Wheeler sees opportunity with Mets
Club to allow prospect in Beltran deal to progress naturally
CINCINNATI -- It was early afternoon when the Mets and Giants agreed to terms on a trade for Carlos Beltran, but still morning when news began breaking on the West Coast. And so Zack Wheeler was just rising from bed Wednesday when he began reading rampant speculation that his teammate for the Class A San Jose Giants, Gary Brown, had been traded to the Mets. The two exchanged anxious texts.
"Fifteen minutes later, they said I was traded," Wheeler said. "It happens just like that."
First, shock hit Wheeler, then disappointment -- the Giants, after all, were the only organization he had ever known. Then Wheeler began considering the deal for Beltran and its ramifications. He realized that San Francisco's rotation seems set for years, with Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner et al. And he realized that the Mets have clearly begun proceeding with an eye toward the future.
"That's why I'm kind of pumped about going to the Mets right now," Wheeler said. "There's a lot of opportunity, and I just want to take that opportunity and go with it.
"Of course I was a little down about it at first, but I think it will work out for the best for me. I'm happy to see what's going to happen."
By Wednesday evening, before he even received official word of the trade from the Giants or the Mets, Wheeler began packing. He will soon report to Class A St. Lucie, the Mets' equivalent of the San Jose team for which he had been pitching. And from there, he could eventually advance to Double-A Binghamton, where Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia have already begun giving the Mets a peek at their future rotation.
Because Wheeler, 21, was drafted out of high school just two years ago, the Mets will be careful not to rush him. But it is entirely feasible that Wheeler could receive a September callup next season, arriving in the big leagues for good at some point in 2013.
"I certainly don't want to put any pressure on him to have to arrive here as some sort of savior," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We're pretty happy with the pitching staff we have right now, the starting rotation. We're not deep, but we're happy with the guys we have, and I think we'll have plenty of time to let Zack develop at his own pace."
Striking out 98 batters in 88 innings with a 3.99 ERA at San Jose this season, Wheeler's pace has nonetheless been rapid. Lauded for his heavy fastball, Wheeler has spent much of this summer working on consistency with his offspeed command. Once relying heavily on what he calls a "slurve," he has since refined his overhand curveball and cutter.
Scouts salivate over his abilities, and of course Wheeler is aware of that. But he never imagined that, at 21 years old, he would become the centerpiece of a trade for Beltran.
"It's eye-opening for me," Wheeler said. "He's a multi-time All-Star, and they want me, a little Minor Leaguer. It's an honor."
Still, Wheeler has much to learn. He knows little of the Mets, save for a Dwight Gooden jersey that his brother, Adam Wheeler, had signed for him during his days as a Yankees farmhand. He has heard of Harvey, but has never crossed paths or spoken with him. He is learning about the organization's current situation.
"It's cool to look forward to," Wheeler said of the team's burgeoning farm system. "You watched it here with the Giants. They developed all those young pitchers and brought them up, and look at how successful they are now. That would be cool if we could do the same thing for the Mets."
If nothing else, Wheeler's new team is attempting to execute a similar plan -- with him at its core. Speaking in a telephone interview Wednesday morning, Wheeler was in the process of considering that prospect when he excused himself to take another call.
"It was the Mets," he said after clicking back from the other line.
He paused. "That was pretty cool."