New York Mets fans finally have something to be excited about in 22-year-old starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was acquired from the San Francisco Giants at the 2011 trade deadline in exchange for Carlos Beltran. Baseball America ranked Wheeler as the 35th best prospect at the beginning of the 2012 season. After posting a 3.26 ERA and a strikeout per inning in a season split between AA and AAA, Wheeler is primed to reach the top-20.
His next accomplishment will come when Wheeler makes his major league debut during the 2013 baseball season. Mets fans and fantasy baseball owners are wondering when his debut will happen and how good he can be.
The answer to the first question is simple but not what fans are hoping to hear. Those that believe Wheeler will head north with the ballclub after spring training are either naïve or don’t know the Mets very well. The scrutiny over management’s notorious mishandling of prospects has caused the newest regime to be overly careful. The only thing that Mets management has been more careful with than young players is money.
These two factors guarantee that Wheeler will open the season in Las Vegas unless he has a lights out spring. If Wheeler is promoted before the all-star break, he could qualify for Super-Two arbitration. This means that Wheeler could apply for arbitration after two years instead of the usual three if he is on the MLB roster for more than 86 games of his rookie season and ranks in the top 22% of players between two and three years of service. It’s confusing and frustrating to fans but management projects that Wheeler will cash in on arbitration and wants to delay it as long as possible. They will use the concern over his control as an excuse to have him start the season in AAA.
Wheeler did walk 16 batters in 33 innings at AAA last season and has been guilty of erratic over his young career. While he will never be Greg Maddux, Wheeler will improve his control enough be considered wildly effective at the major league level. With his arsenal of pitches, he will get enough swings and misses that he won’t need to beg for called strikes.
Wheeler features an explosive fastball that comfortably sits in the mid-90’s and can top off as high as 97. Equally impressive are Wheeler’s breaking pitches, which include a plus curveball and slider. When he is using all of his pitches accurately and effectively, Wheeler can be untouchable. Wheeler was dominant at times during the 2012 season, striking out seven or more batters in 11 of his 25 starts and allowing two runs or less in 18 of them.
Apart from drastic or unforeseen circumstances, you can expect Wheeler to make his major league debut shortly after the all-star break. He will arrive in New York with even more excitement and anticipation than his teammate Matt Harvey did during the 2012 season.
He should not be drafted in fantasy leagues but his status should be monitored closely over the first half of the season. He has a chance to be the best rookie pitcher in the MLB once he gets the call.