Name: Tim Wheeler
Notable 2011 Stats: .287/.365/.535 with 28 2B, 6 3B, 33 HR, 142/59 K/BB, and 21-for-33 SB in 138 games with Tulsa (AA)
Why He’s This High: Wheeler’s power production in 2011 speaks for itself, as he cleared the fence 33 times in the most pitcher-friendly affiliate in the Rockies system (not that that’s saying much). He led the Texas League in homers, placed fourth in slugging, and had 38 more total bases than the next-highest hitter.
At the same time, Wheeler is a athletic center fielder whose defensive value makes his power production stand out even more. After all, there aren’t a whole lot of center fielders who could slug .500 or bash 30 home runs.
He turns 24 in January and obviously has solved Double-A, so Wheeler is nearing the major leagues and could well be a contributor at some point in 2012. He could be a very intriguing two-way player.
Why He’s This Low: Wheeler’s power comes with a lot of strikeouts, as he K’d 142 times in 2011, 22.3% of the time. That’s workable given his power production, but it could prevent him from hitting above .275. He does walk somewhat (9.3%), but it’s questionable if that’s due to his selectivity or his status as the top slugger in the circuit.
Wheeler’s 2011 came out of nowhere; after all, the year before, he’d hit just 12 homers and slugged just .382 in the hitter-friendly California League. There’s no way one can say that his 2011 was a fluke, but it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to sustain quite that grade of power production.
Wheeler is playable in center field, but it’s unlikely that he’ll become a well-above-average defender there, and it’s possible that he’ll fit best in right. It’s possible that he just ends up, then, as an average right fielder, with solid power and good defense but iffy contact. Soon to turn 24 and without even Triple-A experience, he doesn’t have huge potential to improve from where he is, so a lot of his value lies in how well he’ll be able to translate his current skill level to the majors.
Conclusions: Wheeler is nearly ready for the majors, and he could be a center fielder with bigtime power. His Double-A line is quite similar to Curtis Granderson‘s MLB performance in 2011, which was worth 7.0 WAR. If he ends up getting anywhere near that, obviously this ranking is underselling his potential value.
Still, though, Wheeler doesn’t have any elite skills beyond his power, and even his power has only really manifested for one year. He has some refinements to make to become more than an average starting MLB outfielder.
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