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Johan Santana Injury: Is It Now Time for Zack Wheeler to Make His MLB Debut?

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Johan Santana Injury: Is It Now Time for Zack Wheeler to Make His MLB Debut?
Chris Trotman/Getty Images
Zack Wheeler

The New York Mets suffered a significant blow to their 2013 season Thursday when they announced that ace pitcher Johan Santana likely suffered (via ESPN New York) another tear of his anterior capsule in his left shoulder.

If the left-hander needs surgery, he will miss the entire season.

Some Mets fans will ask if super-prospect Zack Wheeler is ready to take his spot in the rotation.

The short answer: No.

With Santana shut down the entire spring at a game level, the Mets only used Wheeler once for a two-inning stint with the big club. If they planned to groom him for a possible spot on the roster out of camp, he certainly would have had more work.

Wheeler’s potential is impressive.

MLB.com has him listed as the No. 8 prospect in all of baseball coming into this year. Scouts rave about his ability to strike out hitters with his fastball, and he possesses a curve and slider that are equally effective.

He just has very little experience above Double-A.

Wheeler split 2012 between Double-A Binghamton of the Eastern League and Triple-A Buffalo.

In 25 starts combined, Wheeler went 12-8 and fired a complete-game shutout for both teams. In 149 innings, he struck out 148 while walking 59. That comes out to an average of 2.51 strikeouts per walk.

While his ERA was interchangeable between levels—3.26 at Binghamton and 3.27 in Buffalo—his control in Triple-A was not as pinpoint as it was in Double-A. Wheeler walked 3.3 per nine in 116 innings with Binghamton, but that ratio jumped to 4.4 in 33 innings with Buffalo.

Still, he gets hitters out. With Buffalo, he had a WHIP of 1.182.

There is no question Wheeler will make a trip to Queens to pitch sometime in 2013. The sixth overall pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2009 has improved at every level since his debut in 2010.

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However, there is really no reason to rush him into the show.

Fears about Santana’s health go back to last season. While the Mets are in a rebuilding mode for 2013, they want to make completely sure Wheeler is ready when they bring him up.

Chances are that when it happens, it will be for good.

The plan all along was to start him in Triple-A Las Vegas, and general manager Sandy Alderson likely sees no reason to change that now.

There will be opportunities for Wheeler to make the jump this year, likely after enough of the season passes so he will not hit arbitration after two seasons.

If his first few starts on the farm continue to show the development he has in his career so far, the decision to call him up will be an easy one.

But as we see with Santana’s injury, it is best not to rush what looks like a sure thing. For the Mets, Wheeler is still all about tomorrow.

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