It was the middle of the summer in 2011 which meant the MLB trade deadline was fast approaching. A rebuilding New York Mets team and a win-now San Francisco Giants team were working the phones for weeks at that point. Finally, they got each other on the line. The topic of conversation, Carlos Beltran. At that point in his career, Beltran was a 34-year old switch hitting outfielder who’s best days were behind him. However, he was still a productive hitter at the plate, a serviceable outfielder and a great guy to have in the clubhouse. All great things to have on a team that was trying to win a championship right away. The Mets were not in a position to do so. The Mets were entering a rebuild. Tearing down the castle built by Omar Minaya whose reign was filled with big contracts and a couple young players who developed into stars, i.e. David Wright and Jose Reyes. The Mets were looking to get a little younger and add some young pitching prospects to their farm system. Lucky for them, the Giants had one of the best young pitching prospects in the game, Zack Wheeler.
July 28, 2011. The New York Mets and San Francisco Giants closed a deal that sent Zack Wheeler to New York and the highly coveted Carlos Beltran to San Francisco. While the Giants were holding out hope that Beltran could replace the production that they were missing due to the injury to their star catcher, Buster Posey, the Mets were hoping to stock their farm system with young pitchers. Less than one year before that trade was made, the Mets drafted a 21-year old right hander from the University of North Carolina. That 21-year old right hander was Matt Harvey. The jury was still out on Harvey at this point while Wheeler seemed like a surefire front of the rotation starter.
As time went by, both Wheeler and Harvey went through the motions in the minors and mastered their craft while waiting for the call to join the big league club. These two young studs were considered the future of the New York Mets organization and they didn’t even know it yet. They were starting a revolution. Prior to the 2012 season, Zack Wheeler was considered the Mets top prospect and the no. 21 ranked prospect in professional baseball. He pitched most of the 2012 season for the Double-A Binghamton Mets before being called up to the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. While Wheeler dominated in the minors, Matt Harvey was getting ready for his major league debut. The New York Mets called up Matt Harvey to make his debut on July 26, 2012. Less than one full year removed from the Zack Wheeler trade. With Harvey now with the Major League club and pitching well, fans were getting excited for the arrival of the prized prospect, Zack Wheeler. Fans of the Mets and personnel within the organization couldn’t help but feel optimistic knowing that Wheeler, who was considered to be the better one of the two young arms, was waiting in the shadows for the call to join the Major League club.
June 18, 2013. Zack Wheeler made his Major League debut in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia pitching the night game of a day-night doubleheader. Three years in the making and now they were finally here. The dynamic duo of Wheeler and Harvey. Being asked to do what seemed to be impossible, help the New York Mets do a complete 180 and thrust them back into contention in the National League.
Now, what’s the point of all this information you ask? Long before the days of “The DeGrominator” and “Thor,” it was Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler who were considered to be the top of the rotation guys. Now, as the Mets have acquired more of those young pitching prospects that they have coveted ever since Sandy Alderson took over as GM in 2010, it seems as though one of those young arms has been forgotten. Zack Wheeler didn’t get the chance to pitch in the 2015 season when the Mets made their miraculous run to the World Series. Wheeler was recovering from Tommy John surgery. Something that seems to be a right of passage for all the great young arms today and something that his partner in crime, Harvey, had done just one year earlier. Now in early 2016, there is little talk about the impending return of Zack Wheeler. Once the prized prospect of the entire Mets organization, Wheeler now seems to be somewhat of a forgotten man. Still just 25-years old, Wheeler has more than enough time to make a full recovery and reclaim the form he once had as a dominant young prospect. Basically what I’m trying to say is, the already star studded Mets pitching rotation is about to get even better. With a starting rotation made up of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob DeGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, we could potentially be looking at one of the greatest starting rotations in the history of Major League Baseball. When you put things in perspective, Wheeler was thought to be a front end of the rotation starter. A guy who is either your number one or number two pitcher. He’s in a situation now where even if he hits that ceiling, he might still be just the third or fourth best pitcher on his own team. Nobody could have foreseen the meteoric rise of Noah Syndergaard who’s nickname “Thor” could not be more appropriate with his god-like ability to throw lightning bolts at the mere mortals that face him. Jacob DeGrom has turned himself into a perennial Cy Young candidate and Matt Harvey, while he has struggled early this season, leaves us with little to no doubt that he will return to form as the Dark Knight of Gotham.
I can’t help but feel some sympathy toward Zack Wheeler. With all the talk of the Mets starting rotation, he is seemingly always left out of the conversation. Missing the 2015 season and run in the playoffs has left him isolated on his own island. Nearly being traded to Cincinnati at the trade deadline last year for power hitting outfielder Jay Bruce, just goes to show that Wheeler is seen as the expendable one within the organization. Wheeler called GM Sandy Alderson and requested that they not trade him because of his desire to be a part of something special. It seems that Zack feels like he has unfinished business. He wants the chance to fulfill all the promise that he once had within the organization. He doesn’t want to be ostracized and nor should he be. Let’s not forget that Wheeler and Harvey were the original aces of this staff before they were even aces. I for one, sincerely hope that Wheeler returns with a vengeance and reminds everyone of his 97 mph fastball that moves almost as much as a breaking ball. I hope he returns and shows everyone that devastating curveball that made him one of the best pitching prospects in baseball. I hope he returns better than ever and hones in on the command that seemed to allude him at times before the injury. Zack Wheeler returning to this rotation and picking up where he left off could elevate this starting staff to a legendary level. People forget just how good Wheeler was at the end of the 2014 season. Something seemed to click at that point and he finished that season 8-3 in his last 11 decisions. If that Zack Wheeler can come back and even elevate his game to the next level, the Mets could find themselves fighting for another National League pennant in 2016 and possibly a World Series title as well. With Wheeler set to return sometime around the All-Star break, only time will tell how this story will play out. All I can say is that as a Mets fan, I am not only rooting for Zack Wheeler the pitcher, but Zack Wheeler the person as well.
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