In case you haven't been properly introduced, allow me to acquaint you with the future of the New York Mets: right-hander Zack Wheeler. The 6'4" Wheeler, a native of Georgia, was originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants as a first-rounder (sixth overall) in 2009.
In the middle of the 2011 season, the Mets traded All-Star Carlos Beltran to the Giants in exchange for the top prospect in a clear move for the future. Well, the future is upon us now as we enter the 2014 season. After ranking as the 11th-best prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2013 campaign, Wheeler made his Major League debut in June.
Once he reached the big leagues, Wheeler made 17 starts for the Mets, finishing with a 7-5 record and a 3.42 ERA. He had an impressive 7.6 K/9 ratio as well.
Now that he has the first-year jitters out of his system, Wheeler is expected to be a key component to the Mets' rotation in 2014 and beyond. But just what can we expect from the 23-year-old this year? Is he ready to step up and be the ace with Matt Harvey on the shelf?
If Matt Harvey was starting the 2014 season healthy, there would be no real question as to who the Mets' number one starter will be. But after undergoing Tommy John Surgery late last year, Harvey will most likely miss the entire '14 campaign.
So who will be the Mets' Opening Day starter? Well, it likely won't be Wheeler. It would be foolish to put that kind of pressure on a kid who doesn't even have a full season under his belt.
The Mets brought in 40-year-old veteran Bartolo Colon during the offseason, and they also have Jon Niese, who has been a cog in the rotation for several seasons. Either of them are likely to be tabbed as the starter on March 31.
But that's not a knock on Wheeler. Mets fans have long dreamed of having a Harvey-Wheeler 1-2 punch, and though that dream will have to be delayed a year, that combination ought to be mowing down hitters together for many years to come.
It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Mets offer Wheeler a contract extension after the 2014 season. There's no question that the Mets have to keep him in the fold long-term, and it's not unheard of for teams to lock up their young pitchers so soon after making the big leagues.
Prior the 2008 season, the St. Louis Cardinals signed Adam Wainwright to a four-year, $15 million contract after only one full season as a big leaguer. And now he has become one of the best pitchers in the game.
That's not to say that Wheeler will get Wainwright-like money necessarily. But the Mets do still have some funds to spend, and after locking up their franchise player in David Wright before last season, Wheeler could be in line for some sort of a contract extension, particularly if he pitches to his full potential in 2014.
This may be the boldest of the Wheeler predictions, but I don't think it's too far-fetched to think he will finish with one of the 10 lowest ERAs in the National League.
He has shown a tendency to keep the ball in the park, giving up just 10 home runs over 100 innings pitched in 2013. Even in the minors, he surrendered fewer than one home run per nine innings pitched. With the spacious CitiField as his home park, the home runs allowed will likely remain at a minimum.
If he can finish with an ERA of, or around 3.00, that should be sufficient enough for a top-10 finish in the league (Shelby Miller of the Cardinals finished 10th with a 3.06 ERA in 2013).
Is Wheeler the next Dwight Gooden? Perhaps that's not a fair comparison. But he certainly gives Mets fans a lot to be hopeful about, and the ceiling for this young man is extremely high. The 2014 season is just the beginning...