Prospect Notebook: Cardinals’ Michael Wacha Dominates With Lively Fastball

Michael Wacha

Michael Wacha (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Michael Wacha, rhp, Cardinals: On Tuesday, Wacha offered yet another reminder of how for the Cardinals, the best may be yet to come.

Wacha allowed only two hits in six shutout innings for Triple-A Memphis, striking out seven.

As the non-waiver trade deadline of 4 p.m. ET today nears, Wacha offered a showcase of how he would be an excellent centerpiece if the Cardinals’ wanted to swing a trade—after losing three straight to the Pirates, St. Louis has fallen out of first place in the National League Central. The same could be said for Wacha’s fellow Memphis rotation righthander Carlos Martinez. Kolten Wong, Memphis’ second baseman, is yet another suitable cornerstone for a big trade, as he appears blocked by all-star Matt Carpenter at the big league level. And that doesn’t even mention outfielder Oscar Taveras, the No. 2 prospect in all of baseball, currently on the Memphis disabled list with a high ankle sprain, or first baseman Matt Adams, who has posted an .828 OPS as Allen Craig’s backup at the big league level.

All of them will likely still be Redbirds on Thursday, as the Cardinals have said they aren’t looking to make a deal just to make a move. But once again on Wednesday, Wacha couldn’t help but impress any scouts in attendance.

Wacha’s fastball was his main weapon, as it usually is. He can get excellent plane on his fastball when he works down in the zone, but he also will elevate late in the count for swings and misses up out of the zone. It has enough movement to make it hard for hitters to square it up. It was sitting at 90-91 mph, but it played better than that.

Wacha used his changeup infrequently but he got some swings and misses as he kept it down in the zone. Only Wacha’s curveball was less consistent. At its best, it was a big-breaking, downer curve that generated swings and misses, but it wasn’t a pitch he appeared comfortable using early in the count because he struggled to throw it for strikes. But Wacha was in command enough on Tuesday with his fastball that he didn’t need to rely on his secondary stuff.

Other than his curveball, throwing strikes isn’t a problem for Wacha. He’s thrown more than 60 percent of his pitches for strikes in every outing this year except for his season debut, and his 65 percent strike percentage on Tuesday is right in line with his season average. He’s struck out 27 and walked only three this month.

In a different organization, Wacha would likely be pitching in the big leagues right now. But the Cardinals’ have an enviable depth of talent in the upper minors, which means he gets to add a little refinement before his next trip to St. Louis.

Addison Russell

Addison Russell (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Addison Russell, ss, Athletics: His stats still bear the residue of a rough April and May, but since June 1, Russell has produced the numbers that were expected from one of the better hitting shortstops in the minors.

On May 31, Russell was striking out in 32 percent of his at-bats. He was hitting .213/.312/.410. After hitting a pair of home runs on Tuesday at High Desert (his first multi-home run game of the season and second his career), he’s now hitting .271/.350/.502. He’s struck out in 24 percent of his at-bats since June 1 and he’s hitting .338 over the past two months.

It’s a great time for shortstops in the minors. With Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, Russell, Javier Baez, Rosell Herrera and more, the next wave of big league shortstops should be a flood over the next couple of years.

Rosell Herrera, ss, Rockies: Speaking of Herrera, it wasn’t a big Tuesday for him. He went 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored after going 0-for-4 on Monday. But it has been a very big month. Herrera goes into tonight having hit .386/.449/.602 this month, on the heels of hitting .378/.438/.510 in June. Yes, Asheville is a very good place to hit (as evidenced by Herrera’s .404/.477/.609 line there), but the 20-year-old switch-hitter is batting .320/.400/.433 on the road. He’s also hasn’t had a significant slump all year. He’s posted at least a .430 on-base percentage in every month this year, at least a .324 batting average and at least a .510 slugging percentage.

In fact, Herrera’s back-to-back hitless games are only the second time all year that he’s gone hitless in two straight games. Herrera has 43 multi-hit games this year. He has gone hitless only 19 times.

Marcus Semien, ss, White Sox: Keeping with the shortstops theme, Semien went 3-for-4 with his 15th home run of the season, a double and two walks on Tuesday for Double-A Birmingham. It was yet another excellent day in an excellent breakout season for the 22-year-old California alum.

There are some questions about whether Semien has the actions and range to handle shortstop at the big league level, but his performance this year is making it more and more likely that his bat could handle the move to second base if needed. With Micah Johnson playing second base in high Class A and the struggling Carlos Sanchez handling the position at Triple-A, the White Sox could have an intriguing battle for second base at the big league level in a couple of years. Sanchez is the best defender, Semien is the best hitter and Johnson is the speediest, which could give Chicago several options to chose from.