There once was a large amount of optimism surrounding Zack Wheeler in New York. Wheeler was the main return in a July 2011 trade in which the Mets sent Carlos Beltran to San Fransisco. The former sixth-overall pick was tagged as one of the main building blocks of a future rotation, and the general consensus around the game was that the Mets were getting a top-of-the-line starter. What has played out in the ensuing years has been nothing short of a nightmare for Wheeler.
It was not always bad, as Wheeler debuted midseason 2013 and enjoyed success to end the year, finishing with a 7-5 record and 3.42 ERA in 100 innings. The 2014 season did nothing to kill any hype, as Wheeler’s first full season resulted in an 11-11 record, 3.54 ERA, and 187 strikeouts in 185.2 innings. Then, the injuries came. Tommy John surgery took Wheeler’s 2015 season and limited him to just one minor-league inning in 2016. Entering 2017, Wheeler appeared to finally be healthy. This time, poor performance was the problem, as Wheeler struggled to a 3-7 record and 5.21 ERA in just 17 starts before a stress reaction in his right arm cost him the final two months of the season. Now, after a dismal 8.10 ERA in 10 spring training innings, Wheeler is ticketed to Triple-A Las Vegas, as Seth Lugo will assume the fifth rotation spot while Jason Vargas recovers from hand surgery.
Newly minted Mets manager Mickey Callaway spoke of the team’s desire to have Wheeler throw consistent innings, telling the New York Post’s Mike Puma that “it would be unfair for Zack to go into a bullpen role.” Simply put, Wheeler has work to do during his stint in Las Vegas, specifically with avoiding contact. Despite 14 strikeouts in 10 innings in spring training, Wheeler allowed 22 hits, culminating in a 2.40 WHIP.
Yet again, the Mets’ “Fab Five” of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, and Wheeler will not be together to start the season. In fact, the group has never all been in the rotation at the same time. While it remains unlikely, Wheeler still has a chance to return to the former high level of promise he held as a prospect. But as he opens his age-28 season in the minor leagues, one thing seems clear: it’s now or never.