ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' list of 2012 Draft signees grew by one on Thursday, with first-round pick Michael Wacha officially signing his contract in his first ever stop in St. Louis.
Chosen 19th overall in this month's First-Year Player Draft, Wacha followed the signing with a ballpark tour in which he watched batting practice from the field and met several current players and coaches. That included manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Derek Lilliquist, who joked that he was ready to watch Wacha pitch this afternoon.
"It's been unbelievable," Wacha said. "Just standing right here in Busch Stadium right now, it's something I've never dreamed of. I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The meet-and-greet won't last long, though, as Wacha is set to begin his professional career in Florida next week. He will first pitch in the Gulf Coast League, which opens play on Monday. The plan is to then have Wacha make the jump to the organization's high-A Florida State League team.
How soon that leap will come is something that, general manager John Mozeliak said, is still fluid. So, too, is the number of innings the club will have Wacha throw. He enters the summer already having pitched 113 1/3 innings during his junior season at Texas A&M University. Wacha went 9-1 with a 2.06 ERA for the Aggies this year.
"He's had a high volume to date," Mozeliak said. "We want to get his feet wet and give him some experience in the Florida State League, but we are going to monitor that and make sure we don't put him in a situation where he's overworked."
Wacha's final college appearance came on June 1, when he tossed 7 1/3 shutout innings to lead his club to a Regional win over the University of Dayton. The team's season ended two days later. Wacha has been throwing bullpen sessions since then.
"My arm feels strong," he said. "I'm ready to throw."
Though the deadline isn't until July 13, Wacha said he preferred signing quickly so that he could get an earlier start in his climb up the system. The Cardinals' top pick in 2011, Kolten Wong, followed the same route last summer and is now already playing in Double-A.
With new signing bonus limitations written into the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, there is also seemingly less benefit to holding out and signing late. The Cardinals, for instance, have just over $9.1 million to disperse among their top 14 picks. Any of those 14 who delays signing risks the organization allocating that money elsewhere.
"It's quite a bit different," Mozeliak said. "There are a lot of different strategies. I don't know if anyone knows which is the best one yet. Only time will tell."
Major League Baseball's recommended signing bonus for the 19th overall pick is $1.9 million, and Wacha reportedly agreed to that amount. He also joked that he already knows where a fraction of it is going.
His car recently broke down, he explained, and while it is currently having a new transmission installed, Wacha admitted that "it might be time to turn in that sucker." He said a Chevy Tahoe sounds like an appealing replacement.
With Wacha signed, the Cardinals have now agreed to terms with 27 of their 44 picks. That includes eight players from the first 10 rounds, the only rounds that affect that bonus pool, unless later picks sign for more than $100,000.
The Cardinals are expected to add another to that group on Friday, as second-round pick Carson Kelly is scheduled to undergo his physical and complete a deal then.
Kelly, who will forgo a scholarship to play baseball at the University of Oregon, was viewed as a likely tough sign for the Cardinals, given that college commitment. The Cardinals intend to develop the second-rounder as a third baseman.
"The one thing I'm excited about is that Rounds 1-10, we got talent," Mozeliak said. "I think that's a good thing for us."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.