Why Ranked Here: Wheeler might have the highest ceiling of any of the trio of the top three pitchers on this list, but he slips behind Jeurys Familia and Matt Harvey because ceiling is not the only thing that matters. The other two have had some success at double-A, Wheeler has not. I do not view Wheeler’s ceiling as so much significantly higher than either of the other two to jump him over them given that their success at a higher level. Also, both Harvey and Familia are on schedule to make their Major League debuts in 2012, Wheeler is not.
Wheeler’s stuff is legit. He has a plus fastball, and a chance to have a pair of above average breaking balls in his slider and curve. His change-up lags as his fourth pitch.
I wrote this after watching him in August:
After giving up a first inning run, he set down nine of the final 10 batters he faced. He showed top of the line stuff. His fastball sat 94-96 mph with a few 93 mixed in later and one 97 as well early. He showed both the ability to throw it down with run and sink and throw it shoulder-height to change batters’ eye-level and produce swings and misses.
Early on, his curveball was 77 mph with bite, by the end of his outing he was throwing it in the low 80s. It was nasty. His slider was 86 and much shorter. At times to my eye it was nearly flat, while at others, it sunk straight down. He showed a change up at 88 mph. I didn’t see much movement out of the pitch, but he was comfortable throwing it, even producing a strikeout with it on a 3-2 pitch. It’s a little firm, but it was nice to see him have the confidence to throw it in games and even throw it with three balls.
His command was not great. However, his velocity allowed him to get away with location mistakes. I suspect that this will always be the case for Wheeler.
In 2010, he had a poorly defined slurve for a breaking ball. However, he credited San Jose pitching Coach Brian Cooper with helping him refine the slurve into two distinct breaking balls. Late in 2011, Wheeler was more comfortable throwing the curve for strikes and preferred the slider for finishing batters with two strikes.
2011: Wheeler was a very good prospect when the Mets traded Carlos Beltran for him, but he was a much better pitcher in six starts for St. Lucie than he was in the California League. Even adjusting for the fact that he was pitching in a much friendlier environment, he clearly made some important strides, particularly with his control. Take a look a the walk-rate column in the Advanced Statists table below. He cut his walk rate from 14.5% in the SAL in 2010 to just 4.5% in the Florida State League in 2011.
Towards the end of his time with the Giants, and into his time with the Mets, he made a mechanical change that he says made a big difference. He returned to his high school delivery, introducing more movement into his delivery with a larger leg kick, more hip turn and quicker tempo. With better tempo came better control.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Front of the rotation starter
Debbie Downer Says: Bullpen piece
Projected 2012 Start: AA Binghamton
MLB Arrival: 2013
Zack Explains His Mechanical Adjustments