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Mets Super Prospect Zack Wheeler Working On New Pitches, Hasn't Let Recent Struggles Bother Him

Mets prospect Zack Wheeler during a Double-A start. (Matt Straub)
  By Matt Straub  
NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - Zack Wheeler’s game has come back to Earth enough over the last month to indicate he might not be quite ready to make his major league debut just yet. While his pitching is still being refined, however, Wheeler has shown he’s ready for the bright lights of the New York market by the way he has handled himself off the field this season. The definition of a big fish in a small pond, the prized Mets prospect is the most popular man in the building in just about every Double-A park he enters.

That was evident again Tuesday night when Wheeler met with the media before the Binghamton Mets took on the New Britain Rock Cats in New Britain, Conn. Wheeler, who is set to pitch Wednesday afternoon in New Britain, was pulled toward a gaggle of media next to the third base dugout while his teammates returned to the dugout after their pregame work.

Wheeler said the extra attention is just “part of baseball,” and seemed more concerned with the sun being in his eyes than with the flock of reporters around him.

The ups and downs of a long season are another part of baseball, and they are also something that Wheeler is comfortable with. Despite struggling in three of his last five starts heading into Wednesday’s turn, Wheeler has a 2.99 ERA and a 9-5 record with the B-Mets.

The numbers are especially impressive considering Wheeler is not only pitching at a higher level than ever before but is working on a new pitching philosophy.

Wheeler is working offspeed pitches into his repertoire at a much higher rate than ever before, and the change is taking some time to get used to. He’s at a level now where a pitcher can’t just blow the ball by everyone, though Wheeler did get to 98 at the Futures Game in Kansas City this month.

He calls his curveball a get-me-over pitch, but his slider is becoming a serious weapon. Once he gets a handle on working counts with a variety of pitches, Wheeler will be even harder to hit.

The only question is where that will be. Wheeler was rocked in Bowie in his last time out for eight runs in less than four innings and has surrendered 20 runs in his last 33 2/3 innings, which might delay the recent talk that he is heading up to Triple-A soon. With a great body of work to his credit, however, the Mets might not worry about a bad month and think of the bigger picture. With the team fading in 2012, it might be time to start working the young arms the team has up the ladder in preparation for 2013 or 2014. With guys like Wheeler and Matt Harvey (who's starting Thursday against the Diamondbacks) in the pipeline, the future seems bright in New York.

Wherever Wheeler ends up as this season winds down, don’t expect the pressure to bother him. His development on the mound might not be complete, but his development as a person is happening rapidly. Being the big fish in all these little ponds has not bothered Zack Wheeler one bit, so a little slump certainly won’t.

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