Believe it or not, this isn’t the first time I’ve covered Wacha in the Scouting the Unknown series. I actually wrote a brief report on him a little less than a year ago while highlighting some notable draft prospects. You can read that post here. Now, it may seem like I’m double-dipping, and I suppose, technically, I am. But since last June, there are very few prospects whose stocks have soared quite like Wacha’s has. Suffice to say, there’s plenty of reason to revisit his outlook, applying what we’ve learned over the past year or so in watching the 21-year-old compete at the professional level.
The Cardinals drafted Wacha 19th overall last June, and at the time, most viewed that selection as a smart, safe pick, but not necessarily one of the high-upside variety. The initial reports suggested a big-framed righty with a solid fastball, a plus changeup, and a breaking ball offering that was fringy at best. Fast-forward 11 months. At 6-6, 210, Wacha still features a big, durable pitcher’s frame — he hasn’t shrunk any, which is good. His arsenal, however, has come a long way. He’s added a couple ticks to the fastball, which now touches 95 with some consistency, and he still spots it with great command. The changeup continues to be a plus weapon. The curve is the most notable improvement — a late-breaking power curve that he throws with confidence and deception. That pitch has gone from a borderline unusable offering, to a serious weapon with plus potential at the big league level.
Wacha’s 2012 numbers were just plain silly: 0.86 ERA, 0.57 WHIP, 17.1 K/9 in 11 appearances across three levels (Rookie, High-A, Double-A). Those 11 outings, however, only tallied up to 21 IP. The Cardinals were keeping his workload light, and Wacha never worked through a batting order more than one time through. That was the only criticism, the only reason to expect regression as he stepped up to Triple-A ball this season. Well, Wacha’s done a fine job of quelling those concerns so far. He’s found a groove in his last three starts, allowing only 2 runs and 11 hits across 20 frames. The K’s are down, but that was to be expected. The command is still working, though, and the stuff is MLB-ready. With Joe Kelly and Trevor Rosenthal entrenched in the Cardinals bullpen, Wacha could be next in line for starts in St. Louis.
Sticking with the 2012 first-rounders theme, let’s discuss the 13th overall pick, Courtney Hawkins, who’s drawing a lot of attention this season with some serious Donkey-like numbers. The Sox have been aggressive with Hawkins from the start, allowing him ample full-season playing time in his debut season, even bumping him up to High-A for the final month. At the end of his first year, he had hit .284/.324/.480 with 8 homers and 11 SB through 250 PA between Rookie, Low- and High-A, all at age 18. With that sort of power at such a young stage in development, it’s no wonder that Hawkins was the popular pick for the No. 1 spot on White Sox prospect lists — we were no exception. He’s returned to High-A Winston Salem for the 2013 season, but the numbers this time through aren’t so solid across the board. There are strong areas — with 7 homers already, he’s on pace to hit more that 40. And there are weak areas — Hawkins has struck out 44 times in 82 PA, on pace for something like 250 whiffs. The 19-year-old has just 12 hits this season, for a .167 AVG, but 7 of those hits left the stadium.
His case is a curious one. The Sox must be thrilled with the huge power Hawkins is showing, but if the K’s continue at this rate, they’ll need to consider bumping him down the ladder to a level where he can more easily focus on approach and pitch recognition. There’s plenty of time for him to improve in that regard, and for fantasy baseball purposes, I truly hope he doesn’t go the way of the Donkey. Either way, though, he’s a fascinating dude to follow.