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Bits: Future ace Michael Wacha shines

9/25/2013

It’s amazing how the loaded St. Louis Cardinals continue to develop tremendous young and relevant pitching, almost an embarrassment of riches. Not only will right-handers Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal likely receive Rookie of the Year votes, but on Tuesday, Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha, in his ninth big league start, came within one out of no-hitting the Washington Nationals. Wacha, who is no Bud Smith -- ask Cardinals/Phillies fans about the no-hit lefty from 2001-02 -- represents another future ace for this ridiculously deep team. Wacha ultimately allowed a Ryan Zimmerman infield single to end his date with history, but fantasy owners need to be aware of this guy immediately.

Relying on pinpoint mid-90s fastball command and a terrific changeup, Wacha breezed through a legit Nationals lineup that is fifth in baseball in runs scored this month and, despite being eliminated from playoff contention, was playing its regulars. I admit I was a bit apprehensive about using Wacha as a spot starter after his previous outings, one in which he walked four Seattle Mariners in five innings of work and the other a Coors Field-induced hitfest in which Wacha was pulled after 4 2/3 innings. On Tuesday there were no concerns. This is a future ace, folks, and someone likely to earn a place in the October rotation.

Projecting ahead, the Cardinals certainly could use Wacha, Rosenthal and right-hander Carlos Martinez -- don’t forget about him -- as starters next season, or one of them could be the closer. Regardless, fantasy owners should bet on top arms whatever the role, and the Cardinals continue to show they know what they’re doing, even without famed pitching coach Dave Duncan (it’s actually been Derek Lilliquist for a few years now.) Check out colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft’s 2014 pitcher rankings on Wednesday, but assuming Wacha is a starting pitcher in 2014, he’ll be eminently worth drafting even in 10-team formats, probably in the 50-55 range. Hey, the position is deep.

As for Rosenthal, who I thought should have been closing since April when Jason Motte blew out his arm, he’s following the Adam Wainwright path. In 2006, Wainwright, 24, was a relief pitcher. Then suddenly in the final week of the season he became the closer, and continued it through the successful playoff run. In 2007, he was an ace starter. Rosenthal has replaced Edward Mujica as closer, so add him for the final days, but keepers should plan on 200 terrific innings in 2014.

Box score bits (NL): In today’s version of top players being shut down early, don’t count on San Francisco Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner this week. He’s done. … Giants right-hander Matt Cain could get one more outing on Sunday. He permitted two solo home runs Tuesday, and little else, to lower his ERA to an even 4.00. Bad year? Well, his WHIP is 1.16, which isn’t bad at all. He’ll remain in my top-20 starters in 2014. … New York Mets right-hander Vic Black earned his first big league save Tuesday, and it could be the first of many. Black, acquired in the Marlon Byrd trade last month, was a minor league closer, after all. … Who would have guessed in March that Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy would finish top-5 at his position? He smacked a three-run homer Tuesday and has 20 stolen bases. … Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki homered for the 25th time Tuesday, the fourth time in his career he’s reached that mark. Sure, Tulo isn’t the most durable fellow, but how many shortstops hit for this much power annually? He’s fourth on the Rater at short and likely in my overall top-10 again in 2014. … Nice combo meal for Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon, as he homered and stole a base Tuesday. Blackmon is the No. 9 outfielder on the Player Rater over the past 15 days, so obviously he can help teams still in contention.

Box score bits (AL): Young Seattle Mariners lefty James Paxton dominated the Kansas City Royals Tuesday, striking out 10 over seven shutout innings. Paxton has won three of his four big leagues starts this month, and posted a 1.50 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Like Wacha, his future is very bright. … Before you get too excited about Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak, who homered Tuesday for the third time in a week, note his .160 batting average over the past month. The five home runs in that span aren’t worth it. It’s never gonna happen with Smoak. … Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo won’t approach the 25 home runs he blasted in 2012, but he hit his 14th on Tuesday and should not be ignored in 2014 drafts. Viciedo’s plate discipline needs work, but the power is legit. … Detroit Tigers second baseman Omar Infante reached 10 home runs Tuesday night, but is his .318 batting average the quietest in the game? Infante doesn’t get much notice, but he’s a top-15 second baseman this season. … Tampa Bay Rays lefty Matt Moore scares me too much. He didn’t allow a run to the New York Yankees Tuesday, but the six walks in five innings is a big problem. Moore raised his mark to 16-4, but he’ll likely be on my overpriced list for 2014. Moore is 15th in baseball in free passes, despite making only 26 starts. … Something just didn’t look right with Yankees right-hander Hiroki Kuroda Tuesday. He permitted five more runs, and over the past month is winless with a 6.80 ERA. Until then, he was a dark horse Cy Young candidate. He’ll be undervalued in 2014.