Mack Ade - Zack Wheeler


Good morning.

This is an impossible call at this point.

It wasn’t long ago that Zack Wheeler was considered a better Mets prospect than Matt Harvey. He was a first round pick (sixth pick overall) in the 2009 draft by the San Francisco Giants and the Mets stole him away before the trading deadline in 2011 in a trade for outfielder Carlos Beltran. The Mets were going nowhere in 2011 and they had no plans on signing Beltran for the 2012 season. So why not trade Beltran for one of the top pitching prospects in the game?

Bio – Wheeler came out of East Pauling High School, in Dallas, Georgia. His senior stat line was 9-0, 0.54, 77.2-IP, 151-K.

Wheeler showed signs of brilliance in his first season (2013) with the Mets, going 7-5, 3.42, in 17 starts, but injuries set in March 2015 when it was determined that he had a torn ulnar collateral ligament, which led to Tommy John surgery. He tried to return in 2016, but went down with a ‘mild’ flexor strain in his right arm. 

He was shut down for the 2016 season and is only now returning after basically two years on the shelf.

David Rubin, of Mack's Mets offers - 

    In just 2 short injury-filled years, much of MLB has forgotten how dominant Zack Wheeler looked prior to needing TJ surgery in 2015. In 2014, at the age of 24, Wheeler morphed in a single season from someone with amazing "stuff" to someone who had seemingly "figured it out" on his path to becoming the dominant starter long predicted he would become. He ended with a record of 11-11, with an  ERA of 3.54 in 32 starts, going 185.1 innings with 187 strikeouts, 167 hits given up, 84 runs (73 earned) 14 home runs, 79 walks,and a WHIP of 1.327. While the stats themselves don't grab you around the throat and yell "DOMINANT," if you watched him pitch, game by game, you witnessed someone finally harnessing his 5-pitch repertoire. Zack had the best curve in the Mets organization, and probably still does. Watching him fool hitters with that 75 mph curve on the heels of his 97 mph heater was joyful to watch, and with a change-up, slider and 2-seamer, Wheeler seemingly had a pitch for every occasion!

It was crushing to hear, in 2015, that Wheeler's progress was going to be interrupted by TJ surgery, seemingly SOP (standard operating procedure) for every fastballer under the age of 26. As much as I grew to love watching Harvey, it was Wheeler who reminded me of a great Mets pitcher from nearly 30 years ago, one David Cone, who also mastered multiple pitches, able to throw any of them for a strike anywhere in the count. Harvey's heater was more dominant, but Wheeler's goody-bag was filled with more to choose from. A Mets fans' dream of 2 studs at the top of the Mets rotation for a decade to come was in full swing until Harvey went down due to TJ surgery at the end of 2013; that made watching Wheeler succumb to the same problem that much more alarming.

History seemed to repeat itself; Wheeler tried to come back in 2016, only to be shut down again due to a mild flexor strain in his right elbow in August, 2016, and it was decided that although there was no damage to his ligament, it was best to shut him down for the rest of the season. Harvey made a very successful return from TJ surgery in 2015, including a run to the World Series, but was hindered all of 2016 with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) that ended in surgery once more. I still shudder at the thought of history repeating itself this way. Would we EVER have a healthy Harvey & Wheeler at the same time???

After again making the play-offs in 2016, minus Harvey, Wheeler and a third, dominant member of the rotation after mid-July, Jacob deGrom (ulnar nerve surgery, not full-on TJ surgery), the baseball world witnessed the rise of Thor, aka Noah Syndergaard!! Thor carried the team to the play-offs (with help from the now-departed Bartolo Colon) and brought forth the very real possibility that the Mets might have 4 "#1" starters in 2017.
Now, with the 2017 season mere weeks away, Wheeler returns from not only TJ surgery but also from being practically forgotten around the game, outside of thousands of Mets fans, like you and me, who long to see a dominant Wheeler return alongside his rotation brethren. The thought of having 5 stud starters, plus the returning Robert Gsellman, coming off of an unexpectedly dominant rookie season, is almost more than any Mets fan has ever had the courage to dream about.

It's easy, then, to think of putting Wheeler in the bullpen to start things off this season, giving him time to regain his strength, allowing Gsellman to remain in the rotation, until perhaps mid-season, if/once Wheeler shows he's able to maintain a regular workload every fifth or sixth day. In fact, GM Sandy Alderson already said as much; manager Terry Collins, however, and much to my delight, said that he'd like to see what Wheeler has this Spring, and will judge the situation from there. A healthy Wheeler in the rotation is far better than a healthy Wheeler in the bullpen; pairing him with someone like Seth Lugo in a 5 inning/4 inning combo might result in allowing both Wheeler to get used to taking a regular turn and keeping Lugo's arm stretched out on the heels of starting for us a good part of 2016. Now before you start saying that this would tax the bullpen too much, a combo of only 2 pitchers, 3 at the most if a closer is necessary, is no more taxing on the bullpen then most games already are. Also, and of great importance, Wheeler is used to starting and is already coming back after a long absence; teaching him how to relieve at this point in his career might impede his return if he's either physically or mentally unable to get used to a totally different physicality and mindset necessary to be successful out of the pen.

A healthy Wheeler is worth far more in the rotation than he ever will be one to three innings per outing, and, IF he is indeed 100% recovered, I predict 20-24 starts and a record of 10-5 and an ERA somewhere below 3.50. Remember, Wheeler hasn't been sitting on his hands doing nothing during his long hiatus; he's been studying pitching, watching games, expanding the mental aspect of his game while waiting for his body to catch up. A HEALTHY rotation that includes Syndergaard, deGrom, Harvey, Matz, Wheeler & Gsellman is one for the ages- and I am betting that these thoroughbreds will take our beloved boys from Flushing all the way to the finish line in 2017!! After all, having followed this team for nearly all of my 53 years, I am entitled to dream- but in this case it's FAR closer to reality than it's ever been, at least since 1986!!!!

Opinion – So far, so good, huh?

          I really think that Wheeler will work his way back into the Mets rotation come opening day, be it a 5-man or 6-man. 6-man makes more sense to be since there will be innings restrictions on many of the horses here.

Let's follow this one closely.

It could be the key to a great season.


Thomas Brennan said...

David Rubin got me excited again about Wheeler - good job, David!

Oh, my gosh, if Wheeler comes back 100%, what a rotation! I’ve made the point before, his elbow was a problem for a long time before it blew. One would have o surmise that would hamper a guy, at least to some degree (e.g., diminished command). Imagine if he returns healthy – he could be better than before.

Good article timing award: Wheeler starts today vs. Nats. Should be very revealing.

His picture today on Mets’ website shows him in the midst of a pitch, and you can see the scar and redness around it. Hopefully he is better than 100% going forward.

Anonymous said...

Wheels has some of the most natural movement on his FB and induces such weak contact that he would be best served to throw strikes and allow the ball to be out in play, preferably on the ground. Not sure if we see the Fab Five rolled out every week, but it will manifest in some combination over the course of the season and that should make Met fans very, very happy.

Anon Joe F

Mack Ade said...

Yeah, I miss David's original posts.

Hopefully, he will have some time from his busy life to someday return here on a regular basis.

Peter Hyatt said...

Wheeler has a 'nasty old school' competitiveness on the mound that Mets fans may come to quickly embrace.

He is very nervous but it will be mitigated with every inning he throws.

The first 97mph brush back will electrify the fan base. He'd hit his own teammate if he got shown up!

Word is that this kid, not so terribly young anymore, is a baseball fanatic with talent and a head to match. We've seen glimpses of it.

It's going to be exciting to watch.

Mack's Mets © 2012