Mets prized right-handed pitching prospect Zack Wheeler has had some trouble early this season. Wheeler is currently pitching at Triple-A Las Vegas and it’s a bit of a concern to see the Mets prospect struggle at the level that supposed to get him ready for the Majors. However, just because he’s had a bad start to the season doesn’t mean he’s going to be a bust.
Wheeler has been doing what he’s known for doing — getting strikeouts. He has posted a 10.80 K/9 this season. However, it’s Wheeler’s control that has been a concern, as he has a 4.80 BB/9. This isn’t exactly surprising high strikeout pitchers, who tend to have higher walk rates because they’re trying to get hitters to chase outside the zone. There are a number of potential reasons why Wheeler is having trouble with walks. One reason could be his below-average LOB percentage of 66.2%, indicating that maybe he has some anxiety when guys get on base and then starts giving up walks.
Another factor could be the environment. The Triple-A team is located in Las Vegas, an area that is usually hot and humid. This can make the ball travel farther, and affect the way a pitcher pitches. Often times, when a pitcher has an away game in a high-altitude stadium like Coors Field, which is a drastically different environment from what he’s used to pitching in, he struggles. When Yu Darvish came over from Japan, he struggled in the first couple of months with his command. This was probably due to the change of pitching in a dome like he was in Japan, to pitching outside in stadiums. However, he took some time to adjust, and by the end of the year he was punishing hitters. This year he’s considered an early Cy Young front runner.
It’s going to take some patience, however it’s likely that Wheeler will adjust to the climate, and learn how to command his pitches. It’s important to remember that it’s early and we’re dealing with a very small sample size of about 30 innings, so there’s ample time for adjustment. It looks as though Wheeler may have harnessed some control, as in his start this past week he pitched 6.2 innings, and only allowed one walk. Mets fans shouldn’t worry about Wheeler, and we should keep in mind the case of fellow young pitcher Shelby Miller. Miller, who struggled at Triple-A last year with a 4.48 FIP, is now a potential Rookie of The Year contender.