There has been plenty of debate as to whether or not the Mets should allow Zack Wheeler to start 2013 in the Big Leagues or not. Like Travis d’Arnaud, a basis for the argument to send him to the minors first revolves around the financial benefits. If New York keeps him out of the show long enough, they’ll prevent their top pitching prospect from gaining Super-Two status, while also getting another year of team control. While both of these are sound reasons for Wheeler to start his 2013 campaign in Las Vegas, I think there are a couple other reasons that have been somewhat overlooked.
With the bad news surrounding Johan Santana’s shoulder, chatter amongst fans to bring Wheeler up now has intensified. However, Sandy Alderson has been adamant that the organization will not promote the right-hander until they feel he’s ready. We didn’t see much of him this spring before he was shut down with a minor oblique injury, but there are quite a few that say he’s ready right now. I was very impressed and excited about the future whenever I saw clips of Wheeler take the mound, but I don’t think he’s ready yet.
I agree with the Mets’ approach when it comes to their prized pitching prospect, as it looks like they plan on taking the same course of action with him as they did with Matt Harvey in 2012. Wheeler’s raw talent is enticing, his results from recent seasons are encouraging, and his star power would certainly fill the Citi Field seats, but he hasn’t proved he can pitch in Triple-A yet. Now, that’s not saying the six starts he had for Buffalo last year weren’t good; I’d be crazy if I said a 2-2 record, 3.27 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, and 31 strikeouts in 33 innings pitched for a 22-year-old wasn’t a solid showing.
Even though scouts have drooled over his raw ability and ace potential for years to come, some have said he needs to control his pitches more consistently. I had the opportunity to watch Wheeler’s first Triple-A start last season since it was televised on SNY, and while his stuff looked good, he ran a lot of deep counts, which prevented him from going deeper into the game. Once he was shut down for 2012 after hitting his innings limit, his BB/9 rate with the Bisons stood at 4.4.
This was obviously a small sample size, but let him head back to Triple-A and show that he used the winter to get better control of his pitches in game situations, allowing him to be more efficient in the long-run. As an example, Matt Harvey hadn’t pitched higher than Double-A before the 2012 season, but once he proved he could handle the next level, New York didn’t hesitate calling him up when there was a need for him in the Big League rotation. At this point, there isn’t a need for him in the Big Leagues, especially since he hasn’t fully proven himself in Triple-A. Now that Johan is lost for the year, there is a rotation spot occupied by Jeremy Hefner that is waiting for Wheeler whenever he’s deemed ready for the spotlight. Hef can stabilize the back of the rotation for the time being while the young righty puts the final touches on his trip through the minors.
Another reason why Wheeler should start in Las Vegas is the current make-up of the rotation departing PSL for Monday’s opener. Without Johan Santana, Shaun Marcum is the only veteran in a young rotation. Young pitchers will have growing pains, and there will be times when Harvey will go through some rough patches this season. I’d rather Harvey go through those tough times on his own first, instead of watching them both go through it at the same time, when they make up 40% of the Big League rotation.
The Mets aren’t projected to be playing for much this season, which would be an argument to bring Wheeler up now and let him learn while in the Big Leagues. However, he and Harvey are projected to be the anchors of the pitching staff for quite some time; when they get that call to head to the Majors, I want that to be the last time they have to pick up that kind of phone call. So, I don’t mind Wheeler spending a little extra time in the minors if that means he’ll be in Flushing for good once he gets there.
That approach has seemingly worked with Harvey, and I don’t see why it won’t have the same result for Wheeler. It’s clear to see that Sandy Alderson wants this to end up being everything that the Generation K crew of Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson weren’t. Here’s to hoping we see Wheeler sometime this summer, and once he arrives, he’s there to stay.