Future Projections for Matt Harvey/Zach Wheeler vs. Shelby Miller/Michael Wacha

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Future Projections for Matt Harvey/Zach Wheeler vs. Shelby Miller/Michael Wacha
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The St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets have a luxury that would excite the front office and fanbase of any MLB team.

What each team has is a pair of powerful young arms, capable not just of putting up decent numbers, but also of changing the face of their respective organizations for years to come.

With the two teams matching up this week, it’s a good time to take a deeper look.

The Cardinals boast a future dynamic duo in starting pitchers Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha.

Miller, 22, was a first-round draft pick (19th overall) in 2009. The Cardinals took their time nurturing him through their farm system in an effort to ensure a well-rounded development before making his debut in September 2011.

Michael Wacha, 21, was picked in the first round of the 2012 draft, also 19th overall. Wacha played college baseball for Texas A&M and is only the third Cardinals player ever to reach the major league level less than a year after being drafted.

The Mets also have a dangerous pair in starting pitchers Matt Harvey and Zach Wheeler.

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Harvey, 24, was chosen by the New York Mets in the 2010 MLB draft with their seventh pick overall. He pitched for the University of North Carolina and rose through the Mets' farm system rather quickly before making his debut in July 2012.

Wheeler, 23, was drafted sixth overall in 2009 by the San Francisco Giants out of high school. He made his way to the New York Mets in a trade that sent Carlos Beltran to San Francisco in 2011 and is expected to make his major league debut in days.

Which team has the better duo? Instead of just looking at the next few months, following is a breakdown of the duo I believe has the highest long-term ceiling.

 

The duos through 2013

Both Harvey and Miller have the attention of MLB in 2013.

Harvey’s 5-0 run to start the season turned a lot of heads and, despite eight no-decisions in his last nine starts, he still should be turning heads. His numbers are still strong, but the Mets offense has struggled to give him the backing needed to turn solid outings into wins.

He still sports a 2.10 ERA with 95 strikeouts and a 0.91 WHIP.

Wheeler has yet to make his MLB debut, but there is a lot of buzz surrounding him. If he comes up and turns out to be the pitcher the Mets believe he will be, this pair could be a serious threat for years to come.

I don’t doubt his ability, but the question for 2013 will center around growing pains. How much time will it take him to get settled in the big leagues? He could be one of those pitchers who is lights out from day one (i.e. Stephen Strasburg), but that’s never a guarantee.

Miller, on the other hand, has the backing of the team with the best record and run differential in all of MLB. Don’t interpret that to mean his team is the only reason for Miller’s success.

He has proven to be more mature and diverse as a pitcher than anticipated before his arrival, and that shines through when he takes to the mound.

Through June 11, Miller is 7-3 with a 1.91 ERA, 81 strikeouts and a 0.98 WHIP.

Of course, the Cardinals have another weapon they unveiled in late May: Michael Wacha.

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Wacha was nearly unhittable during spring training and throughout his rather brief stint in the Cardinals' farm system. In his first three major league starts, the Cardinals have seen mixed results from Wacha, but he’s shown that he has the talent.

He’s struggled a bit with his fastball command at this level, and as a result, he had a rather shaky second outing. If that can be attributed to the promotion, then it should work itself out.

I’d argue that, long-term, Wacha could become the true gem of his draft class.

As far as which duo will be the most effective for 2013, it is definitely Miller and Wacha for three reasons.

First and foremost, Miller and Wacha are pitching for a team that is 20 games over .500 with the best record in baseball. They’re pitching under intense pressure.

Despite holding the top spot in the NL Central, the Cardinals have two teams coming up from behind. One bad week and the Cardinals could, theoretically, find themselves in second place.

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That’s serious pressure for rookie starting pitchers, and the Cardinals will be expecting a lot from this pair.

Another reason to give them the edge is because of Miller’s postseason experience. After making only one regular-season start, Miller found himself on the 2012 playoff roster pitching–and delivering–in key situations.

By the time 2014 rolls around, there’s plenty of reason to believe he could have a second postseason under his belt, including one for Wacha.

While that may not translate into regular-season success, it is solid experience that will mature both Miller and Wacha as pitchers if given the opportunity.

This is not to cheapen Harvey’s accomplishments or Wheeler’s potential, but playing for a winning organization does things for the development process that they will struggle to find in New York.

Third, neither Miller nor Wacha are guaranteed a job. With one of the hottest farm systems in baseball, the Cardinals have multiple replacements at the ready. Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal and possibly even Chris Carpenter are all possibilities to start before the end of the season.

Miller and Wacha, while not necessarily in danger of being demoted, are still pitching for their jobs. Harvey and Wheeler are in little danger of losing their opportunity in the near future.

Hence, the Cardinals two-some has the edge for the remainder of 2013.

 

2014 and beyond

If the Cardinals do make the postseason, it would arguably give Miller and Wacha an edge going into 2014 as well, but that doesn’t mean they’ll keep that edge.

If any of these pitchers find themselves suffering from a sophomore slump (short of Harvey who is already in his second season), it could quickly change the dynamics of these matchups.

In terms of raw talent moving forward, I would argue that Harvey and Wheeler might be able to continue turning heads over the next two seasons.

Harvey is beyond good, but he will need to show it over the course of a full season.

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Wheeler and Wacha, neither of whom is yet proven at the major league level, have a lot to show.

Both are extremely talented and have pitch repertoires that will baffle some major league hitters, but consistency is going to be the biggest issue for both.

Between the two, I would argue that Wacha may have the better “stuff.” He has a very deceptive movement on his four-seam fastball and a changeup that is one of the best I’ve seen from a rookie. If he can keep control of them both, he will stay a step ahead of Wheeler.

Consistency will be the key.

Miller vs. Harvey is a more difficult comparison. Currently, the two are on similar paces (aside from wins), but at this point, Harvey has the advantage.

While I believe Miller is capable of being the better pitcher, Harvey is going deeper into games and making more efficient use of his pitches. That’s impressive for a strikeout pitcher.

Harvey has only failed to reach the seven-inning mark in four games this season, while Miller has missed it nine times.

Miller has managed a lot of high pitch counts this season, but getting into trouble early in games has cost him innings. If he wants to be a step ahead of Harvey, that needs to be a top priority.

By 2015, I think Harvey and Miller will find themselves as a close match. They’re both solid strikeout pitchers with good presence and demeanor on the mound.

Once youth gives way to experience, there’s good reason to believe they will both be a pleasure to watch.

Wacha, with his clear deception and ability to move between a high-90s fastball and a nasty changeup, was underestimated by 18 teams in the draft. That’s a mistake they likely won’t make when they begin to face him in the years to come.

He has the ability to be a top-of-the-rotation talent and, on any other team, that’s likely where he would find himself by 2014.

With all of the well-deserved hype surrounding Wheeler, I wouldn’t be expecting him to come up and instantly look like Harvey. The day may come, but don’t expect it immediately.

In the end, I would give a slight edge to Harvey and Wacha when paired up against their counterparts.

Which duo, though, has the potential to be the most powerful?

The talent gap between Harvey and Wheeler appears to be greater than the gap between Miller and Wacha.

Miller and Wacha are much more comparable. While they have similar styles, they also have similar ceilings. With the experience they will continue to gain being a part of a competitive team fighting its way through a division and potential playoff race, Miller and Wacha will be the duo to beat in 2015.

 

Stats obtained from ESPN.com accurate as of June 11, 2013.

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