My plan was to drive from Savannah to Port St. Lucie on Saturday morning. As I pulled onto the highway, at 8:20, with about 370 miles to go, I thought, I was doing alright. Sure, I might miss a few Shawn Marcum pitches, but I’d be right in line for the Zack Wheeler show. Nope, Saturday’s game was a 12:10 start, which I realized sometime around 10 am somewhere on I-95. Instead of watching Wheeler perched 10 rows behind home plate, I had the SNY feed on my phone on my car dashboard at 80 miles an hour. Oh well. Planning!
Anyway, Wheeler was impressive. He’s a damn good pitching prospect, and he’ll be a very good pitcher for the Mets very soon. Saturday, he worked two scoreless innings, allowed a hit and a walk, struck out two and induced four groundouts. He threw 11 of his 16 pitches for strikes. His fastball was a lively 94-96 mph, and he showed a few nice sliders and a curve, although he missed with others. He did not throw a changeup. Wheeler made some impressive pitches, blowing gas by Tyler Moore and Chad Tracy with Steve Lombardozzi at third in his first inning. He then induced three grounders in the fourth.
Other stories from Wheeler’s outing.
Adam Rubin (ESPNNY) began with the fact that Wheeler was “amped up” to start the outing until John Buck and David Wright calmed him down. The best part here was quote from Matt Harvey, who was watching Wheeler in a game for the first time, ““The ball explodes out of his hand,… Obviously you can tell the timing is a little off. It’s only, what, Feb. 23? The sky’s the limit for him, for sure.”
Marc Carig (Newsday) focuses on Wheeler’s quiet, confident demeanor in the clubhouse and gets quotes from outfielder/pitching coach Marlon Byrd about Wheeler’s composure.
In the New York Post, Mike Puma takes the angle of Wheeler’s quest to make the big league team. Look, I get that a month and a half in Port St. Lucie is a long time and the writers need to create some drama. However, Wheeler is not going to break camp with the Mets. Manager Terry Collins said as much in Puma’s own story. “Is it etched in stone?” manager Terry Collins said about the decision to have Wheeler at Triple-A Las Vegas starting the season. “No, but it’s close.”
Also in the Post, Kevin Kernan also takes the “put Wheeler in the big leagues now” angle.
Why is Zack Wheeler going to start 2013 in Las Vegas and not New York: 1. Walks, 2. Player Control/Money.
Wheeler walked 11.9% of the batters he faced in his six starts in AAA with Buffalo in 2012. MLB average is a little over 8%. He walked 9% of his opponents at double-A. He can live at 9%, because he’s otherwise hard to hit, but 12% is too much.
If Wheeler breaks camp with the Mets, and stays on the roster all year, he will burn a full year of service time and become eligible for free agency after 2018. If he stays in AAA for a month, he will not pick up his sixth year of service until after the 2019 season. If he’s anywhere between an average starting pitcher and a All-Star, that extra year of control at the cost of a month in 2013, is more than worth it. Moreover, were he to start the year in the big leagues, he would be eligible for arbitration a year early as a Super Two.
So enjoy Zack Wheeler on SNY in February and March, but do not expect him on the same station come April. He should be back by June.