Real talk: It's a quarter of midnight on Wednesday night. This is posting Thursday morning and I'm running on 4.5 hours sleep, an assload (technical term) of caffeine and some Mexican food. I could do the normal thing with the background and the growth and all of that, but if we're being honest, we know who Zack Wheeler is, yes? What we want to know is what he throws and if that will play as well as we want it to. So, while I love you guys and you are number one in my heart, you should also know that I'm bad with numbers and I care about sleep, family and other things more (when it suits me). With that said, we'll take a quick look at his 2013 stats, what that means (if anything) and then break down what the scouting reports have to say. Sound good? I'll add GIFs if I can while I'm traveling. Apologies I couldn't get them in in the first place.
At a quick glance, you'd think that Wheeler is having a rough go of it in Triple-A. Look at the 4.14 ERA and the 1.1 home runs per nine and you'd think that this is a guy who need a little more seasoning in Triple-A. As you might suspect at this point though, the numbers are deceiving. While his hits per nine and homers per nine have seen a jump, much of that can be blamed on his environment. Wheeler is pitching for the Mets' Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas which might be the worst environment to pitch in, in all of minor league baseball, and that's not only going to affect the home run rate, but also the hit rate. What's worth focusing on is that he's actually elevated his strikeout rate compared to 2012 while also dropping his walk rate while facing more advanced and experienced hitters in a brutal run environment. Those are the stats that are worth their salt, if any are, when looking at Triple-A numbers and trying to advance them to the majors. That said, it's far more important how those numbers are achieved.
To that end, let's look at Wheeler's arsenal and how well he wields it. It starts as every pitching repertoire should start; with a plus-plus fastball. That's plus-plus velocity with wiggle to the arm-side. He gets good extension and plane out of his 6'4 frame, that only adds to the effectiveness of the fastball. He complements the fastball with a present plus curveball that still has some room for growth. It could play as a second plus-plus pitch in time. While Wheeler will run his fastball up into the upper 90s and sit 94-95 MPH, he'll break off his hard curveball in the upper 70s with good depth and tight rotation. Wheeler is the fortunate pitcher who has the feel for a curveball but can also snap off a competent slider. The miniburger is a solid average pitch right now and flashes a bit more than that. Wheeler shows his feel for pitching when he manipulates the length of the break on the slider. I get tired of writing and I'm sure you get tired of reading that the change up lags behind the other pitches when referring to a prospect. That is somewhat the case here, but not in the normal way. Wheeler is the rare prospect with four major league quality pitches. The change does lag a bit behind the others, but it's an average pitch that he can use if he has to. It's an impressive package that combines stuff with the knowledge and ability to execute. This is a potential number one starter.
Wheeler has turned himself into a monster of a prospect. He started off walking way too many batters and just being inefficient in general. He's now able to go deeper into games without losing any of his strikeout stuff. His biggest flaw from a fantasy perspective is that he's joining the Mets, which could cost him some wins but in the immortal words of Icona Pop: I don't care. I love it. He deserves to be owned in every league with his call up imminent. He's worth more in keeper/dynasty leagues of course, but should be able to hang in the rotation for the rest of the season, and I like him more than Gerrit Cole for comparison's sake. Get him while you can if you can.
Slider (per broadcast):
You can follow me on Twitter at @cdgoldstein
You can find more of my work at The Dynasty Guru and MLB Draft Insider