Position: RHP Height: 6-6 Weight: 190 Born: 8/30/81 Bats: Right Throws: Right
Atlanta loves to draft high school pitchers, especially those from southern states. Thus, Georgia high school product Adam Wainwright was a perfect fit for the Braves in the first round in 2000. Tall and lanky, Wainwright has been very successful in pro ball, putting in solid A-ball campaigns in '01 and '02, and handling Double-A with aplomb so far this year. He offers a complete package on the mound, and is definitely one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
Wainwright has excellent mound presence, looming over the field in a way that intimidates right-handed hitters. He is still adding strength and weight to his body, but has proven to be quite durable so far in his career. His fastball is promising but a bit inconsistent, ranging from 90 to 96 mph. As he matures, the higher velocity readings should become more common. His heater has very good sinking movement and can overpower people even on its "less hot" days.
Wainwright also has a very good breaking ball, described as both a hard curve and a slider. It is also an out-pitch, and he has confidence in it. A changeup rounds out his arsenal. Scouts say that it's a good pitch, but he needs to use it more as he moves up the ladder. Wainwright has very good control, though he sometimes grooves pitches unnecessarily when behind in the count. He needs to improve his command within the zone, and has apparently done this early this year. His mechanics are decent, but tend to become unhinged when he is tired. This is a common problem for tall pitchers. Wainwright is a fine natural athlete, though he needs additional polish fielding his position. Again, this will come in time.
There are no major negatives in Wainwright's statistical profile, and many positives. His K/IP ratios have been terrific, and he's maintained a strikeout-per-inning pace in Double-A, an excellent sign for his future. His walk rate rose in 2002, but his K/BB ratios remain good. He keeps the ball down and doesn't give up many home runs, another positive trait.
Groundball pitchers who also strike people out at high rates are not that common; Wainwright could eventually produce Kevin Brown-like numbers with maturity. His workload as a professional has been relatively heavy, but he is reasonably efficient, which helps reduce the injury risk somewhat. Still, the Braves should monitor his workload carefully, especially since he has a habit of fading in August.
Wainwright has had no injuries so far as a pro. He has a lanky frame and the sort of "loose arm" that scouts like, but he needs to improve his physical stamina, and the Braves need to keep watching his pitch and inning counts.
What to expect
Although the Braves pitching staff is in transition this year, they aren't yet to the point where they will have to rush Wainwright to the majors. This is good; he needs as much experience as possible. He's off to a fine start in Double-A, and a solid season there could put him in contention for a rotation spot in 2004. He has everything he needs to become an outstanding pitcher. But as the cautionary tales of A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett show, talent alone is not enough for a pitcher; everything depends on health. And betting on the health of a young pitcher is always risky.
John Sickels is the author of the 2003 Baseball Prospect Book, which can be ordered from his Web site, JohnSickels.com. His biography of Bob Feller will be published this fall by Brassey's. He lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife, son, and two cats. You can send John questions or comments at JASickels@aol.com.