Due to recent events, mainly Jose Torres being placed on the restricted list, there was an open 40-man roster spot for the Padres to fill. Obviously many fans were speculating about the team bringing aboard Eric Hosmer to feel that slot, but the Padres went a different way entirely, at least for the short-term. And that was by claiming catcher, turned outfielder, turned pitcher Rowan Wick from the St. Louis Cardinals, who was just designated for assignment the other day when the Cardinals signed relief pitcher Bud Norris. Now, Wick claims the final 40-man roster spot for the Padres and could be an interesting player to watch this spring.
Drafted by the Cardinals in the ninth round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Wick originally was a catcher in his first taste of professional baseball in 2012 with the Cardinals rookie league affiliate. Wick played in only 23 games that year, coming to the plate just 86 times and struggling to get anything going, slashing just .156/.233/.273 with a 55 wRC+. Not the best debut for the 20-year-old. However, he bounced back in a big way back in rookie ball as a 21-year-old in 2013, slashing .256/.354/.464 and good for a 135 wRC+. More importantly than that, Wick saw a nearly seven percent increase in his walk rate. In the field, Wick played more in the outfield than at catcher, as this would be his last year catching in a game.
Wick kicked off the 2014 season by mashing in short-season ball, putting up a ridiculous .378/.475/.815 slash line in 119 at-bats. Despite that success, Wick fell off a little bit after a promotion to Low-A, where he slashed just .220/.299/.433 in 141 at-bats. Most alarmingly, Wick saw his strikeout rate climb over 38 percent after striking out only 24 percent of the time in short-season ball. Even though he struggled in Low-A, Wick was promoted to High-A to start the 2015 season, and he ran into many of the same problems, as he put up a mediocre slash line and struck out 37.6 percent of the time while walking just three percent of the time.
At this point, rather than keep pushing Wick in the wrong direction, the Cardinals tried something different: they shifted him into a full-time pitching role. After seeing some potential in Wick in a few innings of relief, they pulled the trigger and moved him into the bullpen for good starting in 2016. Wick started that year back in High-A, where he posted a 1.09 ERA in just under 25 innings. After years of toiling as a hitter, it seemed like Wick had finally found something that worked for him. With a 37:6 strikeout to walk ratio, and no home runs allowed, it appeared like Wick had found a niche for himself as a reliever. Following that stellar pitching debut, Wick was promoted to Double-A prior to the end of the season. It was there where he ran into his first trouble as a pitcher, as he experienced a massive jump in both ERA (over 4.00) and walk rate (from just over six percent in High-A to nearly 16 percent in Double-A). It seemed like Wick had once again hit another developmental roadblock.
After taking a step back on the mound in 2016, it was clear that 2017 was a make or break year for Wick on the mound. Wick actually began the season in Triple-A, pitching 16 and a two-thirds innings in total, although his time in Triple-A was split by some time in Double-A in the middle of the season. In 16 and two-thirds Triple-A innings, Wick posted a 5.40 ERA with a 22.4 percent strikeout rate and 9.2 percent walk rate. His numbers were pretty similar in Double-A, as he posted a 2.08 ERA, 18.7 percent strikeout rate and 12.1 percent walk rate in 21 and two-thirds innings. Despite finding some success on the mound, Wick’s biggest issue still remained walking too many batters. Following the season, it looked like Wick was going to compete for a big league bullpen spot prior to him being designated for assignment earlier in the week.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 10 innings, 21.5% strikeout rate, 11.3% walk rate, 4.43 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 0.0 fWAR
Projecting someone like Wick is probably a fool’s errand, as there really isn’t enough information to go on to accurately project his big league performance. With that being said, it’s worth at least mentioning. The big thing that stands out here is Wick’s walk rate, which would likely be the worst walk rate of any Padres’ pitcher. Given that fact, it’s hard to see him cleaning up his propensity for wildness enough to get a spot out of the bullpen. It seems more likely that he starts the year in Triple-A and is given a chance to work out the kinks in hopes of making it to the big leagues later in the year. With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball, Wick has the potential to be a big relief piece based on that alone. In addition, he has quite a bit of deception in his delivery, which could also help him at the next level. However, his curveball is fringy at this point, and his command needs more fine tuning. This is yet another A.J. Preller type move: low risk, potentially high reward. If Wick works out, he will be yet another solid bullpen option for the next few years. If he doesn’t, the Padres will just move on to the next. It’s yet another shrewd move for the Padres’ front office.