Cardinals' prospect Rowan Wick has come a long way quickly after moving from the outfield to the mound, earning a spot on the Canadian team in the World Baseball Classic. (File)

By Rob Rains

Less than two years after making his professional pitching debut in rookie ball, Rowan Wick is about to perform on the biggest stage yet of his career.

Wick, whom the Cardinals converted from the outfield to the mound during the 2015 season, is one of several players in the organization named to participate in next month’s World Baseball Classic.

The 24-year-old Wick will be playing for the Canadian team. He was born and raised near Vancouver.

“It’s very exciting,” Wick said. “I’m honored to be able to put on a Canadian jersey. There’s nothing better than that.”

After a slow start to his pitching career – Wick worked just 2 innings in three appearances for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals in 2015 – he progressed very quickly during the 2016 season. He made the Florida State League All-Star team, earned a promotion to Double A and then was selected to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, which helped him land a spot on the Cardinals’ 40-man roster.

Wick made a combined 44 appearances between Palm Beach and Springfield last year, going 2-0 with a 2.44 ERA and eight saves in what for all practical purposes was his first season as a pitcher.

After striking out 57 batters in 44 1/3 innings during the regular season, Wick topped off his season by pitching in nine games in Arizona, working 10 innings.

“Arizona was awesome,” he said. “It’s the biggest stage I’ve ever played on, definitely the best competition for sure. The success I had out there is a definite confidence boost going into this season.”

Wick will be in the Cardinals’ camp in Jupiter, Fla., for the first workout for pitchers and catchers next Tuesday and will be able to stay there until March 6, when the Canadian team will begin practicing in Dunedin, Fla.

While the time with the Canadian team will interrupt Wick’s first exposure to the Cardinals’ major-league camp, he believes it will in the long run be a beneficial experience.

“It was something to think about for sure, but you don’t get to play for your country too often,” Wick said by telephone on Thursday. “I had to go through a few hoops to see if I could do it, but they (the Cardinals) let me so I have to take that opportunity.”

Wick is one of at least eight members of the Cardinals organization who will be participating in the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Others named to teams off the major-league roster were Matt Carpenter to the U.S. team, Yadier Molina to the Puerto Rican team, Carlos Martinez to the team from the Dominican Republic and Seung Hwan Oh from Korea.

In addition, other non-roster players in the Cardinals’ camp named to teams were pitcher Trey Nielsen to the team from Italy and catcher Alberto Rosario to the Dominican team. Pitcher Corey Baker will leave the Cardinals’ minor-league camp to pitch for Israel.

Three other pitchers in the major-league camp were named to a special list which will allow them to be added to their country’s team should it advance past the first round – Brett Cecil to the U.S. team, Alex Reyes to the Dominican team and Ryan Sherriff to the team from Israel.

There are four regional pools for the first round of the tournament, with Israel and Korea assigned to the pool in Seoul, South Korea. Puerto Rico and Italy are in the pool playing in Mexico, and the U.S., Canada and Dominican teams are all in the first-round pool in Miami.

Canada’s first game will be on March 9 against the Dominican Republic, while the U.S. will face the fourth team in the pool, Colombia, on March 10 in its tournament opener.

“This will be the biggest stage that I will have played in ever,” Wick said. "I’ve definitely followed it in the past. I know Canada has been a threat in the past, and I know we can do some things. It’s exciting for sure.”

Being selected for the Canadian team is just one indication of how far Wick has come since that first time on the mound on June 27, 2015, on the back fields at Roger Dean Stadium, when he was not totally sold on the idea that moving to the mound was the best move for his professional career.

“I didn’t think I would be this far this fast,” Wick said. “There’s no rush but I am pushing to get better every day and trying to do everything in my power to do so.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into at first. Now that I’m on my way I’m happy with it.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains