Zack Wheeler And “The Zing”

Zack Wheeler’s spring debut set the prospect world abuzz as the right-hander showed elite stuff in two scoreless innings of work. Having seen him pitch twice for the Augusta GreenJackets in 2010, Wheeler’s outing is an example of projection blooming into production.

Reading through older reports while watching Hotel Transylvania left me looking for “The Zing”, or the moment when one becomes smitten with a prospect knowing he’ll be special. Wheeler provided one of those in 2010 when I wrote,

“Wheeler had a definite “wow” factor which the overwhelming majority of prospects simply do not have. Behind Julio Teheran, he’s the second best pitcher I have ever seen at the level and has true impact starter upside.”

Seeing Wheeler pitch in Grapefruit League action is an opportunity to reflect on memories from three seasons ago, and identify areas where he has grown.

In 2010, Wheeler suffered a cracked fingernail resulting in his throwing just 58 2/3 innings. While working to regain his arm strength, my first look at Wheeler was out of the bullpen where his fastball dominated South Atlantic League Hitters. At the time, I wrote,

“At 94-96 MPH, Wheeler’s fastball exploded on top of Sand Gnats hitters. His long stride created excellent downward plane with a touch of arm side fade. In this outing, he appeared to be rearing back trying to light up the radar gun instead of working to command the pitch.”

A couple of weeks later, I was afforded a second look at Wheeler as a starter. Over multiple innings, Wheeler’s fastball sat at 92-94 MPH. For the level, it was still elite velocity, but not nearly as impressive as when he threw with max effort.

Fast forward to 2013 and Wheeler frequently popped 96 MPH on the radar gun with ease — Especially from the stretch. Anything 92-94 was a two-seam fastball, and Wheeler was able to maintain both the downward plane and arm side fade (See his Bryce Harper sequence) from early in his development.

Wheeler’s curveball was also improved from the inconsistent breaking pitch scouted in 2010.

“Thrown in the low-80’s, Wheeler’s curveball is a harder offering than I normally see at the level. With tight, sharp break, the pitch exhibits wipeout potential in the bullpen. although he hung it a couple of times in game action, Wheeler creates plenty of depth with enough glove side run to make it more of a 11-5 offering.”

In his start, the curveball was even less impressive as Wheeler struggled to command the pitch while presenting with decreased velocity.

Against the Nationals, Wheeler’s curveball was more of a true, 12-6 offering instead of presenting with “slurvy” movement. He paired it with an upper-80’s slider not seen in 2010. It’s a true power stuff, but don’t forget about his changeup. It showed potential in Single-A and will be a legitimate fourth pitch at the Major League level.

Beyond Wheeler’s arsenal, adjustments to mechanics and tempo have ironed out any rough spots in his delivery. The pause in his leg kick seen in 2010 is gone. A bit of “whippy” arm action in the back of his delivery is now smooth and easy. Wheeler’s finish carries his momentum through the pitch where he had a tendency to recoil just three seasons ago.

Wheeler1

The New York Mets open the season with three starters who missed significant time in 2012 due to injury. With Collin McHugh and Jenrry Mejia in the mix for starts should an injury occur, the organization can afford to be patient with Wheeler.

However, their new affiliate in Las Vegas muddles the picture as the Blue Jays made a habit of jumping pitching prospects from Double-A to Toronto to avoid one of the worst pitcher’s environment in minor league baseball. So while starting the arbitration clock of the organization’s best prospect makes little sense from a financial standpoint, a trial by fire approach may be best for his development as a pitcher.

Hat tip to Jeff Zimmerman for his help pulling the gif.





Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

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potent potables
9 years ago

That was an awful trade for the Giants from the get-go. I mean, if you are going to trade a top prospect for 2 months of an All-Star, you better re-sign said All-Star at the end of the season.

Hurtlockertwo
9 years ago

Agreed, the Giants were just plain stupid to let this kid go for nothing.

Larry Yocum
9 years ago
Reply to  Hurtlockertwo

That’s not really a fair statement. At the time it looked like they absolutely needed Beltran to make the playoffs. They were 4 games up when they traded for him, but treading terribly on offense. Had they made the playoffs and made another WS run, we would all be saying it was worth it. Sometimes these deals work out and sometimes they don’t when you push all of your chips into the middle. They gambled and lost, but at the time it looked like a justifiable gamble at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20. At the time they had just aquired the best bat on the market and were prime to make another run with a pitching staff that was performing even better than it had in 2010.

WillieMaysfield
9 years ago
Reply to  Larry Yocum

I saw Wheeler twice in High A ball. I thought the Giants were crazy to deal him for Beltran. Two b prospects should have got the trade done. Reportedly the Astros rejected Wheeler for Pence.

Trey Baughn
9 years ago
Reply to  Hurtlockertwo

Or you ought to win the World Series…

chanelclemente
9 years ago
Reply to  Hurtlockertwo

Beltran was nothing, on that we can agree for baseball’s favorite stat monkey.

dovif
9 years ago
Reply to  chanelclemente

Beltran had proven time and again that he is a very good hitter, who hits well in playoffs, he had a bad injury in SF, but at the time of the trade that could not have been predicted

Larry Yocum
9 years ago

I think they panicked after the Posey injury.

They also may have had every intention of resigning Beltran, but even in his short stint, it just didn’t seem like he fit in the clubhouse or wanted to be there. You can’t make a guy sign.

At the time I thought it was a good deal as you only have a window open for so long. However, I also didn’t know that Wheeler was quite this good. Now that he is really fulfilling all of his potential, it looks like an awful deal, especially for an aging vet that had a clause in his contract that denied them from offering him arbitration and at least recouping picks. Under a normal scenario, the Giants would have at least recouped a first round pick or two for a player like Beltran walking, but his contract really hurt them even more in the deal. They could/should have used that as leverage with the Mets to try and deal somebody other than Wheeler.

Eric R
9 years ago
Reply to  Larry Yocum

But it’s not like the clause was a secret; if it wasn’t there, Beltran would have been worth more in trade, so it might have been Wheeler plus another prospect.

Rickettsia
9 years ago

There’s a lot of hype for Wheeler, but I feel that the Mets probably got him too early, since his control hasn’t refined at all in his time with the Mets. Wheeler has just followed the development trajectory set by the Giants.

BlackOps
9 years ago
Reply to  Rickettsia

His walk rate has been lower with the Mets than with the Giants and I seriously doubt the Mets are having any qualms about having a top ten prospect.

Who?
9 years ago
Reply to  Rickettsia

That’s nonsense. Wheeler went back to his HS delivery after the trade. His BB/9 after the trade is 3.27 across 3 levels compared to 5.2 before the trade. If anything one can argue that the Mets got him at just the right time and helped him reach his potential.