It’s Zack Wheeler Time

It’s the moment San Francisco Giants fans have dreaded since that fateful day in 2011: Right-handed pitching prospect Zack Wheeler has been promoted to the big leagues and will make his first start of his MLB career on Tuesday evening.

On July 28, 2011, the hurler became the property of the New York Mets when the Giants traded the sixth overall pick of the 2009 amateur draft during a deadline deal for veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran. San Francisco was desperately trying to win a second consecutive World Series title and felt the risk was worth the potential reward when the front office parted ways with its top pitching prospect. Unfortunately for Giants fans, the club failed to reach the World Series and Wheeler continues to show the potential for developing into a front-line starter.

Now in his fourth pro season, the Georgia native cruised through the minors and has a total of 19 Triple-A starts (six in 2012, 13 in 2013) under his belt. Despite pitching in the hostile environments of the Pacific Coast League and his home ball park in Las Vegas, Wheeler leaves Triple-A with an ERA of 3.93 intact. He features a 5.12 ERA at home, even though he’s been less hittable in Vegas than on the road. The big difference for Wheeler, 23, is that he’s given up seven home runs in 31.2 innings at home, as opposed to two in 37 innings while riding the buses.

The pitching prospect possesses a four-pitch repertoire and his two best pitches are his mid-to-upper-90s fastball and plus curveball. The slider and changeup round out his collection of weapons. When I spoke with the Mets organization late in the offseason and asked about his biggest opportunities for 2013, I was told that he needed to improve his changeup, become more efficient with his pitches while also learning how and when to use his pitches to maximize their effectiveness. With that in mind, I watched one of his recent starts to see how well he’s addressed those needs.

I saw Wheeler take on the Giants’ Triple-A affiliate in Fresno in early June. He displayed a compact, low-effort delivery. He flashed his mid-90s velocity and two breaking balls but his changeup was seldom used, which disappointed me given that it was identified as something he needed to work on in 2013. The first curveball he threw during the game was quite possibly his best and he struggled to command both his curve and fastball throughout the contest. He telegraphed the curveball early in the game and slowed his arm down but it was less noticeable as the game progressed. His slider was average but I’d like to see a tighter break to it.

As mentioned, Wheeler’s fastball showed good velocity but his command of the pitch was average-at-best. He struck out six batters in six innings during this appearance but his stuff didn’t exactly look like dominant “swing and miss” stuff. The heater did show very good arm-side run and, at times, gave right-handed batters fits when it exploded din on their hands. When he was able to command the ball down in the zone at the hitters’ knees, the combination of placement and movement allowed Wheeler to blow the ball past the batters.

As witnessed in the game, the pitching prospect can succeed without his best stuff and so-so command. His solid control helps him throw enough strikes to avoid getting into too much trouble with runners on base and ensures, when he struggles with the long ball, there are not a lot of runners on base. I’m not convinced that he’s ready to dominate a big league lineup but he should be able to pitch at the level of a No. 4 or 5 starter. I expect him to be susceptible to the home runs at the big league level because of his lack of consistent fastball command in the upper half of the strike zone.

I can definitely envision Wheeler eventually becoming a solid No. 2 man behind Matt Harvey (and there was a time not long ago that I preferred Wheeler to Harvey) but Mets fans should be prepared for some minor growing pains throughout 2013.



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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


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KJ
Guest
KJ
3 years 2 months ago

How about a nice write-up like this for Alex Wood, who will be making his major league debut as a starter today. Everyone seems to be caught up in the Wheeler/Harvey mania but forgetting that the Braves have a pretty good young starter going today too.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 2 months ago

Harvey is one of the best pitchers in the world already, and Wheeler is one of the top prospects in baseball. Hulet ranked Wood as the #7 prospect for the Braves, and outside of the top 100 in baseball. There’s a reason Harvey and Wheeler have a mania, and Wood doesn’t.

Peter2
Guest
Peter2
3 years 2 months ago

0 hits 12 Ks through 6 IP for Harvey thus far

KJ
Guest
KJ
3 years 2 months ago

Wood was drafted LAST year and is ALREADY in the majors!!!! He only made something like 10 starts above the A+ level. Wheeler was drafted 4 years ago. Had Wood stayed in the minors 4 years he might have made it in the top 100 too. If he goes back to the minors before losing his rookie eligibility he is easily the top prospect for the Braves right now.

And I never said Harvey wasn’t any good. He is outstanding. All I am saying is that Wood deserves some props too.

Peter2
Guest
Peter2
3 years 2 months ago

So in 4 years maybe there will be a mania surrounding Wood. For now, Harvey gets attention because he is capable of having this kind of start every time he goes out.

dovif
Guest
dovif
3 years 2 months ago

Woos is barely a prospect, he is a releaver who is not showing he can beat ML at the moment, a top prospect deserve a write up, he is a mediocre prospect in the braves systems, if we have a write up of all those, we will have 200 articles a day like

Joe smith pitched 2 innings in AA and gave up 4 runs

KJ
Guest
KJ
3 years 2 months ago

dovif, Wood is NOT a “mediocre” prospect in the Braves system. He was a 2nd round draft pick last year who has progressed a lot faster than anyone expected. He is also only relieving now because of the injuries to Venters and O’Flaherty. IMO, he will be in the starting rotation as early as next season.

dovif
Guest
dovif
3 years 2 months ago

kJ

I watch his start yesterday, he is not ready to start and won’t be for a while, if he cannot handle the Mets, he is not a top 100 prospect and no list I have seen had ranked him there

I know you are a homer, you can get Braves prospect news from a Braves website if you want, for the other 99% of us, we care about top 20-50 prospect at most, we do not care about the likes of Tim/Andy Woods

Harvey, Wheeler, Fernandez, Miller bring excitment. Wood is more like is he ever going to amount to anything

Prospect Place
Guest
Prospect Place
3 years 2 months ago

How did that Wood start go?? he he he

Brett's Cleats
Guest
Brett's Cleats
3 years 2 months ago

I heard he had a hard time missing “wood”

theoaklandblaze
Member
3 years 2 months ago

he wood.

KJ
Guest
KJ
3 years 2 months ago

Pretty good. He walked too many but that’s to be expected for a young starter making his first MLB start AND who hadn’t made a start at all in about 2 1/2 weeks. Unfortunately he developed a blister or he probably could have gone another inning. Braves fans should be very happy with his start. He has a very bright future.

Blastings!
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Interesting. Jeffrey Paternostro has a somewhat different take over at Amazin’ Avenue: he thinks the slider is better than the curveball and talks about how Harvey, too, didn’t have much of a changeup when he came up. In any case, it’s an exciting time to be a Mets fan, as weird as that sounds.

Blastings!
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Here’s that link.

Amazin Abe
Guest
Amazin Abe
3 years 2 months ago

Can’t wait to see Harvey and Wheeler walk into the Hall of Fame together.

DONNIE
Guest
DONNIE
3 years 2 months ago

yep… jose fernadenz and jacob turner too.

Marco.Fujimoto
Guest
Marco.Fujimoto
3 years 2 months ago

Wheeler is the 26th man, so he’ll most likely be sent down tomorrow, no?

Pete
Guest
Pete
3 years 2 months ago

Yes, then called back up on the 25th I believe to start against White Sox. Also would take a few more days off his service time which is nice.

maguro
Guest
maguro
3 years 2 months ago

Can’t do that. Once you option a guy he needs to stay down 10 days unless there’s an injury.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 2 months ago

Wrong. You can do that to the 26th man during a double header.

attgig
Guest
attgig
3 years 2 months ago

not with the double header. you’re allowed a 26th man that can be sent back down immediately.

Prospect Place
Guest
Prospect Place
3 years 2 months ago

How did that Wood start go?? he he he

Shankbone
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Some Giants fans aren’t dreading this at all. Flags fly forever.

Wear a spiffy suit and ace em tonight young Zack!

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 2 months ago

Beltran didn’t help them win a flag.

CorsicanCortisone
Guest
CorsicanCortisone
3 years 2 months ago

He could help the Cardinals, however.

In the 2011 Wheeler trade, the Mets got a franchise ace and the Cardinals got a budget Albert Pujols. It was a great trade for both teams.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 2 months ago

Huh?

Shankbone
Guest
3 years 2 months ago

Sure didn’t. The pursuit is noble as well. I’ll settle for 2 out of 3.

Baltar
Guest
Baltar
3 years 2 months ago

Yes, that flag that Beltran got for the Giants will be remembered forever.
Wait a minute…

Mr. Bananagrabber
Guest
Mr. Bananagrabber
3 years 2 months ago

Nice LA Confidential reference.

channelclemente
Guest
channelclemente
3 years 2 months ago

The Mets will find some way to screw up Wheeler, it’s what they do.

Doc K
Guest
Doc K
3 years 2 months ago

Like me?

Golden Delicious
Guest
Golden Delicious
3 years 2 months ago

Just like they did with Harvey, eh numb nuts?

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