Ever since July 28, 2011, New York Mets fans have been salivating. You see, it was on that day that the Mets dealt outfielder Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants. In return, the Mets received top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.
Wheeler was the sixth overall selection in the 2009 draft, and Baseball America ranked him the No. 35 prospect in all of baseball prior to last season. And now, it appears, the tall right-hander may have some lofty shoes to fill in the Mets rotation.
Last week, the Mets traded their Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey, to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package of players. Dickey had one of the best pitching seasons the Mets have seen in a long time. He was the first Mets pitcher to win the prestigious pitching award since Doc Gooden in 1985.
With the knuckleballer's contract due to expire at the end of the 2013 season, the Mets had been negotiating with Dickey's agent on an extension. However, the two sides were unable to work out a deal. So rather than see Dickey walk away for nothing, the Mets pulled the trigger on the trade with the Blue Jays, receiving the catching depth they desperately needed.
Now, the Mets are left with a gap in the rotation. Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee (if healthy) are mainstays in the rotation. Youngster Matt Harvey made a splash last season and stands a good chance of breaking spring training as a member of the starting five. After that, the Mets could very well hand the keys over to Wheeler (short of signing a low-cost free-agent pitcher).
Is Wheeler ready to take over a rotation spot once filled by a Cy Young Award winner? Well, his 2012 minor league numbers suggest he very well might be. This past season, between Double-A and Triple-A, Wheeler pitched to a 12-8 record with a 3.26 ERA. He struck out 148 batters in 149 innings pitched, and served up just four long balls in that time.
Overall, in three minor league seasons, Wheeler has a career 3.49 ERA and over 300 strikeouts.
Granted, Major League hitters are much more of a dynamic force. But the 22-year-old seems to have the pedigree to become a star in the big leagues. According to Baseball America, Wheeler was the best pitching prospect in the Eastern League in 2012, and his curveball ranks best in the Mets organization.
Wheeler may not make the immediate impact like we've seen from phenoms like Gooden or, more recently, Stephen Strasburg. But for sure Mets fans are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their prized prospect, as the Mets future begins with his right arm.