With Shelby Miller preparing to make an impact at the major league level to start the season, the focus on prospects within the St. Louis Cardinals farm system will continue to shift toward the next generation.
Two of the hottest commodities within reach of the major league club, outfielder Oscar Taveras and RHP Michael Wacha, might be closer than you think.
Taveras is the gem of the organization. The 21-year-old outfielder has been named the No. 3 prospect in all of MLB, and with good reason.
He’s a consistent .300-plus hitter whose patience at the plate is far beyond his years. There has been little concern about Taveras with a bat—the majority of his continued development has to do with defense.
He’s a solid defender and has shown multiple times during spring training that his arm is no joke.
The question is, when will he arrive in St. Louis? There’s little doubt he’ll be there in 2013, but it’s tough to say when.
With the success first baseman Matt Adams has seen in Grapefruit League play, the Cardinals are also left to find a way to get him into the lineup. Given that he is further along in his development, the season will likely begin with Adams in St. Louis sharing time at first base while Allen Craig allows other outfielders a chance to rest.
The reason that matters to Oscar Taveras is because that could potentially have been him filling in where Allen Craig likely will. But remember, there’s no need to rush Taveras.
Having people in place where he would play just gives the Cardinals the opportunity to allow him to continue his development. Taveras has never played a game in Triple-A. While he’s likely capable of skipping it altogether, if the team isn’t in desperate need of him he should at least spend a little time at that level.
It’s also important at this stage in his development that he be in the lineup every day. Sitting on the bench in St. Louis won’t benefit him in any way. If he’s in St. Louis, he will be getting regular playing time.
How long? It could be as little as a few weeks or as long as three to four months, but he will undoubtedly make his debut this season. Whether it comes as an injury replacement or a basic roster move, Cardinals fans have something to look forward to this season.
To date he has never played on a professional team that did not win a championship, and that’s a streak the Cardinals, no doubt, would like to see him keep alive.
Who will make it to the major league club first?
Another rising star in the Cardinals farm system who wasn’t known by anyone before June 2012 is Michael Wacha. Those who didn’t know the name before spring training won’t be forgetting him anytime soon.
Wacha made a rapid rise through the farm system from draft all of the way to Double-A Springfield in just the second half of 2012. In 11 appearances and 21 innings, Wacha gave up only eight hits and two runs with 40 strikeouts.
He has a career 17.1 SO/9 ratio. To expect him to keep that number up is a stretch, but he has what it takes to be an impact pitcher at the major league level.
Wacha showed it again this spring when he out-pitched, well, just about everyone. He threw 11 innings over five games this spring and surrendered seven hits and one unearned run. He struck out 15 of the 44 batters he faced and walked only one.
While the Cardinals have an abundance of right-handed pitchers, Wacha stands out among them all. Whether his future is as a starter or reliever, he has the potential to go far.
He has a powerful fastball and continues to develop his off-speed deliveries, which are apparently the only thing keeping him from the major leagues at this point.
He’ll start the season at Double-A Springfield where he finished, but it’s likely his time there will be brief.
When will Wacha arrive in St. Louis? The chances are high that he could make an appearance this season, but there are no guarantees. If he keeps up at his current pace, he will make it hard for them not to promote him.