ST. LOUIS – Monday night was a time for dreams, and pitcher Michael Wacha met his future with familiar faces by his side.
A little after 8 p.m., family and some Texas A&M teammates joined him at his residence in College Station, Texas, by the time Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig prepared to make an announcement that changed his life.
There it was, closure for Wacha when Selig stood behind a dais in Secaucus, N.J., and told the country that the St. Louis Cardinals had taken the right-hander 19th overall in the MLB amateur draft.
Back in Texas, Wacha stared at a television in the living room and felt a rush of excitement. Others near him erupted into a celebration. He knew this night, one filled with wonder that marked the realization of a life-long vision, will be remembered for years to come.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Wacha, 20, said in a teleconference. “Dreams do come true. It’s just an honor to be picked by the St. Louis Cardinals. They definitely have a proven history of success. I can’t wait to get involved with it. I’m just super excited.”
Wacha is eager to get involved, but the work has only begun for the man chosen as the Cardinals’ first of five selections on the draft’s first night. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior has drawn comparisons to former All-Star right-hander Jon Garland. He also has been praised for his deceptive changeup and a fastball that can fly as fast as 96 mph.
But Wacha will try to shape his own legacy in the coming years. St. Louis scouts picture him maturing into a trusted threat on the mound to complement aging veterans within the Cardinals’ starting rotation.
Wacha has the skill to develop into a starter, something Cardinals director of scouting Dan Kantrovitz envisions him becoming in the not-so-distant future. Wacha, a former member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, is known for his command and a competitive streak that Kantrovitz considers the pitcher’s best trait. Some viewed him as a possible top-10 talent behind the draft’s elite pitching prospects like Kevin Gausman (went fourth overall to the Baltimore Orioles), Kyle Zimmer (went fifth overall to the Kansas City Royals) and Mark Appel (went eighth overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates).
“I knew there was some interest, but I wasn’t really sure if they were going to take me or not,” Wacha said of the Cardinals. “I knew I was probably going to go in the 15-25 range. I knew there was a little interest, but I still wasn’t really sure.
“I pitch mainly off my fastball both sides of the plate. I work in a changeup mainly as an out pitch and also my slider got a little better as the season went on. Hopefully, that will come into play as well. I just go out there and try to compete to the best of my ability and try to get the win for my team.”
Wacha’s best would fit in well with the Cardinals’ long-term plans. Yes, he’s a safe pick. He’s a low-risk player with possible high reward. He’s someone who can give St. Louis a youthful option in coming years while he learns from established stars like Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
In the buildup to the draft, many labels were attached to Wacha that hinted he could be mentored: “value,” “polished,” and “durable” came to mind. That’s a positive sign for St. Louis. The Cardinals thought highly of Wacha because of his composure, and he produced quality numbers at Texas A&M to become an asset.
This season, he went 9-1 with a 2.06 ERA in 16 starts for the Aggies. He also struck out 116 and walked 20 in his 113 1/3 innings of work.
Those statistics impressed, but some thought the lack an elite breaking ball was the lone reason Wacha wasn’t placed in the same category as Gausman, Zimmer and Appel. Such a concern, though, wasn’t severe enough for the Cardinals to let him slide further down the draft order.
“We had Wacha lined up very high on our board, and we were thrilled that he got to us at 19,” Kantrovitz said. “He’s a big 6-6 right-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and a plus changeup.”
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. Time will tell whether Wacha lives up to his potential. Time will tell whether he can become a valuable member of the Cardinals’ rotation. Time will tell whether St. Louis made a wise choice.
But Monday night was a time to dream about possibilities. It was a time to value promise.
Sometimes, visions do come true.
“Hopefully, we can get a deal worked out soon,” Wacha said, “and we’ll go from there.”