Zack Wheeler‘s stay in Major League camp with the New York Mets came to an end this weekend, as he and nine others were sent down to the Minors. The top pitching prospect in the organization was disappointed he wasn’t able to stay longer, as he knows his strained right oblique hindered him from stating his case. Even if he continued to build upon those first two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut on February 23rd, it was unlikely for us to see Wheeler break camp with the Mets. Gaining that extra year of team control looks attractive at this time, but I don’t think it’s because of that.
While Matt Harvey was showing his readiness for the Big Leagues with Triple-A Binghamton last season (7-5, 3.68 ERA, 1.32 WHIP in 110 IP), New York was adamant in their stance about only promoting the right-hander if there was a need for him. The thought process behind that was they didn’t want to bring him up for three or four starts, only to send him back down to Triple-A. Once he got the call to the Show, he was going to stay there. Low and behold, after compiling a 3-5 record and 2.73 ERA in 59.1 innings and 10 starts since his call-up last July, he’s now a permanent member of the rotation.
This is the same tactic they should plan on using for Wheeler; in talking to him this weekend before sending him to Minor League camp, Terry Collins had a few words of wisdom for his top prospect (courtesy of ESPN New York):
“I just told him I felt bad he didn’t get a chance to pitch. The injury kept him back. But I said, ‘You’re sitting in the same seat Matt Harvey did last year. The one thing you’ve got to realize is that when you’re ready to pitch, when you get into games when that season starts, pitch your way out of that league. If you force us to call you, we’ll be calling you.”
Once Zack proves he can succeed in Triple-A Las Vegas, you better believe the Mets will try and find a way to insert him into the starting rotation. Would it have been nice to bring him north to Flushing for Opening Day if Johan Santana starts the year on the disabled list? Absolutely. However, I don’t want to see him wear out a trail between New York and Las Vegas this season. When Wheeler gets that call he’s been waiting his whole life for, I want it to be the last time he gets it as well. If we have to wait until June or July to have him in the rotation for the rest of the year because the situation calls for it, I’d rather have that instead of watching him bounce back and forth between levels.
This not only eases Wheeler’s mind once he gets promoted, but it also keeps him on his regular throwing schedule. We’ve seen firsthand how changes in schedule can fool with players; Jenrry Mejia and the daily struggle between his role as a starter or reliever immediately come to mind. There’s no doubt Wheeler is the crown jewel of the Mets’ farm system (along with Travis d’Arnaud), and they want to make sure they’re ready for the Bigs, because once they make it, there is no turning back.
It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to watch Wheeler longer in Big League camp, but I think it was a blessing in disguise. Instead of continuing to think he has an outside chance of making it to the Majors out of camp, he can now focus on the task at hand, trying to prove with every appearance in Triple-A that he’s ready for greatness.