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When the Cardinals selected Michael Wacha 19th overall in last year’s draft, the right-hander was widely regarded as a polished arm who could potentially zoom to the major leagues. While that has proven to be true––Wacha reached St. Louis less than a year after he was drafted––he’s showing to be more than just a “safe” pick.

The Texas A&M product put himself in the big-league discussion this spring by yielding one unearned run in 11.2 innings out of the bullpen, walking one and striking out 15 while flashing 95-98 mph velocity. The impressive performance yielded an aggressive assignment to Triple-A Memphis out of camp.

Wacha, who turned 22 earlier this month, has more than fit in at Triple-A. Although he’s a few innings short of qualifying for the Pacific Coast League’s leaderboard, his 2.78 ERA through 12 starts would otherwise be pacing the circuit. He has also held his own in three major-league starts––coming between May 30 and June 11––by giving up nine runs on 17 hits in 17.2 frames.

During the prospect’s meteoric rise to the major leagues, he has flashed three potential plus pitches while attacking the strike zone on a steep downward plane from his imposing 6-foot-6 frame. Wacha’s fastball has consistently worked at 90-96 mph, his deceptive changeup shows plus-plus potential, and his big curveball is a present average pitch that should reach plus with further seasoning.

With good stuff, a strong command/control profile, and a durable body, Wacha appears close to fulfilling his potential as a big-league no. 3 starter. The Texan was recently profiled in Baseball Prospectus’ Eyewitness Accounts series after I scouted his June 18 start at Round Rock. He also jumped to no. 21 on BP’s baseball-wide mid-season top 50 prospects list.

For the time being, Wacha is back in Memphis to refine his game––particularly his within-the-zone fastball command. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are watching their young hurler’s innings total closely. Having already logged 85.2 frames in his first full season, Wacha is getting extra rest between his Triple-A starts. The time off should keep him strong for the stretch drive, as he may be needed in St. Louis, whether it be in a starting role or out of the bullpen.

Within four years, Wacha has progressed from undrafted Texas high schooler to first-round pick to major leaguer. And regardless of his role for the remainder of this season, he should ultimately earn a full-time spot in the stacked St. Louis rotation. When Wacha recently pitched in Round Rock, I caught up with him to discuss his quick rise through the minors, his developing arsenal, and his three-start MLB experience.

Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals from Jason Cole on Vimeo.