If things go as have been planned, the Las Vegas 51’s have seen the last of right hander Zack Wheeler. His next start will come as a member of the New York Mets.
Wheeler was tremendous across 5.2 innings of work at Cashman Field on Thursday night, allowing a single hit (which just so happened to leave the yard) and a pair of walks while striking out seven, but taking the loss in an eventual 11-0 decision to the Tacoma Rainiers. On a night where the wind was blowing straight out to center and making a hitter’s paradise that much more inviting, Wheeler’s only blemish was a solo home run by Carlos Peguero; though his effort was out-shined by that of Rainier’s starter Erasmo Ramirez, who scattered five singles across eight scoreless frames.
Wheeler’s expected promotion will surely come as a welcome change for the highly-touted right hander. The pitching-friendly atmosphere at Citi Field will be a stark contrast from the arid conditions in Las Vegas and should help to correct the home run problems Wheeler has faced, especially at home, this season. Seven of the nine long balls he has surrendered this season have come at Cashman Field, contributing mightily to an opponent’s slugging percentage of .458 during games in Las Vegas. He has held opponents to a .348 slugging percentage in his seven road starts.
The San Francisco Giants made Wheeler the sixth overall selection of the 2009 draft, but traded him away to the Mets to obtain two months of Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline in 2011. The trade was widely panned at the time and Wheeler had yet to make it beyond the Florida State League. Now that he’s on the cusp of joining Matt Harvey in the New York rotation, that deal looks even worse.
Of course, there is no promise that Wheeler will go to the big leagues and have the same kind of success he’s had throughout his minor league career, but he’s certainly going to the right park in the right league to boost his chances. Wheeler is a volume strikeout pitcher who has maintained an elite strikeout rate while improving his command and lowering his walk rate as he has matured. It’s a difficult thing to pitch in an atmosphere like that in Las Vegas, where routine fly balls sail over the fence with regularity. Ultimately, it’s an experience that will make him more mentally prepared for the grind of facing a major league lineup every fifth day.