The Cardinal Nation blog

Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Don’t forget to thank Pujols for Wacha

When Albert Pujols made his decision to join the Arte Moreno family, also known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the first baseman broke the heart of many a St. Louis Cardinals fan.

A year later, after a subpar Angels debut and off-season knee surgery, the wisdom of Pujols’ mammoth contract is being questioned more and more often. No longer is Pujols generally considered to be the best player in the game. In fact, with the emergence of Mike Trout, he may not be the best player on his own team. Nine years of potential second-guessing remain ahead.

Many of the St. Louis faithful continue to carry the torch for the man they hoped would someday become his generation’s Stan Musial. Others moved on from Pujols quickly, perhaps fueled in part by his wife’s parting shot that the Cardinals offer was insulting.

What few people yet realize, however, is that a current Cardinals phenom would most likely not be a member of the organization had Pujols not signed with the Angels.

Last June 4, the following was announced live on MLB Network:

“With the 19th pick of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals select right-handed pitcher Michael Wacha of Texas A&M University.”

That 19th overall selection had been that of Moreno’s Angels, forfeited as a result of the Pujols signing. Along with that pick, the Cardinals also received a compensatory round selection, 36th overall, used to select Stanford’s Stephen Piscotty.

The Cardinals’ own first-rounder was the 23rd pick. There is no guarantee that Wacha would have still been on the board by then.

This spring, Wacha is the most talked-about new player wearing the birds on the bat. Though his chances of making the major league roster out of camp remain very slim, no prospect has made a greater impression. 2 2/3 scoreless innings on Monday extended Wacha’s Grapefruit League line to 11 strikeouts and one walk over 7 2/3 frames. He has yielded just four hits and an unearned run.

In receiving the extra draft selections, the Cardinals were extremely fortunate in their timing.

The organization had no idea when signing Pujols to an eight-year contract in 2004 that 2012 would become the final year of the old compensation rules tied to Type A and B free agents. Starting in 2013, no longer will first-round picks move from one team to another.

In addition to the Pujols selections, St. Louis received two other supplemental first round picks in the 2012 draft in return for the departures of pitchers Octavio Dotel and Edwin Jackson. Patrick Wisdom and Steve Bean became Cardinals as the 52nd and 59th players drafted overall.

For as long as Wacha and Piscotty may become contributors to the future success of the Cardinals, fans should remember to offer thanks to Albert Pujols.

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14 Responses to “Don’t forget to thank Pujols for Wacha”

  1. blingboy says:

    I’ll thank Arte instead.

  2. Lou Schuler says:

    Brian, did you spend much time around Albert during his years in St. Louis?

    From a distance, I’ve always found him intriguing on every level. As a fitness guy, it’s been interesting to watch a player who was overlooked as an amateur, in part, because of his body type. He used his heavy lower body to generate power, but still had surprising mobility around first base. It must’ve been quite a trick to keep his weight under control over the years, especially when he was limited by injuries.

    The injuries were another thing: you expect heavier guys to spend more time on the DL as they get older, but he consistently worked his way back onto the field faster than anyone expected.

    And all that’s aside from the otherworldly hitting. Even in his career-worst year with the Angels he still managed 313 total bases — something not a single guy on the Cards achieved last year. (Holliday had 298, and I think the next-best in the org was OT in AA with 273.)

    Just curious if you ever developed a sense of what made him tick.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I am not with the club every day, but I was around him quite a bit over the years. I do not have any particular unique perspective on what made him tick from a workout and preparation perspective.

      I had always wished I had known him better back when he was a rookie, before he became a star and built the barriers with the media. I had my best dealings with him when talking with him about his charity endeavors rather than his game.

      I sense his inner drive comes at least in part about not having been respected – 13th round draft pick, etc. It will be very interesting to see how he reacts to sharing the spotlight with Trout and Hamilton in LA.

      • Lou Schuler says:

        That’s too bad you never got that chance. Sportswriters have told me over the years about the challenges of being around guys day in and day out, with more access than they get to athletes in other sports, but at the same time having those barriers you mentioned.

        Really makes me appreciate how difficult a job it is. I almost never have to interview someone who doesn’t want to be interviewed.

        • Brian Walton says:

          I get to know many of the Cardinals prospects as they are coming up through the minors, but as such an exceptional talent, Pujols shot through the system so fast! Especially as major leaguers, they have so many people tugging at them from so many directions, I appreciate how distracting it could be if they let it. Just like any cross-section of individuals in society, some players are more comfortable with other people (and the media specifically) than others. It all goes with the territory. No complaints.

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