The major league debut Mets fans have been clamouring for has finally come. Sandy Alderson decided instead of pitching in front of the Flushing faithful at Citi Field, Zack Wheeler would perform in front of a different type of home crowd, consisting partly of family, relatives, friends and neighbors. As such, the Amazin’s highly touted prospect will take the mound tomorrow evening at Turner Field in the second game of a double-header. He grew up about forty minutes outside of Atlanta, and will now face the local first place Braves in his first big league start.
Zack Wheeler’s last appearance came in Las Vegas on June 13th, against the Tacoma Rainiers, in which he suffered his second loss of the season. However, he pitched very well, lasting 5.1 innings while surrendering just one hit – a home run. Otherwise, he walked two and struck out seven.
He made thirteen starts for Las Vegas this season, posting a 4-2 record, with seven no-decisions. But Wheeler’s was the tale of two pitchers. He suffered through a very troublesome first five appearances, allowing fifteen hits and walking a lofty fifteen batters in 23.2 innings pitched for a 1.767 WHiP. He also pitched to an inflated 5.81 ERA, but still struck out an impressive twenty-eight batters. A blister on his pitching finger and being slow in adjusting to the dry climate and high altitude of several Pacific Coast League locations contributed to his early struggles. In his last eight starts however, he pitched 45.1 innings, surrendering seventeen hits and walking twelve for an impressive 0.643 WHiP. He pitched to a 3.19 ERA, and struck out forty-five batters. So you have to agree, Zack Wheeler did well to finish his time in Vegas with a 1.282 WHiP, and similarly lowering his ERA to a 3.93 mark after 68.2 total innings pitched. He additionally compiled seventy-three strikeouts for a 9.6 K/9 average.
He arrives in the majors with a considerably larger body of minor league work than Matt Harvey did. In four minor league seasons, Zack totalled 391.1 innings pitched – 116 innings at AA, and 101.2 innings at the AAA level, with a 3.56 ERA, and a 1.275 WHiP. He has 420 strikeouts for a career 9.7 K/9 average. Matt Harvey meanwhile arrived in the bigs after only two seasons and 245.2 innings of work. Moving forward, earlier this month Sandy Alderson intimated Zack Wheeler would be capped at 180 innings this season. Averaged out, he has 110 innings left before getting shut down. For the season he has averaged 5.1 innings per start. Even if participating in a six man rotation, he can potentially max out at fifteen to seventeen starts. Of course, the better he pitches, the sooner his season ends.
Tomorrow, he and Matt Harvey will take part in a rather unique day, even by old school standards – a double header featuring two of the top pitching prospects in baseball. For Mets fans, Tuesday represents an incredible binocular baseball view into the future of the franchise. The arrival of Zack Wheeler, for all intent and purpose, should be considered the second major step towards a better tomorrow – the first being Matt Harvey’s promotion. Tuesday, for the first time, these two pitchers proceed forward together as Mets.
As the club continues to fall farther below the .500 mark, consider the growth of the organization from the ground, up. We are in year three under the Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta, and J.P. Ricciardi triumvirate. With a large collection of the 2012 Brooklyn Cyclones, the current Savannah Sand Gnats have recently captured their first half division flag. Entering Monday evening, the Port St. Lucie Mets were tied for the second most victories in the Florida State League. And with a 42-26 record, the Binghamton Mets are the Eastern League’s best team. The farm is generally healthy again. What they lack in top level positional players, they’ll have to address in the off-season.
Zack Wheeler said it himself – he’s not a savior. And he’s right. He’s just another brick in the wall, albeit a very important brick in this rebuilding process. But finally Mets fans, he is something we can point to and claim as tangible progress.