COMMENTARY | In his morning news report on May 6, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York gave us all something to think about while the New York Mets were busy traveling home to Citi Field. He mentioned the rainout this past weekend between the Mets and Atlanta Braves could provide the perfect time for Zack Wheeler to make his Major League debut.
The game will be made up during New York's trip to Atlanta during their June 17-20 series, which has just become a five-game set with their division rivals. Rubin said the Amazins will need one more starter for the doubleheader on June 18. While it was pure speculation, that could finally be the time for us to see Wheeler make landfall.
Following his second straight dominant performance for the Las Vegas 51s in Triple-A, Sandy Alderson once again stood his ground. The general manager said the conversation of promoting their top prospect won't even begin until he has a string of productive starts. He's well on his way after correcting a mechanical flaw in his motion and erased his less than stellar start with strong appearances against Reno and Sacramento.
Through his first four starts in 2013, Wheeler wasn't able to last longer than 5.1 innings pitched. He also struggled with his command, averaging 3.75 walks per game, but was still striking out hitters at a high frequency (28 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched). With his highest K/9IP rate since Class-A (10.0), it was only a matter of time before the Georgia native found his control for the 51s.
Once that adjustment was made, the right-hander has compiled two straight wins, tallying 12.2 innings pitched, and making it through the sixth inning both times. He's allowed only one run on eight hits and two walks, while striking out 12 batters. Now that he's performing well again and the Mets' Big League rotation has been inconsistent (outside of Matt Harvey), the call to promote Wheeler has become stronger.
I agree with Rubin that the Mets should debut their prized pitching possession next month in Atlanta. With the need for an extra pitcher, it would allow Wheeler and the rest of the rotation to stay on their normal schedule, and he'd be able to get his feet wet with an MLB debut outside of Citi Field. Plus, wouldn't it be a great story for him to face Justin Upton, following a winter full of trade rumors surrounding each of them?
While it doesn't get enough credit, it was a great move by the Mets last season to allow Matt Harvey to debut on the road. It allowed him to focus on pitching, and not deal with as many questions and reporters as he would have if his first start came in New York. Not only would this series in Atlanta allow Wheeler to follow the same path as his future rotation mate, but he would be able to do it practically in his hometown. Dallas, Georgia, where Wheeler grew up, is approximately 45 minutes west of Turner Field.
Facing the Braves next month would help him to get acclimated to life in the Big Leagues on the road before getting bombarded by the New York media. Recalling him from Triple-A at that time would likely prevent him from being qualified for the Super-Two cutoff, helping the Mets avoid an extra year of arbitration, in addition to the extra year of team control they've already secured.
In all honesty, everyone knew Zack Wheeler would be in the majors with the Mets in 2013, the only true question was when. The above financial reasons make a lot of sense, but I wanted to see Wheeler be consistent with his control, which he didn't do when he got promoted to Triple-A at the end of 2012. Scouts have said he's ready for the spotlight, but there is nothing wrong with putting some extra seasoning on a top prospect to ensure he's ready to shoulder the load of great expectations. If the Mets were expected to be a playoff team this season, this would be a different conversation, but there is no rush to promote him.
I'm excited to see what he can do, and content that Alderson and the front office are sticking to their plan about having absolute certainty that Wheeler is ready for the next step. When he gets called, I want him to stay in the major league rotation for the rest of the season and beyond, not get sent back down two or three starts later because he's not ready. The approach the Mets are taking is ensuring just that. If Wheeler continues to handle the Pacific Coast League the way he has in his last two starts, there will be no choice for New York but to promote the right-hander when they need another arm on the mound next month in Atlanta.
Matt Musico's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Rising Apple. He also provides his analysis and opinion on the rest of Major League Baseball at his personal blog, On The Way Home.
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