As Cardinals fans look to the future of the starting rotation, who has the bigger upside–Michael Wacha or Carlos Martinez? Both are currently down at Triple-A Memphis, but for different reasons. Wacha is down to conserve his arm by limiting his innings, while Martinez is there to stretch his arm out to be more prepared for the starter role in the future.
Both have bright Major League futures, but that is really where the similarities end when comparing the two.
Wacha is 6’6″ while Martinez is just 6′. Wacha was drafted out of college and made it to the big leagues in less than one year. Martinez was signed as an amateur free agent in 2010, and it took 3 years for him to make his first major league appearance.
Major League Career: 3 games started, 17.2 innings pitched, 1-0 record, 4.58 earned run average with 14 strikeouts and 4 walks.
2013 in Memphis: 10 games started, 57.2 innings pitched, 4-1 record, 2.34 earned run average with 40 strikeouts and 15 walks.
1. Fastball: It averages from 92-95 MPH, but he can amp it up to 97 MPH when needed. He spots it well on the corners, and he uses his 6’6″ frame well to put a downward slant on the pitch.
2. Changeup: This is probably his best pitch. It has late movement that resembles a screwball–diving away from left-handed hitters and getting in on the hands of right-handed hitters.
3. Curveball: One of the main reasons he was sent down to Triple-A was to fine-tune this pitch. Throughout Spring Training and even during his short stint with the Cardinals, he showed flashes of this being a great pitch, he just lacked consistency with it. Thus, given the time to work on this pitch, he could really develop it into an out pitch–one that at times can resemble Adam Wainwright’s great curveball.
Major League Career: 7 games in relief, 8 innings pitched, 0-0 record, 4.50 earned run average with 9 strikeouts and 3 walks.
2013 in Memphis: 7 games started, 35.2 innings pitched, 2-2 record, 2.02 earned run average with 34 strikeouts and 12 walks.
1. Fastball: 97+ MPH with consistency and is able to reach triple digits as well. It is his go-to pitch that can have a lot of tailing movement based on his arm angle. If he drops his arm angle too much, he tends to elevate this pitch a bit which can lead to trouble.
2. Sinker/Two-Seamer: He does not use this pitch that often as he is still developing command with it. However, it is a good pitch to help keep hitters off balance and prevent them from keying on his high-90’s fastball.
3. Curveball: This is a hard curve with sharp 12 to 6 movement. This pitch comes in around 80-82 MPH so provides an offset of 15-20 MPH from his electrifying fastball. He must still further fine-tune this pitch, but it is quickly becoming his “out” pitch when he is ahead in the count.
4. Changeup: This is his least used pitch at this point in his career, but it will become a weapon for him in the future. It comes in at 86-88 MPH–the proper drop-off in speed needed to be an effective pitch.
So…Who Has the Bigger Upside?
While Wacha has a tremendous “floor” considering he made it to the big leagues less than one year from being drafted, his “ceiling” is nowhere near the height of Martinez’s “ceiling.” Wacha has quality stuff, but it projects more to a #2 or #3 starter in the future.
Martinez has flashy, electric stuff that will only continue to develop with time. He has shown flashes of brilliance so far in Memphis–most notably his scoreless outing against the Iowa Cubs where he pitched 7.2 innings, allowed no runs, and recorded 8 strikeouts. This performance shows that he has the capability of being a #1 or #2 starter in the future as long as he continues to grow–remember, he is still only 21 years old.
Barring any unforeseen trades made by John Mozeliak, both Wacha and Martinez project to be quality starters in the future for the Cardinals. However, after comparing each starter’s stuff, Martinez has much bigger upside. If he is able to continue to fine-tune his pitches and gain the endurance needed for a big league starter, he could be a future ace and Cy Young Award winner for the St. Louis.
Until next time…