June 18, 2013
The Situation: With the Mets struggling at the big-league level and the “Super 2” timeline squarely in the rearview mirror, it was time for the club to call upon their other high-end pitching prospect to pair him with right-hander Matt Harvey. Zack Wheeler will make his major-league debut just down the road from where he grew up near Atlanta on Tuesday night against the Braves.
Background: Wheeler, the sixth-overall pick by the San Francisco Giants in 2009, joined the Mets in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline in 2011. After two successful but inconsistent seasons in Low-A and High-A with the Giants, Wheeler got his first taste of the upper levels in 2012 with the Mets. In 19 Double-A starts Wheeler notched a 3.26 ERA with just 92 hits allowed in 116 innings. He walked a career-low 3.3 batters per nine innings and fanned better than a batter per inning, making progress in his development. The Mets promoted him to Triple-A Buffalo at the end of 2012 season, and he logged a 3.27 ERA in six starts. Returning to Triple-A to start the 2012 season, though this time in the high-octane Pacific Coast League, Wheeler has posted a 3.93 ERA with 61 hits and 27 walks yielded in 68-2/3 innings and an impressive 73 punchouts.
Scouting Report: Wheeler’s raw ingredients can stand with any pitching prospect in the game today and in the end, they will stand with just about any pitcher in the major leagues. His bread and butter is a mid-90s fastball that can reach 97-98 without losing the natural life that makes it a true plus-plus offering. His fastball jumps out of his hand and can explode in on right-handed hitters. Wheeler has struggled with maintaining his angle and working low in the zone in the past but he made significant strides in that regard this year. Recent reports from scouts indicate he has been consistently pounding the lower third of the zone to both sides of the plate. On top of the impressive fastball, Wheeler features both a slider and curveball that earn strong grades as well. His curveball is the feature secondary pitch sitting in the low- to mid-70s with tight rotation and hard break. After years of scouts projecting his curveball out to plus-plus levels, Wheeler finally put it together this year with consistent 70-grade hammers that buckled the knees of PCL hitters. His slider is a harder offering, sitting in the upper-80s and featuring multiple looks. He can vary the sharpness and tilt of the pitch without sacrificing velocity, giving him an unpredictable weapon that marries well with the rest of his power arsenal. Wheeler has also made strides with his changeup in 2013, showing more consistent arm speed and improved command of the pitch in the lower part of the strike zone. With a four-pitch repertoire that includes two plus-plus offerings and two pitches with at least average grades, combined with an advanced feel for his craft, Wheeler has everything necessary to develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter.
Immediate Big-League Future: There is nothing standing in Wheeler’s way at this point as the Mets are nowhere near contention and there are few, if any, better options for the starting rotation. Provided any bumps in the road are minor, Wheeler is likely a permanent member of the Mets rotation. —Mark Anderson
Fantasy Impact: The most exciting thing about Wheeler getting the call for fantasy purposes is that this is one of the call-ups predicated on talent and not injury. With previous promotions like Jurickson Profar, Anthony Rendon and Yasiel Puig, there is always the specter of the prospect being sent back down when the player they are replacing comes back. With Wheeler, the rotation spot in New York is his, unless he's just flat out terrible. There's no one coming to replace him if he's just mediocre. And especially in deeper leagues, additional safety in playing time can be an important consideration when deciding how much to bid on a player, or whether to pick him up.
The transitive property of prospects is going to create expectations that are likely unrealistic in the short-term with Wheeler. Wheeler was considered by most to be a better prospect than Matt Harvey when they were both on the farm, and Harvey has turned the entire league into his personal punching bag; therefore, Wheeler will be 1968 Bob Gibson. It's sarcastic, but rooted in truth. But on the other hand, don't just look at Triple-A numbers and let out a bit of a yawn either--being a pitcher in Las Vegas is as tough as an assignment gets in the minor leagues.
Wheeler, like Wil Myers, should be owned in all leagues. Seriously, go pick him up right now. I'll wait. He's looking at around 15-17 starts for the rest of the season, and is talented enough to have an ERA around 3.50, a WHIP around 1.25, and around 80-85 strikeouts in around 110 innings. Wheeler is certainly worthy of a top waiver priority if you need pitching in your keeper league, as he's arguably the best dynasty league pitching prospect in baseball at this point. In NL-only formats where he's unowned, you're going to need to pony up at least $30-35 to get him, and he's worth it. I like Wheeler better over the remainder of 2013 than previous call-ups Gerrit Cole, Kevin Gausman and Michael Wacha. —Bret Sayre
Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProspectMark