Michael Wacha was still pitching at Texas A&M at this time last year, trying to win the Big 12 title and lead the Aggies into the NCAA Tournament.
Now he finds himself trying to help the Memphis Redbirds win the American North Division title.
"It's been a crazy past year, that's for sure," Wacha said. "I'm just happy to be here. I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity being able to pitch here in this league."
Wacha has taken advantage and then some, going 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in six starts.
The Cardinals drafted Wacha with the No. 19 selection in last season's First-Year Player Draft. He threw a total of 21 innings over three levels last summer, but after an outstanding Spring Training St. Louis opted to send him straight to Triple-A.
"Obviously he's good enough to do it," Memphis manager Pop Warner said. "He's just composed, the guy's just mature beyond his years. This is the first time I saw him. He just carries himself right.
"(He's) driven, competes really well and obviously he's pretty polished with his stuff. Combine all that and you've got a pretty good player on your hands."
Wacha utilizes a 90-93 mph fastball with good sink, though he can get up to 94-97. His changeup was considered the best of any player in last year's Draft.
"Fastball and changeup have been feeling really good these last few starts," Wacha said ahead of his Sunday start. "Hopefully just building off that and keep working on my other secondary pitch, the curveball, in bullpens and side sessions. So hopefully that becomes an effective pitch here later on this season."
Wacha said he is fully aware that the Pacific Coast League can be unforgiving for pitchers over the course of a long season. Every pitcher needs a plan to survive, he added.
"One of the main things is just throwing strikes," Wacha said. "In my previous starts, I had a little trouble with a little bit of command and stuff. It's just the main point, going out there and throwing strikes, keeping the ball low and forcing them to hit ground balls. That will take care of the ballpark situation.
"Not allowing free baserunners is one of the big deals. Just try not to nibble the strike zone."
Wacha is ranked as MLB.com's No. 4 Cardinals prospect, just behind teammates Oscar Taveras (No. 1) and Kolten Wong (No. 3).
"There's tons of talent on this team," Wacha said. "Kolten and Oscar, I mean, those guys are unbelievable players. It's crazy, it's just so much fun watching them play the game."
Floundering first-rounders: Things have not gone as well for former first-round picks Kyle Skipworth (2008) and Jacob Turner (2009) with New Orleans. Skipworth played in three games with the Marlins in April, but after being sent down, he has spent time on the disabled list and is batting just .143 (2-for-14) with two RBIs. Turner has gone 1-3 with a 5.76 ERA in six starts.
Adapting well: The Dodgers made the call to convert 2007 first-rounder Chris Withrow to being a full-time reliever late last season. So far this year, Withrow has gone 2-0 for Albuquerque and has not allowed a run in 10 ⅓ innings. He has 14 strikeouts in nine appearances with the Isotopes.
Flying back into first: Sacramento (17-13) is once again back in first place in the Pacific South Division, and three former first-round picks have a lot to do with it. Shortstop/designated hitter Jemile Weeks (2008) has hit .288 with 24 runs scored and 13 RBIs. Second baseman Grant Green (2009) has batted .313 with four homers and 16 RBIs. Right-hander Sonny Gray (2010) has gone 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA in five starts.