MLB Trade Rumors: Getting to Know Newest New York Met Zack Wheeler
Considering some baseball executives reportedly said the Mets would be unable to obtain a top prospect in the deal, Sandy Alderson should be applauded for getting the No. 1 arm in San Francisco's farm.
But who is this newest piece in the Mets system, other than a relatively unknown right-hander with a 3.99 ERA in A-ball right now?
Born Zachary Harrison Wheeler in Smyrna, Ga., the pitching prospect was destined to play pro baseball from a young age.
Known by friends and classmates as Zack, the right-hander attended high school in East Paulding, about an hour's drive northwest of Atlanta.
He went 8-3 with a 1.31 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 64.1 innings in 2008 en route to being named the AAAA Region Pitcher of the Year.
Twelve months later, he set the East Paulding High School record with 149 strikeouts over 76 innings and was named the Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year, posting 9-0 record with 0.54 ERA.
When will Zack Wheeler make it to Citi Field?
His dominance was highlighted when he tossed his first no-hitter of his career against Mill Creek in second round of Class AAAAA state playoffs in 2009, his senior year where he also hit .280 as designated hitter.
At the time, he was seen as a projectable project arm, someone with a lot of strength, a good fastball and plus breaking ball, great poise and big upside. He was so highly regarded, in fact, that he was taken before Mike Minor (the pitcher the Atlanta Braves wouldn't trade to the Mets) Mike Trout, Shelby Miller and Nick Franklin.
Wheeler was taken by the Giants sixth overall in the 2009 draft later that summer, behind phenom Stephen Strasburg, UNC junior Dustin Ackley, high school outfielder Donovan Tate, junior catcher Jorge Sanchez and fellow right-handed high-school pitching prospect Matthew Hobgood.
It's probably no surprise that he was drafted by John Barr, a longtime baseball executive and the special assistant to the General Manager.
Barr was instrumental in the selection and signing of current All-Star catcher Russell Martin, as well as relievers Jonathan Broxton and Scott Proctor during his 10-year stint as the Dodgers East Coast scouting supervisor. The 2011 season marked his 28th season as a baseball executive and he clearly knows his stuff.
More recently Barr, now in his fourth season with the Giants, drafted 2010 Rookie of the Year Buster Posey as well as hard-hitting backstop Tommy Joseph and speedster Gary Brown with their first overall pick in 2010. Brown was another name thrown around in trade rumors earlier this week.
Pre-draft, Wheeler was rated as having the best fastball in the organization by Baseball America, who also named him the second-best prospect on the farm (behind Brandon Belt) and the best pitcher in the Giants' Minor League system. In fact, Eric Surkamp (ninth) was the only other pitcher to make the Baseball America top 10.
MLB.com's scouting report highlighted a low-to-mid 90s fastball, a high-80s curve and a changeup that comes out of a good three-quarter arm angle.
Some of those tools were on display last year when Wheeler, in his first year of pro ball, went 3-3 with a 3.99 ERA in 21 games, including 13 starts, for the Augusta GreenJackets of the South Atlantic League.
He allowed two hits while fanning a career-high nine over five innings on May 6, 2010, in Class A Augusta's 6-0 shutout of Greenville to earn his first pro win and he never looked back, holding hitters to a .218 average and striking out 70 over 58.2 frames.
Then Wheeler represented the U.S. team at the All-Star Futures game, joining notable San Francisco players such as Madison Bumgarner, Pablo Sandoval, Francisco Liriano and Matt Cain, who have all been chosen by MLB officials and Baseball America to take part in the prospect showcase in the last decade.
He stepped up to the Class A Advanced San Jose Giants of the California League at the start of 2011 and continued to look every bit as good as advertised.
I spoke to him after his Cal League debut when he threw five hitless innings in the Giants' 10-0 rout of the Lake Elsinore Storm, and he came across as an intelligent ballplayer with good smarts and a thirst for knowledge.
In that first start, Wheeler used information he collected from watching the opposing batters earlier in the series to his advantage, picking apart flaws and weaknesses like a seasoned veteran, not someone who had only started 14 games in his Minor League career.
Despite retiring 11 of the final 12 batters and combining on the three-hitter, Wheeler knew he still had things to work on, particularly getting ahead of batters in counts and letting his defense work behind him.
His work paid off and he set a new career best with 12 strikeouts over seven innings as San Jose blanked the Stockton Ports, 2-0, on May 29. Right now, he's 7-5 with a 3.99 ERA over 16 starts in the hitter-friendly Cal League. He has 98 strikeouts over 88 innings and he's holding hitters to a respectable .224 average.
It's unclear when Wheeler will report to the Mets, but it's likely he will slot into the St. Lucie Mets' rotation. St. Lucie is New York's Class A Advanced affiliate in the Florida State League.
St. Lucie is currently 18-14, tied at the top of the FSL South Division with the Bradenton Marauders. The Mets' won the first-half title, going 38-32 to book their place in the playoffs.
Wheeler will hopefully get to benefit from working alongside Darin Gorski (10-1, 2.15 ERA), who is pitching so well that he could soon be joining first-rounder Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia in Double-A Binghamton.
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