New York Mets: The 1 Prospect the Mets Must Hold on to

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New York Mets: The 1 Prospect the Mets Must Hold on to
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When Sandy Alderson took the reigns from Omar Minaya on October 29, 2010, he assumed the responsibilities of an organization that had two major problems: a small amount of money and even fewer elite prospects.

Without the financial means to sign quality players on the open market, and without the minor league prospects to build strictly from within, Alderson's new franchise was dead in the water.

Fortunately, the general manager had dealt with a similar case during his time with the Oakland Athletics. The little brother in the Bay Area had little money and a barren minor league landscape. Alderson worked to rebuild the system better than ever, and the result came in the form of three straight American League Rookies of the Year, four division titles and a World Series win.

Alderson now makes his living on the opposite side of the country, but his plan is nearly identical: to construct a roster dominated by minor league prospects, a goal that he is well on his way to achieving.

As the San Francisco Giants taught the baseball world this October, starting pitching is essential to a ballclub's success. Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Ryan Vogelsong, Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito played a key role in bringing a second World Series title in three years to San Francisco.

A few years down the road, Alderson could see his New York Mets boast a rotation similar to that of Bruce Bochy's club.

However, he needs one player to bring it all together: Zack Wheeler.

It isn't everyday that an organization acquires a potential face-of-the-franchise starting pitcher at the trade deadline for a 34-year-old center fielder who isn't the player he used to be.

Wheeler is a rare gem in the pitching prospect world.

Standing at 6'4" tall, he has the necessary physical tools to consistently throw 200-plus innings a year at the major league level.

His arsenal of pitches is tremendous and includes a four-seam fastball, two-seamer, curveball, slider and changeup. The heater tops out around 97 mph, a stark contrast to his hammer curveball that comes in at around the mid-70s. While he's still working on the slider and the changeup, his repertoire is stunning for a 22-year-old prospect.

Alderson needs to (and will) hold onto the East Paulding High School grad no matter what offers he could receive down the line. Patience pays off with top-tier prospects, and Alderson seems perfectly content to wait for his crop of players to develop.

After an impressive, albeit short stint in St. Lucie in 2011, Wheeler pitched for both Buffalo and Binghamton last season, a strong majority coming with the latter. He did not disappoint.

Wheeler went 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA (all stats are per Baseball Reference). Those numbers don't scream "power pitcher" or "future ace," but his other numbers serve as evidence that the Georgia native will be a No. 1 starter in the MLB one day.

Three things are crucial to a pitcher's success in the pros (among a myriad of other factors, obviously): keeping men off base, striking out batters at any stage of the game and a propensity to allow home runs.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Last season, Wheeler was one of the best in Double-A at keeping men off base. He posted a 1.164 WHIP with Binghamton, good for sixth in the Eastern League among pitchers with at least 10 starts.

His strikeout per nine innings ratio of 9.1 was second among starters behind Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.

Wheeler gave up just two long balls last season while in Double-A, which tied him for the lowest amount of homers given up by a pitcher that threw at least 100 innings in the Eastern League.

His numbers are some of the best that any Mets prospect has ever compiled. He's an ideal pitcher to take the mound at cavernous Citi Field, and appears to be on a trajectory to debut sometime within the next two seasons or so.

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If all goes according to plan, the Mets' rotation will be comprised of Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Jonathan Niese, Dillon Gee and whoever winds up in Flushing down the road.

The Mets need to continue to invest in their pitching if they are going to see any type of positive results. Run production is going to be a problem in New York for a few seasons thanks to Citi Field, so starting pitching is paramount.

With Wheeler spearheading the effort of the aforementioned rotation, the Mets hope to be a contending team in the National League within a few years. 

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