Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): Potential frontline starter with huge fastball and hammer curve that needs work with change-up and strike throwing to reach ceiling.
The Player: Zack Wheeler (RHP, New York Mets) – Wheeler was the first round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, making his professional debut in the South Atlantic League in 2010. He battled a cracked finger nail that limited his innings but when he was on the field he flashed impressive potential. Wheeler posted a 3.99 ERA in the high octane California League over 16 starts this year before being dealt to the Mets in exchange for outfielder Carlos Beltran. In six more starts in the Florida State League Wheeler notched an even 2.00 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only five walks in 27 innings.
Body: Ideal height with long, lanky limbs and plenty of room to add mass with increased strength. Shows good athleticism and body control throughout delivery.
Makeup: Shows a mature demeanor on the mound, rarely getting rattled. Very competitive with an aggressive style. Reports indicate he works diligently between starts.
Delivery/Mechanics: Moves quickly through delivery and maintains outstanding balance over the rubber. Drops and drives with easy movements toward the plate. Has a loose, lightning quick arm action. Long arms add deception with extended release point. Finishes in a balanced position, facing home plate. Good athlete that gets off the mound well to field his position and cover first.
Fastball (FB) Velocity (Wind-up): High – 97, Low – 91, Average – 94-95, Grade – 70/70
Fastball (FB) Velocity (Stretch): High – 97, Low 90, Average 93-94, Grade – 60/70
Fastball (FB) Movement: Shows riding life in on right-handers at times. Uses height well to create angle with his fastball. Explodes on hitters when thrown up in the zone. Grade – 50/60
Overall Fastball: True plus to plus-plus velocity right now with room to add more velocity with additional strength in frame. Fastball has movement in all parts of the zone. Will still flatten out on occasion when he over-throws. Grade – 60/70
Curveball (CB): Showed anywhere from 73-78 mph in the FSL after trade, with more success when thrown harder. Gets on top of the pitch regularly and generates outstanding 12-6 break that buckles knees with right-handers and can induce flailing swings with left-handers. Still learning to throw the pitch out of the zone as a chase pitch at times but that should come with experience. Grade – 50/60
Change-up (CH): Improved some in 2011 but still slows his arm at times, giving the pitch away. Can be too firm with it, getting it into the 85-86 mph range rather than 82-83 mph where the pitch was more successful. Shows some arm-side fade and sink when it’s on. Has some feel but scouts are skeptical if it will ever be an average pitch. Grade – 30/40
Cutter (CT): A new pitch in 2011, he threw it at 87-89 mph with good movement in on left-handers. Doesn’t trust the pitch yet but started to show some feel for it late in the year. Like the CH, has some feel but scouts don’t consistently project average grades. Grade – 30/40
Control: Threw more strikes in 2011 and even more late in the year as he became more comfortable with his mechanics. Athleticism allows him to repeat his delivery well. Has potential to fill the zone with strikes from FB and CB down the line. Grade – 40/60
Command: Athleticism and clean delivery allows for projection from control to command in the future. Worked lower in the zone more often in 2011 and showed the ability to elevate the fastball at will. May never have precise command but should improve to an acceptable level. Grade – 30/40
Summation: Will dominate with fastball and curveball at times and only needs change-up or cutter to step forward a little bit to round out his arsenal. Control more than command needs to take a big step forward as he can survive while loose in the zone because of his outstanding raw stuff. Has a solid pickoff move and fields his position well though his aggressive nature on the mound leaks into these areas and can cause him to throw the ball around a bit too much. Ultimate ceiling exists as a potential number two starter with some All-Star seasons. If third pitch or control fail to improve he could still fit in the middle of a rotation.
Relative Risk: High. The risk that exists with any and all young pitchers is present here, combined with the fact he has yet to throw more than 120 innings in a season at 21-years old. There are still enough developmental needs that his ultimate projection is a long way from his present condition.
Future: The Mets plan to send Wheeler to Double-A Binghamton in 2012 where he will get his first taste of the upper levels. He is at least a full developmental step behind number two prospect Matt Harvey who could make his MLB debut this year. If Wheeler finds success in Double-A and handles the bump in workload without trouble he could see the big leagues at the end of 2013.