If you have not heard the news, big-time pitching prospect Alex Reyes of the St. Louis Cardinals has at least a partial tear of his UCL (ulnar collateral Ligament) in his right elbow. The right-hander is seeking a second opinion on the the injury, but the most likely outcome will be that the promising rookie will be needing Tommy John Surgery. That would end his 2017 season before it even begins, as pitchers and catchers are just reporting to their respective MLB Spring Training facilities now.
Obviously, this is a blow to Reyes, who was clearly one of the favorites to land the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year Award (you can check out our staff’s predictions for NL Awards here – posted before the Reyes news). But just as importantly, this is a big hit for the Cardinals organization as well. Reyes is a flame-throwing 22-year-old with absolutely nasty stuff. He was set to compete for the fifth starter’s role this Spring.
As I mentioned in my 2017 projected Cardinals rotation piece a week ago, while Reyes is extremely talented, he was no lock to break the club’s rotation right out of the gate. The injury really hurts when you factor in he would likely have been the first guy called upon when one of their starting five goes down, assuming he started the season in the minors. This would have led to the Cards showing their faith in the youngster as the season hit the crucial drive for the playoffs in the late Summer months.
But now that option is no longer there for the 2017 campaign, assuming Tommy John is in fact the final route. As a result, it will be the man who is now the clear favorite to land the number five starter’s role who will need to do some heavy lifting. His name is Michael Wacha and he surely has the skills to do just that.
Wacha and Reyes actually share some similarities. Wacha, who is currently 25 years of age, is a young arm who came up with the team. He was once a highly heralded prospect within the organization, much like Reyes now. But Wacha has been in the Majors since 2013 and has gone through his fair shares of ups and downs.
Wacha started his career with an up, as his first year in the Big Leagues saw him post a 2.78 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over the course of 64 and two-thirds innings. He would have his best season two years later in 2015. Wacha was a 17 game winner over the course of 30 starts and he finished with a 3.38 ERA with 153 strikeouts.
But then last year he took a big downturn. 2016 was not kind to Mr. Wacha, but injuries certainly had a lot to do with his lack of success. He made 24 starts and later in the season three relief appearances, posting an uncharacteristic 5.09 ERA.
The only time Wacha hit the disabled list during the season was on August 9th thanks to shoulder inflammation. Since baseball players are known to keep injuries a secret from the public, it would not surprise me one bit to learn at some point that Wacha was dealing with shoulder issues much of the season. It would certainly explain Wacha’s poor performance.
So that brings us back to out theme of ups and downs. With Reyes down, it is time for Wacha to rise back up. He is coming off a down season and given his skills and prior success, seeing him bounce back up is certainly in the cards. The Cards rotation is not exactly built on sure fire arms, so Wacha’s performance is that much more integral.
The Chicago Cubs are not going to give up the NL Central without a fight. Most likely the Cardinals will be fighting for one of the two Wild Card slots when all is said and done. But they will certainly go into the season with the expectation of taking down the champs.
While the task of reaching the playoffs will not be as easy without Reyes, it is not impossible. Wacha can certainly put up results that are just good, if not better than the rookie. Wacha has the experience and there is no need to worry about rookie bumps in the road with him.
If Wacha is healthy, he can most certainly reach 2015 levels of success. In all honesty, his ceiling is even higher than that. But it will all start with confidence in health. Not only does Wacha need to believe in himself, but the organization needs to as well. They can not automatically ship him to the pen upon one bad start. And of course, he needs to be healthy.
So will Michael Wacha step up? Tell us what you think in the comments!