Zack Wheeler hadn’t been pitching particularly well when he agreed to do this interview late last season. During his previous seven outings — three with Double-A Binghamton and four with Triple-A Buffalo — he’d allowed 28 runs in 35 innings. Deep into his second full professional season, the New York Mets’ best prospect seemed to have hit a wall.
This season, the 23-year-old right-hander promises to knock down a different wall — the one standing between him and big-league stardom. Few pitching prospects have a higher ceiling. Wheeler throws four plus-pitches, including a mid-90s fastball and a rapidly improving changeup.
Zack Wheeler on his game: “My fastball is pretty good. I have both a two- and a four-seamer. I think everybody does. The hitter dictates which one I throw, as does the count. I like to throw my two to the right side of the plate most of the time, but it doesn‘t really matter. They’re both hard and both move. I’d say they’re pretty equal.
“I’ve developed my off-speed pitches. What I’ve really concentrated on is throwing them for strikes, so I can get ahead of hitters and put them away later. I’m happy with both my curveball and slider right now.
“My changeup has gotten better as the season has gone on. It started out as a circle change, but then I moved my hand up on the ball a little bit to put more pressure on it. That was to make it move a little more, as well as take some speed off of it. The pressure is more on the pinky, underneath the ball. I’m trying to get that little bite. When it releases out of my hand, there is also speed taken off of it.
“I accept being labeled a power pitcher. It’s part of who I am. I throw hard. But I also work with it. I try to control my pitches well, and with a few little fixes, that should get better. Most of the year my walks were down — my strikeouts have been the same as usual — but that has started to break down a little bit lately. I don’t mean it to be an excuse, but late in the season you have to kind of just push through.
“Mechanically, you can break down a little bit, but that’s just baseball. It’s pitching. Every once in awhile you can lose your mechanics and not have a good feel for your pitches. I’ll get it back.
“I think my mechanics are usually pretty fluid. I’ve worked hard on them the past few years. I don’t know if I’d describe my delivery as drop-and-drive, but it’s probably something like that. My arm angle is three-quarters, I guess. I don’t really pay too much attention to stuff like that.
“How close I am to the big leagues isn’t up to me. That’s up to the Mets. But I feel like I’m getting close. A couple more adjustments and I’ll be ready.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.