When the Mets dealt Carlos Beltran for 21 year-old Minor League pitcher Zack Wheeler, fans immediately read all about how talented and highly-touted he was. Since joining the Mets, that hasn’t changed. In fact, as a Met, Wheeler has already further excelled his “top prospect” label in just five starts. Below is a breakdown of Wheeler’s pleasant tenure so far.
August 1 vs. Dunedin Blue Jays:
In Wheeler’s debut as a Met, the right-hander only lasted four innings, surrendering seven hits, and four earned runs, while striking out four batters. Most of the damage was done in the first inning, when Wheeler gave-up four hits, including back-to-back RBI advances. He also had a shaky fourth inning, where he was the victim of three ground-ball hits. Despite the mediocre outing, there was one very impressive stat in his otherwise forgettable line–zero walks. In addition, only one of the seven hits was an extra-base hit (a triple by Ryan Schimpf).
August 7 vs. Charlotte Stone Crabs:
Coming off a shaky first outing, Wheeler found no difficulty in his second appearance. The top prospect hurled six shutout innings, with just four hits, zero runs, seven strikeouts, and yet again, zero walks. Even though Wheeler’s control (or lack there of) was notorious in 2010 and in his first eighty-eight innings in 2011, the righty was still walk-less through ten innings. It was also his first win as a Met.
August 13 vs. Charlotte Stone Crabs:
In his third outing, Wheeler couldn’t quite keep the walk-less streak going, but he did pitch well overall. The flamethrower tossed five solid innings, giving-up five hits, one earned-run, three walks, while striking-out three batters. Similar to his first outing, Wheeler only surrendered one extra-base hit (a double by Jake Jefferies). Even though Wheeler only surrendered one earned-run, the bullpen couldn’t support him, which led to his second loss as a Met.
August 21 vs. Bradenton Marauders:
Until game four, Mets fans hadn’t truly seen the “dominant” Zack Wheeler they had heard so much about. The starter dazzled, sitting-down nine batters in just five innings. Wheeler allowed only four hits (all singles), one earned-run, and two walks in the contest to boot. While he didn’t factor into the decision (the Mets bullpen ended up blowing the game), his strong command and overall dominance was unquestionably a more important “win.”
August 27 vs. Bradenton Marauders:
In his second game in-a-row against the Bradenton Marauders, Wheeler was not only dominant again, but rightfully so, came away with the official win. Wheeler hurled five scoreless frames, allowing three hits (one extra-base hit), zero walks, while striking-out three batters. It was his second win as a Met.
Overall, Wheeler has posted a 2.16 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 5.20 K/BB line in his first five starts. The biggest change so far for Wheeler has been his mightily improved control (1.8 BB/9). By comparison, in 2010, Wheeler posted an abysmal 5.8 BB/9, but still tempted scouts with his outstanding 10.7 K/9. The righty hurler showed some progress with his control earlier this season, sporting a 4.8 BB/9, but it was still at an unacceptably high rate.
However, since joining the Mets, Wheeler has owned a Greg Maddux-esq 1.8 BB/9. While his 9.4 K/9 is notches lower than his 10.7 K/9 in 2010 and 10.0 K/9 earlier this season, few people would argue with the trade-off.
In addition to his new-found fab control and terrific status quo strikeout totals, Wheeler has also owned elite ground-ball, fly-ball, and line-drive rates. The former first round pick has been rolling balls at a 71.1 GB%–which would place him 10 points above Jake Westbrook for the top ground-ball pitcher in the Major Leagues. Also, Wheeler’s knack for limiting fly-balls (29.2 FB%) and line-drives (10.76 LD%) illustrates how much difficulty opposing hitters are having lifting his pitches in the air–and thus not collecting many extra-base hits (.322 SLG against and zero homeruns).
No one ever doubted Wheeler’s talent, but his quick maturation in the control department could now propel his already promising ceiling into a much more elite, exciting, and rare one.
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