Every Monday I'll be taking a look at a prospect at the AA level or higher who could make an impact for fantasy owners this season. I wrote about Wheeler in early January, but can add some in-person insights after seeing him here in Sacramento on Thursday.
I attended opening night here in Sacramento on Thursday with the specific intent of scouting a number of the top prospects playing that day. The Las Vegas 51's were in town for the game, which meant that Mets' top prospects Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud were expected to play. In addition, Sacramento had top outfield prospect Michael Choice playing center field and Grant Green at second base. I wrote about d'Arnaud, Choice, Green, and Wilmer Flores yesterday, but promised a more in-depth review of Wheeler's start itself.
Scouting Report - All radar gun readings are from the stadium gun here in Sacramento. For a point of reference, the River Cats' starting pitcher, Andrew Werner, was sitting 87-89 with his fastball, which is in line with his career numbers according to Brooks Baseball.
Fastball - Wheeler threw primarily fastballs in his start, sitting 95-98 in the first inning but working 93-95 as the evening progressed. It was easy heat, although he was having difficulty at times commanding the pitch. By my count (which I readily admit appears to have missed at least four total pitches), I had 41 strikes and 23 balls for Wheeler with his fastball.
Curveball - Wheeler didn't break out his curve until the second inning, making Michael Taylor look silly with his first one at 77 MPH. However, he hung the next one to him, which (luckily for him) died around the warning track in center field. Overall, he threw his curve nine times, four for strikes and five for balls. From my angle, it appeared to have an 11-5 break to it.
Slider - Wheeler only threw his slide four times, hitting 85-86 with it each time. It broke out of the zone on him three of the four times he threw it, and looked like it broke across, but also slightly down as well.
Changeup - He threw his changeup five times, sitting between 85-87 with it each time. He was only able to throw it for a strike once of the five times.
- Wheeler's throwing motion is extremely simple and clean. It made that heat look extremely easy, and held up as the evening progressed. He threw from a 3/4 arm slot.
- His velocity and throwing motion stayed pretty consistent regardless of whether there were runners on base or not, which was good since he had runners on quite a bit.
- At the start of the game, Wheeler seemed a bit amped up, as he was reaching 98 on his fastball. He settled in a bit more as the game progressed.
- He struggled at times it seemed with his release point, overthrowing both his fastball and curveball at times.
- The home plate umpire was not doing him any favors either way, as he seemed to be subject to a very tight strike zone. That said, the umpire behind the plate was a bit off his game as well, including trying to punch out a batter on the River Cats on the second strike.
- The fans behind home plate were complaining about the strike zone, which isn't an unexpected thing. What was unexpected from them was the fact that the River Cats fans were complaining that Wheeler wasn't getting a good strike zone.
- He seemed at times to be struggling with efficiency, almost like he was hoping to strike out everyone, even when weak contact would have been better.