A couple of years ago the Mets had two brilliant pitching prospects: Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey. Wheeler was thought to be the one with the higher ceiling as he had a more polished repertoire than Harvey. People were wrong. In fact, last year, Matt Harvey proved just how wrong they were when he pitched his way into the elite class of pitchers. Wheeler made his debut last year, and during those innings looked pretty green. In his first start, he was tipping his pitches and struggling with his command. Wheeler may have not been as polished as the hype indicated he should have been.
However, a lot can change in 10 months, and Wheeler’s start last week proved that he has definitely made strides towards becoming a pitcher rather than a thrower. His start was not pretty by any means; he allowed three runs and gave up seven hits. The good news is that he struck out six batters and only walked one.
There was nothing Harvey-esque about that start, but the fact that Wheeler was able to walk a only one batter and record a decent number of strikeouts is a good sign. More important, video replay shows a noticeable difference between his debut and his start last week.
During his debut, Wheeler was relying on velocity to get hitters out. Wheeler’s locations were definitely risky, however he was able to get away with it because he was pumping 97 MPH on the gun. It also helped that no one had faced him before, and therefore he had a slight advantage. Last week, the velocity on his fastball was down to around 94-95 MPH. Granted, this was his first start of the season, so his velocity is not supposed to be at its peak.
Despite the decline in velocity, Wheeler’s control looked much better. He was hitting his spots, and striking guys out even on fastballs with lower velocities. Wheeler was also mixing his pitches well, relying a little bit less on the powerful four-seam fastball, and getting some swinging strikeouts with his changeup and slider. This doesn’t mean that Wheeler’s fastball has mellowed; he still flashed the explosive fastball that made him a top-tier prospect. However, Wheeler definitely has made improvements in learning how to hit his spots and mix his pitches.
Some may have seen Wheeler’s debut as a disappointment in comparison to the way that Harvey bursted onto the scene. However, when you look back at the way that Wheeler was pitching in his first major-league start, in comparison to the way he threw last week, you can see development. Not everyone can come up from the minors, and all of a sudden be an ace. If Wheeler is going to develop into an ace, it’s going to take time. Wheeler has shown that he is improving, and that number-two starter or ace potential just might be achieved in the coming years, but for now Wheeler is still learning.