The New York Mets proceeded slowly with Zack Wheeler's rehabilitation from a strained right oblique muscle because, in manager Terry Collins' words, Wheeler wasn't "going to make the team anyway." Thus, it was little surprise when the team included Wheeler among its initial group of cuts from big-league camp.
New York's top pitching prospect, Wheeler appeared in only one game all spring thanks to the oblique strain he suffered taking batting practice late in February. The injury prevented him from continuing to impress team officials, who consider him at least the equal of last year's pitching phenom, Matt Harvey.
But even had Wheeler been healthy, he would not have broken camp with the big-league club. The Mets want Wheeler to receive a bit more seasoning at Triple-A Las Vegas, a move that also will prevent his arbitration clock from starting to tick. If Wheeler spends the first few months of this season in the minors, the Mets will owe him less money over the course of his career. They also could keep him under control for an extra season.
Wheeler understands his situation, even if he wanted to stick around big-league camp a bit longer.
"I'm not happy," he said after the Mets announced their first round of cuts. "I had the injury, and that set me back a little bit. I only got out there one time. That's the one thing I'm mad about. I wanted to go out there and prove myself."
Wheeler did precisely that last year in the minors, going 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA over 25 starts split between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo. Some scouts consider him even more talented than Harvey, who thrived during his major league debut last July and will open this season in the New York rotation.
The Mets envision both young pitchers anchoring their rotation for the better part of the decade.