Prospect of the Day: Zack Wheeler, RHP, New York Mets
One of the most dominant pitchers in the minors this year is right-hander Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets, currently pitching for Double-A Binghamton in the Eastern League. Acquired for Carlos Beltran last summer, he's been everything the Mets could have possibly hoped this spring, solidifying his status as one of the top right-handed pitching prospects in the game.
Wheeler was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round in 2009, from high school in Dallas, Georgia. The sixth-overall pick in the draft, he accepted a $3,300,000 bonus, passing up college baseball at Kennesaw State. He signed late and didn't make his pro debut until 2010.
Pitch counts and a cracked fingernail that wouldn't heal quickly limited him to just 59 innings for Low-A Augusta in '10. He had serious command issues and walked 38 men, but he was also overpowering, fanning 70 and allowing just 47 hits (.218 average against) for a 3.99 ERA.
Moved up to San Jose in the High-A California League for 2011, Wheeler continued to have command issues and walked 47 in 88 innings, while maintaining excellent K/IP and H/IP rates (98 whiffs, 74 hits, .224 average against). Traded to the Mets in late July, he was assigned to High-A St. Lucie in the Florida State League and pitched brilliantly, posting a 2.00 ERA in six starts with a 31/5 K/BB ratio in 27 innings. Thus far in 2012, he's 4-2, 1.97 in eight starts in Double-A, with a 51/21 K/BB in 46 innings, 27 hits allowed, and a .175 average against.
Wheeler is a 6-4, 185 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born May 30, 1990. His key pitch is a 93-97 MPH fastball, a plus pitch with both velocity and impressive movement. He utilizes a slider/cutter, a power curve, and a changeup. The curveball is his best secondary pitch but all of them have strong potential. Statistically, his excellent dominance ratios provide objective confirmation of the quality of his stuff. His biggest issue has been simple command. He threw strikes much more efficiently after going back to his high school mechanics last summer, but his walk rate has spiked upward again this spring, granted the rest of his numbers remain excellent.
Wheeler projects as a number two starter and we should see him in New York sometime next year. The Mets don't rush prospects like they used to, and I anticipate they will be patient with him while he polishes his command.