As we flip the calendar to the final month of Major League Baseball’s regular season, we can put a wrap on August—a period where a trio of St. Louis Cardinals prospects ventured down completely different paths during the warmest month of the year.
The last 30 days for right-handed starter Michael Wacha, speedster Kolten Wong and first-round selection Marco Gonzales have varied largely—to a certain degree. We've seen a glimmer of hope in a rather suddenly dysfunctional starting rotation, a young hitter struggle mightily during his first professional stint in the majors and a lively arm dominate the opposition.
Overall, these three prospects have earned a B-plus for their efforts last month.
Wacha, like fellow pitcher Shelby Miller, is a gem. It has been difficult to insert him into an already crowded rotation, however, Wacha has been the only positive out of the group lately.
The 22-year-old right-hander is 2-0 in five starts in the big leagues this season. He’s 1-0 with a 2.87 ERA in seven appearances, including one start last month. Even though opponents hit .224 off him, Wacha allowed just five earned runs, including a pair of home runs while walking five and fanning 23 for the month. A pretty solid stretch for the rookie.
Even more impressive was his performance in an eventual 10-0 loss against National League Central Division rival Cincinnati, where Wacha entered the game in the third inning after staff ace Adam Wainwright lasted just two innings. Wacha worked four scoreless innings sprinkled with three Reds hits. He walked one and struck out seven.
“I was just trying to attack the hitters with a different mix,” Wacha told Jenifer Langosch, of MLB.com following the loss. “[I was] just trying to get [a] first strike over and get in pitcher’s counts, and it ended up working out pretty well for me.”
The formula worked as Wacha tossed 65 pitches, including 45 strikes.
Wacha’s dazzling outing against the Reds earned him a spot in the rotation.
“It’s not like we were going tryout camp, but it made it very obvious he was the guy we wanted to see out there,” manager Mike Matheny told Derrick Goold, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Long term, we know he’s most likely going to be a starter. He showed the other day why we believe that.”
Wong is the future second baseman for the Cardinals. There’s no other way around it.
But Wong, who will turn 23 on Oct. 19, has dealt with growing pains since his arrival in mid-August, and it has cost him valuable experience and playing time.
This season, Wong has had 38 at-bats and collected just six hits, including a double. However, all but one of his six total big-league hits came in a five-day span, where the middle-infielder went 5-for-18, with two runs scored and three stolen bases.
Wong has been a different hitter ever since, struggling to find his natural rhythm at the plate, looking uncomfortable and even overwhelmed at times. From Aug. 21-31, Wong went 1-for-15, with a run scored, a walk and two strikeouts.
A first-round selection during the 2011 Amateur Draft by the Cardinals, Wong remains hitless in 11 at-bats at Busch Stadium thus far.
“There may be something to do with being here at home but it has to do mostly that we’re not getting him in there every single night, which is something new for him,” Matheny said, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He's an exciting young player. The more opportunities he'll get, he'll have plenty of success.”
Down on the farm, Gonzales—this year's first-round draft selection—is making a mockery out of the opposition.
Pitching for the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Class A Advanced Florida State League, Gonzales made four starts in August. His ERA of 1.62 in 16.2 innings of work last month is very impressive considering it's his first professional season.