As part of our comprehensive look at starting pitching, our prospect staff will be taking an in-depth look at some of the top pitching prospects and how to value them for fantasy purposes. Today's subject was our #2 starting pitcher prospect, Zack Wheeler of the New York Mets.
Weight: 185 lbs.
On 40-man roster: Yes
Age as of 4/1/13: 22 (Turns 23 on May 30th)
Wheeler was drafted by the Giants out of a Georgia high school with the 6th overall pick of the 2009 draft. He did not debut until 2010, when he was sent to the Giants' full season Low-A affiliate in Augusta. He was limited to just 58 innings that season as he struggled with fingernail problems. Despite this, the Giants moved him up to High-A, where he had 98 strikeouts against 47 walks in just 88 innings prior to his trade to the Mets.
The Mets left him in High-A for the remainder of that season, and he had 31 strikeouts against 5 walks in 27 innings. To start 2012, the Mets sent him to AA where the numbers really started jumping off the page. In 116 innings there, Wheeler had 117 strikeouts, 43 walks, and just 92 hits allowed. He spent the last month of the season with the Mets' AAA affiliate in Buffalo, with 31 strikeouts, 16 walks, and 23 hits allowed in 33 innings pitched.
What's Stopping Him from Contributing Now?
The team has already stated previously that Wheeler will not start the season with the big club, which is the biggest issue for him. Beyond that, minor items have been mentioned as things he needs to work on in other prospect reports (refining his fastball command and changeup per Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus), but if the team needed him to step into their rotation he would probably be at least decent. He has also been added to the 40 man roster, which can be an impediment for some prospects.
What Could He Do For Fantasy Owners Once He Gets There?
Wheeler has all the makings of a top tier starting pitcher. His throwing motion is very fluid, looks easy, and repeatable. The Giants had made some small adjustments to the motion which he had a bit of difficulty adjusting to. Right before the trade, he went back to what he did primarily in high school, which he says helped him with his control and movement. He features a plus fastball, working in the mid-90s and getting solid movement on it as well. In addition, he also features a curveball and slider, both of which are expected to be above-average, and a changeup that could be at least Major League average. Add in that he has an excellent build (6'4") that allows him to get good downward plain, and the tools are all there.
In terms of performance itself, we could be looking at a fantasy monster. He has shown good ability to induce ground balls (1.20 GO/AO in 2012, his lowest rate of his career), excellent strikeout rates (23% or higher at every stop), along with improved walk rates (9% at AA, lowest of his career) and an ability to produce weak contact that is consistent with his repertoire. In short, the potential to be a fantasy ace, capable of providing high win totals regardless of team quality, above average strikeout totals, and excellent ratios.
When Could He Arrive?
Realistically, Wheeler should debut at some point in the 2013 season. With the Mets' not expected to compete, the team will not likely be in a hurry to bring him up and start his service clock. More likely, Wheeler will be up almost anytime from June onward, as he does not need a ton of time in AAA, especially given the extreme offensive environment in Las Vegas.
Mets Minor League Blog (Toby Hyde's Youtube Channel)
MLB Depth Charts
Minor League Central