Zack Wheeler‘s peculiar rap sheet continues lengthening in Las Vegas. The following is less about my opinion, and mostly a matter of reputation building, or deconstruction. We start with an incident which occurred on March 23rd at minor league spring training – As New York Daily News writer Andy Martino reported,
“Zack Wheeler, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, was reprimanded last weekend along with teammate Aderlin Rodriguez for an on-field incident that led to ethnic tensions in the Mets’ minor league clubhouse, according to organizational sources.”
The next misdemeanor came as Zack experienced numerous troubles throughout the month of April, which compelled fellow New York Daily News writer John Harper to visit and converse with the Mets’ prized pitching prospect. Harper reported that Wheeler believed his mound problems to some extent were caused (at the time) by a lack of moisture, or an inability to gain proper grip on his breaking ball in the very dry Vegas air. Regarding Wheeler, I feel John Harper was careful to note the following:
If this is coming off like Wheeler whining, that wasn’t his tone at all. He spoke matter of factly, sounding more like someone who is just trying to figure things out in a baseball environment he’s never experienced…
Andy Martino chose a different tact on May 9, 2013, reiterating:
Those comments did not impress many Mets officials, who already had concerns about Wheeler’s maturity…some club officials felt that he lacked the focus that has propelled Matt Harvey to early-career greatness – although no one, inside or outside the organization, doubted Wheeler’s prodigious talent.
On April 30th, the same day John Harper’s article appeared in New York’s tabloid, Zack Wheeler pitched the first of three consecutive stellar starts, the third came on May 11th. Shortly thereafter, he was determined to be suffering inflammation in his right shoulder and forced to skip a start.
Published on May 12th, Las Vegas Review-Journal writer Todd Dewey assembled a comprehensive summary of what exactly went wrong for Wheeler in April, to include considerable insights offered to Dewey by Zack Wheeler himself. He noted Wheeler was affected by a blister under the nail of his right middle finger during his first four starts. Regarding the blister, Wheeler described the toll it took on his performance:
It affected me a good bit. I couldn’t throw a slider, and my command was off because I couldn’t finish my pitches because my finger was so sensitive. But it’s settled down, and I’ve been able to do good since.
They additionally spoke about adjustments and changes in mechanics, on being traded for Carlos Beltran, and about the adventures of pitching in the Pacific Coast League. In fact, I feel Todd Dewey published quite the supportive article, highlighting Wheeler’s turnaround, with nary a hint of negativity anywhere. Apparently, something went very wrong as it pertains to their rapport between then and now. In Sunday’s New York Post, writer George Willis reported, as told to the Post by John Dewey, on an incident that could very well be trivial in nature, and just a simple misunderstanding – or not. Dewey told Willis:
I went to do a story on him and he brushed me off. He was giving me an attitude for sure, and I’m just one guy in Vegas asking for an interview.
There is more to that quote, which I’ll get to shortly. First, I have a saying – once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a trend. In their various forms, however slight or glaring, questionable behavior is first subjective, and something for those subjected to it to decide. If Wheeler did indeed brush off Todd Dewey with said attitude and demeanor implied, then this would only raise alert levels to MetCon-Coincidence. You must give an otherwise honest man a shot at strike three. That said, the day he swings again and whiffs may not be too far off if you consider the following scenario. To complete Dewey’s thought, he ended…
What’s he going to do in New York?
Yes! What is he going to do in New York indeed? Enter Post writer George Willis who added – “It’s a valid question.” To that I say, you’re damn right it’s valid. In George Willis’ words, Zack Wheeler “big-timed” Todd Dewey. We now have two reported incidents where Zack Wheeler potentially required some old fashioned mood management, or just needed a swig of Nono’s Brooklyn style attitude adjustment. So, you have to start asking yourself if he will be bringing extra baggage with him from Las Vegas to Flushing.
I’m going to cut Zack Wheeler slack, even though he plunked a teammate on purpose, and call the March beaning incident one event, and keep the reported locker room racial escalation on the docket. Otherwise I have an appreciation for bean balls and purpose pitches, if and when applied properly, so long as they fit within the context of a particular game. Everyone has their own tolerances. Meanwhile, Zack Wheeler chose to describe himself to John Harper this way:
I’m a relaxed guy. I just go with the flow with everything.
As George Willis put it, his only concern is whether Wheeler is ready mentally for the media frenzy that awaits him when he eventually arrives in Flushing. Willis also added the following – “…maybe it’s a sign Wheeler might not be ready to handle the bright lights and the microphones that will greet him when he is called up.”
To his credit, Zack Wheeler is an impressive talent, and a well spoken young man on the precipice of what many Mets fans hope will be a brilliant career. He no doubt has a great shot and good luck to him, and to us for that matter. But in the immortal words of Han Solo – “Don’t get cocky!” But don’t get me wrong. He can be as confident as he wants to be, and pitch with bravado. Just do not become a social disease in the process. That’s the last thing we need.
We’ve seen players arrive in New York and for various reasons, get destroyed by the media, while on occasion some media members even got threatened by players. Others either became unglued, unraveled, or just would have nothing to do with them. On the other hand, many players thrived here, establishing good relationships with the media, and there were even those who couldn’t get enough of them.
In New York, dry finger tips and one reporter asking for an interview would be the least of Zack Wheeler’s worries. There are more media members in one Citi Field post-game session than perhaps he’s spoken with all year, and certainly more than John Harper could fit on a plane and fly out to Vegas. If Wheeler “big-times” a media member here, he’ll get skewered and grilled like a Memorial Day shish kebab.
Remember those who served and gave their lives in support of our country, and keep a moment of your days thinking of the mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, and all members of America’s families and Armed Forces still in harms way.