In infancy of career, Wheeler armed for the long haul
Among Mets rookie's assets are mound presence, game management, vast repertoire
New York Mets pitcher Zack Wheeler has made 10 starts in the Major Leagues. Most recently, he faced the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Wheeler showed the type of mound presence that I first observed in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City. In that outing, he retired both batters he faced.
Wheeler's game management is among his finest qualities. Having just turned 23 in late May, he handles the pressures of pitching to big league hitters with advanced composure and confidence. Wheeler just doesn't get rattled very easily, if at all.
Although he is two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier at 6-foot-4, 185 pounds, Wheeler reminds me a great deal of Zack Greinke on the mound. He has similar mannerisms and carries himself with a no-nonsense approach like Greinke.
Wheeler's vast repertoire is among his greatest assets. He throws several pitches with good command and control.
Against the D-backs, Wheeler relied heavily upon his four-seam fastball and kept hitters off-balance. He threw the pitch consistently for strikes, touching 95 mph with little to no effort, while sitting at 94.
It was Wheeler's use of the entire strike zone, changing the eye levels of the hitters, that carried the day. His control was outstanding, as he didn't issue a walk. Wheeler threw 106 pitches, 68 for strikes, in 6 1/3 innings, striking out four.
It wasn't only Wheeler's fastball that challenged the D-backs' hitters. He also threw a sinker with a tad less velocity than the four-seamer, a slider at 88 mph and a curveball that varied in velocity from 77-80 mph. I didn't see the changeup that night, but it's possible Wheeler threw a few into the mix.
Although he has a high-velocity fastball, Wheeler isn't purely a strikeout pitcher. He doesn't miss lots of bats, but hitters are unable to consistently get the barrel of the bat on the ball. That's because Wheeler's fastball explodes at the hitter.
The late movement on Wheeler's pitches causes late reaction, usually resulting in hitters beating the ball into the ground or hitting a weak popup. It is the explosion on his pitches that causes lots of foul balls, increasing his pitch count.
Wheeler has a knack of pitching ahead in counts. In so doing, he dictates his pitch sequences and he controls the at-bat, not the hitter. In some cases, Wheeler elevates the fastball, getting hitters to chase a pitch that looks hittable, but really isn't.
For Mets management and the team's fans, it is important to note that as good as Wheeler is now, he isn't a finished product.
Wheeler has a very solid 3.63 ERA with a respectable 1.386 WHIP in 57 innings. His changeup is probably not fully developed as an alternative offspeed pitch to complement his fastballs. Once that pitch receives a more prominent place in his repertoire, Wheeler will be even tougher to hit.
My second look at Wheeler showed a maturing, confident young starting pitcher who will be joining Matt Harvey as a potential top-of-the-rotation tandem for years to come.
Mets fans can look forward to Wheeler consistently keeping his team in the game and giving them a chance to win. When it's all said and done, that's what really matters most.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.