COMMENTARY | It was hard for fans to see the plans of the St. Louis Cardinals when franchise icon Albert Pujols was allowed to leave the team that drafted him in exchange for monetary compensation and respect. Since then, the team has used the available funds to secure long term relationships with various key components of the roster. They have also rebuilt a farm system into what many say is the best in all of baseball as of 2013.
Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was in place during the winter of 2011 when Pujols would sign his contract with the Los Angeles Angels, the Cardinals were provided with the Angels' first-round draft pick as well as a compensation pick between the first and second rounds. That first-round pick turned out to be the 19th pick overall in the subsequent draft and the Cardinals used it on a right-handed pitcher from Texas A&M University. Touting his hard work and the outstanding program at Texas A&M, the team felt that he would be very close to major-league ready when he first put on the uniform.
After just 20 games and 11 starts at the minor league level, Michael Wacha has been officially announced by the Cardinals as their starter in the final game of their interleague series with in-state rival Kansas City on May 30, 2013. The man chosen by the Cardinals directly because of the departure of Albert Pujols will pitch his first game at the major league level less than one year from the day he was drafted.
Spring Training 2013
Wacha caught most fans' eyes during a stellar spring training in 2013. During the course of major-league camp, Wacha would pitch in five games and pitch one out shy of 12 innings without allowing a run. In addition, he would only walk one hitter while striking out 15 and holding opponents to a .163 average on seven hits. He surrendered one run during the spring campaign, though it was unearned leaving his earned run average perfect.
Starting Every Fifth Day
The team would elect to have Wacha begin the season in Memphis for the AAA affiliate Memphis Redbirds. Largely in part to Wacha having not pitched in a five-man rotation before this season, the team wanted to ensure that the youngster would adapt to the workload before subjecting him to the pressures of St. Louis baseball. Due to injuries mounting in the starting rotation, it appears that the luxury of development no longer belongs to the team or the pitcher and Wacha's time is now.
Memphis gave an opportunity for Wacha to prove that his performance in spring training was a reality and not just the product of pitching in exhibition games. Seizing the opportunity put in front of him, Wacha has started nine games for the minor-league squad, throwing 52 2/3 innings and amassing a 4-0 record for his trouble. He has continued his stingy approach, holding opposing batters to 35 hits, five home runs, and a paltry .187 batting average. He has issued free passes to 15 hitters but has set down 34 hitters via strikeout.
Michael Wacha has proven that he is, in fact, major-league ready. His arrival on the mound at Busch Stadium will bring the Albert Pujols signing full-circle as the fans get a chance to see the man that was acquired due to his departure.
Mr. Wacha, the stage is yours.
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