NEW YORK -- When it comes to Minor League development, patience truly is a virtue. It's one thing to throw your top prospect into the fire at the Major League level, it's another to do so when that prospect isn't ready.
Enter Zack Wheeler, the No. 1 rated prospect in the Mets' farm system. A sluggish second half prompted the Mets to bring up right-hander Matt Harvey in July -- the team's No. 2 prospect -- which almost immediately beckoned the question: How long until fellow righty Wheeler joins him in the Mets' clubhouse?
Harvey's July callup was earlier than initially anticipated, but his midseason arrival -- and ensuing success -- laid out a game plan for how the Mets will approach Wheeler in 2013. As it stands, Wheeler will almost assuredly open the season with Triple-A Buffalo before following Harvey's footsteps and joining the Mets midway through the season.
"Each one is an individual case," said Mets vice president of player development and amateur scouting Paul DePodesta. "We try to build each guy up to a point where hopefully they can get to that 200, 200-plus [innings] level, but it takes a few years. But he's getting a lot closer to that now; he had a pretty full year this year. I don't envision a whole lot of limitations on him next year."
Wheeler finished a combined 12-8 in 25 starts between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, posting a 3.26 ERA and striking out 148 over 149 innings. He was honored at Citi Field on Saturday as the Sterling Most Valuable Player for Binghamton.
Harvey, who is set to be shut down following his two remaining starts, is under a 165-170 innings limit this season after he threw 135 2/3 innings in his final full season in the Minors last year. At 149 innings, Wheeler is a step ahead, but it won't necessarily prompt an earlier callup come next season.
"It's all a matter of when we think he's going to be ready," DePodesta said. "With Matt, when we started this year, our hope was that at some point throughout the course of the year he will be ready, and he proved to us that he was."
Wheeler said he will give it his all in Spring Training next season, but admitted that winning a slot in the starting rotation will likely be a long shot. General manager Sandy Alderson said earlier this year that it is unlikely Wheeler will open next season with the Mets.
"I've still got some work to do," Wheeler said about being Major League ready. "I've got to work on the mental part a little bit more. I feel good after 150 innings, but I think I have some more work to do.
"It's what you work hard for during the offseason, so that you can last 150 innings. I felt good, my fuel was still there in the sixth and seventh inning at the end of the year, so I'm happy about that."
Mejia likely to get a start; no plans yet for Familia
NEW YORK -- With Matt Harvey due to be shut down following his two remaining starts, the Mets are planning who will take his slot in the team's six-man rotation.
Manager Terry Collins said ideally both Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia would get at least one start, though admitted there was likely not enough time. If Harvey's last start comes on regular rest, he will make his final start on Sept. 19 against the Phillies, leaving two openings in the rotation before season's end.
However, that may change -- Collins said that as of Saturday, Mejia could make that Sept. 19 start, with Harvey pitching on a different day. He has yet to plan a start for Familia, the Mets' No. 3 overall prospect.
"Familia is less likely to get one, but we are going to try and get him one," Collins said. "I have one in my schedule, but [pitching coach] Dan [Warthen] doesn't, so we'll see how it goes. There will be a conversation deciding what will work out best, but it will come in basically that last week."
Collins said another option would be to integrate a piggyback system, allowing two starters to pitch on the same day. He said it's possible that Mejia could pitch five innings in his first start, followed by four innings from Familia, but added Familia may be assigned to piggyback with Chris Young later this month.
Mets honor top Minors players with Sterling Awards
NEW YORK -- The Mets' 2012 Sterling Award winners were on hand Saturday at Citi Field for a pregame ceremony before New York's game against Atlanta.
New York welcomed Sterling Minor League Organizational Player of the Year, Wilmer Flores, Sterling Pitcher of the Year, Rafael Montero, and the 2012 Most Valuable Players from each of the team's eight Minor League affiliates.
Flores, the Mets' No. 4 overall prospect, combined to hit .300 with 75 RBIs in 130 games between Class A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. Flores was named a Florida State League Mid-Season All-Star, and he represented the Mets at the 2012 All-Star Futures Game in Kansas City.
Flores rotated between second and third base throughout the season, though admitted that he preferred to play third. But with David Wright occupying that slot at the Major League level, he said the focus is on improving at both positions.
"For me, it doesn't matter where I'm going to play, either second or third," Flores said. "I just want to play. I want to play in the big leagues, and hopefully next year, I'll be able to play a little bit of both."
Montero, the Mets' No. 10 overall prospect, combined to win 11 games between St. Lucie and Class A Savannah, amassing 110 strikeouts over 122 innings. Montero walked just 19 batters in 2012, and he was named Florida State League Player of the Week on Aug. 13 after he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning. He finished the season with a 2.36 ERA.
Andres Torres was out of the starting lineup on Saturday after injuring his left knee and leaving Friday's game in the second inning. Collins said that Torres could play, but he opted to give him a day off to recover. He is listed as day to day.
DePodesta said that all starting pitchers in the Mets' farm system are under a similar innings-limit structure, building from 90 innings the first year, 120 the next, 150 the third and 175-180 the fourth and final year.
"It's just a matter of when each of them are individually ready, and we're going to try not to rush them," DePodesta said. "We want them to rush our decision, sort of force our hand to the point where they just aren't going to get anything out of Triple-A anymore. But it's up to each one of those guys individually to make that happen."
Adam Rosenbloom is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.