New York Mets pitching prospect Zack Wheeler will make his major league debut today against the Atlanta Braves. Mets fans and thousands of fantasy owners have been waiting for this day with anticipation; let's take a look at what they might expect and make Wheeler today's Prospect of the Day.
Wheeler was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the first round, sixth overall, in the 2009 draft. Selected out of high school in Dallas, Georgia, he earned a bonus of $3,300,000. He signed right before the August deadline and didn't make his pro debut until 2010. He was rather inconsistent that year for Low-A Augusta in the South Atlantic League, posting a 3.99 ERA with a 70/38 K/BB in just 59 innings. Note the excellent strikeout rate, but too many walks, a by-product of unrefined secondary pitches. A cracked fingernail also bothered him much of the season.
The Giants sent Wheeler to High-A San Jose to open 2011. He posted a 3.99 ERA with a 98/47 K/BB in 88 innings, showing sharper command and better secondary stuff. He was traded to the Mets that summer for veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, making six starts for High-A St. Lucie after the trade with excellent results (31/5 K/BB in 27 innings).
2012 was a breakout: 3.26 ERA with a 117/43 K/BB in 116 innings for Double-A Binghamton, followed by a 3.27 ERA with a 31/16 K/BB in 33 innings for Triple-A Buffalo. New York's Triple-A affiliate is in Las Vegas this year but Wheeler has remained effective in the tougher pitching environment, posting a 3.93 ERA in 68.2 innings with a 73/27 K/BB and 61 hits allowed.
Wheeler is listed at 6-4, 185, born May 30, 1990. He's got plenty of arm strength, sitting at 93-95 MPH and hitting the upper-90s at his best. He has two breaking pitches, a curveball which is often excellent, and a very solid slider. He has a changeup too, and as Craig Goldstein points out, it is major league average, which isn't a bad thing. Charlie Drysdale made similar observations back in April. Few major league pitchers have four pitches that work, and Wheeler does.
The key for Wheeler has been steady development of his command. The Giants tried to alter his mechanics back in '10 and the first part of '11, but Wheeler went back to his high school delivery shortly before the Beltran trade with good results. It works for him and he's shown consistent improvement in his command ever since.
Wheeler doesn't have much left to prove in the minors and the promotion is certainly deserved. As with any young pitcher, he made need some time to find his sea legs in the majors: not everyone can be Matt Harvey and dominate immediately. Overall, even if he doesn't get there right away, Wheeler projects as a number two starter.