Zack Wheeler, Starting Pitcher, New York Mets
2013 season (minors): 13 G, 68.2 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.282 WHIP, 4 W, 73 SO, 27 BB
2013 season (majors): 17 G, 100 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.360 WHIP, 7 W, 84 SO, 46 BB
The New York Mets have a surplus of young arms that fans hope will form one of the best rotations in baseball in the coming years. With young ace Matt Harvey out for the entire 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery and 21-year-old phenom Noah Syndergaard expected to start the year in Triple-A, all eyes are on Zack Wheeler in 2014.
A former sixth overall pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Wheeler was acquired by the Mets in 2011 in exchange for Carlos Beltran. In his first full year in the Mets’ minor league system in 2012, Wheeler won 12 games between Double-A and Triple-A with a combined 3.26 ERA, 1.168 WHIP and 148 strikeouts in 149 innings pitched.
Heading into the 2013 season, the right-hander was ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the league by Baseball America and the No. 9 prospect by MLB.com. Wheeler seemed ready for the bigs, but was held down in Triple-A until after the “Super Two” deadline, a tactic many teams use to delay the arbitration eligibility of young players.
The 23-year-old struggled a bit at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, sporting a 3.93 ERA and 1.282 WHIP in 13 starts. Despite the down year, Wheeler was called up to the Mets in June, where he showed off some of his potential right away, logging seven strikeouts in six scoreless innings in his major league debut. The results weren’t always great as he struggled with control, walking at least three in nine of 17 starts. But overall he managed to showcase his skills and finish with a respectable 3.42 ERA.
Wheeler possesses an impressive fastball that consistently clocks in the mid-90s and can reach 97-98 MPH when he really gets behind it. A big-breaking curveball and tight slider are his top secondary pitches. He fooled hitters enough to achieve a 8.8 SwStr% (swinging strike percentage) in his first go-around with big-league hitters.
After watching Harvey dominate at the major league level right out of the gate, many fans will expect Wheeler to step up and pitch similarly right away. Harvey, however, is the exception and not the rule. Wheeler has the potential to be staff ace this season, but he still has a lot to work on.
The raw stuff is there. The next step is executing with consistent command while wisely mixing pitches. Control is the main issue; he averaged 4.14 BB/9 for the Mets last season with a 9.3 BB%, both of which grade out poorly. The issues didn’t come out of nowhere either, as Wheeler averaged 4 BB/9 in four minor league seasons. A pitcher can overcome that type of walk rate and have success in the minors, but that number will have to come down if he’s going to win in the majors.
The upcoming season will be a true test for Wheeler. If the control issues continue, Wheeler may not take the next step. Should he find that command, however, the potential is there for Wheeler to be a front-line pitcher and possible ace for the Mets in 2014.
Next up: Darin Ruf, Philadelphia Phillies