RHP Zack Wheeler, the Mets top prospect made his fourth start for AAA Buffalo in the teams' 4-2 loss to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees on Tuesday. Wheeler did not allow a hit until Eduardo Nunez fisted a single over the right side of the infield in the fourth inning. His line: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K. He threw 58% of his pitches (47 of 80) for strikes. Even though his pitch count was not particularly high, I thought he tired in the fifth and sixth innings (when he allowed three runs); his location was not as crisp.
Early in the game, he was doing a nice job keeping his fastball, which was mid-90s, down. He mixed in a solid changeup on his second pitch of the game, in a spot on the edge, to get a swing and miss. He went back to the pitch regularly enough to get weak contact and some groundballs with it early, but he relied really heavily on the gas. The slider was there, but not as dominating an offering as he has had at other times. Kosuke Fukudome lined his final pitch of the afternoon, a big loopy curveball, into leftfield. ?"I was throwing a lot of fastballs," he said after the game, "I felt confident with it today, down in the zone, in and out."
Bottom line: he's a great pitching prospect, but he's not big league ready as a starter, just at Matt Harvey was not big league ready in April, 2012. He must improve his command, and become more comfortable throwing his off-speed stuff early in counts and for strikes rather just as chase pitches late in counts. Wheeler's 1.9 K/BB ratio (19 K/10 BB) in 21 innings in AAA, indicate clearly that he must continue to refine his location. Wheeler threw 116 innings last year and is now sitting at 137 innings for the year. With two more starts in AAA, he should come near 150 innings.At that point, right after Labor Day, the Mets could call him up to the big leagues, or shut him down. He will need to be added to the team's 40-man roster over the winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.