With power stuff, a feel for pitching, and strong results at Double-A San Antonio, 20-year-old righty Matt Wisler has become the upper-level standout among the Padres’ impressive crop of minor-league arms.
A seventh-round pick out of high school in 2011, Wisler jumped on the prospect radar last season by posting a 2.53 ERA with 113 strikeouts in 114 innings at Low-A Fort Wayne. After showing a promising four-pitch arsenal that includes a plus fastball, he checked in at no. 8 on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 10 Padres prospects list entering this season.
Wisler has taken another step forward in 2013, just his second full year in professional ball. Following last season, BP’s Jason Parks wrote that Wisler profiled as a “high 5” player, which equates to a no. 3 or 4 starter. When I recently featured the Ohio native with a full scouting report in the Eyewitness Accounts series, I pegged him as a future role 6 player, meaning a solid no. 3 starter. The progress was clear as early as spring training, when Wisler ran his fastball up to 98 mph in short stints while showing four pitches for strikes, including a projected plus slider.
Coming off his buzzworthy spring training performance, Wisler opened the regular season with a dominant six-start stint at High-A Lake Elsinore. He’s continued to impress since earning a promotion to Double-A, putting up a 2.93 ERA over 17 starts. The hard-throwing prospect has yielded only 74 hits in 92 Texas League innings, walking 27 and fanning 86.
While some scouts believe Wisler will ultimately wind up in the bullpen––where he’d have a late-inning profile––due to his funky arm-heavy delivery, the majority of evaluators seem to think he’ll stick in a starting role. Wisler’s mechanics create some deception and, despite the funk, he shows a feel to repeat them. His deep arsenal is certainly well-suited for starting. Wisler attacks hitters with two future plus offerings––a lively 91-96 mph fastball and sharp 82-86 mph slider––in addition to a potential solid-average sinking changeup and usable curveball. His knockout fastball-slider combo has been particularly tough on Double-A righties; they’re hitting just .179/.209/.274 against him with a 3 percent walk rate and a 34 percent strikeout rate.
Despite Wisler’s upper-level success this season, Padres fans may have to wait until mid-season 2014––at the earliest––before seeing him in San Diego. The 6-foot-3 righty won’t be up this September, as he’s already logged 123 innings, and the Padres are often (understandably) very cautious when it comes to their young arms. He still needs to clean up his delivery a touch while continuing to refine his command and secondary stuff. There shouldn’t be a rush: Wisler is the youngest pitcher in the Texas League and doesn’t turn 21 until September.
While in San Antonio recently, I caught up with Wisler to discuss his performance in Double-A, his transition from upper-80s high schooler to power pitcher, and more.