing at the major league level."

My take is Adam, if you are going to be playing at the major league level, you have to believe first, you belong here and can play at this level.

My question to you is, at this stage of your career, do you believe that you belong here and can pitch at the major league level?"

AW: "I definitely believe I belong and can pitch here. I just looking for the organization to give me a chance."

RM: "Well, so for so good this spring. I want to thank you for your time and I'll let you go. Have a great spring and keep up the good work. We are rooting for you.

AW: "Thanks."

Wainwright is clearly performing as well as can be expected in spring training. My take is, sending him back to the minors isn't going to contribute to his future development.

If Wainwright continues to as he has so far, the Cardinals need to find a place for him, either as the fifth starter (I know this is a leap) or as a member of the bullpen.

I can't see Wainwright being anymore than a .500 pitcher at AAA if for no other reason, he sincerely believes he already belongs in the majors.

If you are going to send him down, he needs to get knocked down to Triple-A. I keep him with the club until that happens.

Will the Cardinals consider trading Wainwright for a left fielder or second baseman?

I don't see it and I wouldn't recommend it.

That's it for this "Take Five", I'll see you at the ballpark.

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