Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When the Giants Come to Town: #3 Zach Wheeler

Down on the Farm: 2010 Giants Top 50 Prospect Review- #3 Zack Wheeler

#3 Zack Wheeler. Low A 3-3, 3.99, 58.2 IP, 38 BB, 70 K's, GO/AO= 2.61.

As OGC has pointed out, players drafted in the top 10 of the first round have a much greater chance of becoming star, or impact, players than players drafted later. Actually, the odds are even better for a top 5 pick. The chances of success drop off exponentially from about pick 5 on. Unless you are the Yankees, pretty much all teams go through up and down cycles and a lot of that has to do with the draft. Teams doing well draft later and their farm systems tend to fade in the ensuing years. When a team hits a down cycle and gets a high pick or two, it is imperative that they make the most of it. Even top 5 picks are not slam dunks to become stars.

The Giants went through one of these down cycles starting in 2005 and the "reward" was a series of top 10 picks starting in 2006. Fortunately for us Giants fans, the Giants have been historically successful during this run. Tim Lincecum! Madison Bumgarner! Buster Posey! Zack Wheeler was the last of these top 10 picks taken 6'th overall in the 2009 draft. Zack Wheeler has a lot to live up to! Naturally, Giants fans might have gotten the idea that first round draft picks just waltz into the majors within 2 years of being drafted, which might be why not a few Giants fans seem to think that Wheeler's first professional season was a disappointment and his stock is down.

Wheeler's 2010 season for Low A Augusta started out with some extreme wildness in his first game. He continued to walk more batters than you'd like to see, but he really settled down quickly and then got progressively stronger as the year went along, interrupted by about a 6 week layoff for a torn fingernail. Let's take a closer look at the numbers:

K/9=10.71. This is an excellent number and indicative of superior stuff.

GO/AO= 2.61. Also an excellent number. It's not all that unusual for a young pitcher to get a lot of K's or for a young pitcher to get a lot of ground ball outs. What is unusual is for a young pitcher to do both! Remember "King Felix" Hernandez? What got everybody so excited was his ability to get both K's and GB's, a rare, deadly combination.

ERA Splits: April- 6.23. May- 3.95. July- 2.70. August- 2.66. Notice the improvement each month! I put a lot of stock in Prospects showing improvement as a season progresses. The difference between improvement over the course of the season and starting out hot with later regression cannot be overstated.

When ranking prospects, one has to consider both eventual ceiling and proximity to the majors. Obviously, a player closer to the majors is more likely reach his ceiling, whatever that ceiling is, than a player in the lower minors. I tend to weigh eventual ceiling more heavily than proximity to the majors. That creates a dilemma when comparing players like Brandon Belt and Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was the highest ranking prospect in the Giants system last year who has not graduated to the majors. Despite the early wildness and the injury, Wheeler did nothing to diminish his eventual ceiling as a prospect. The injury was not to his arm, and if anything his secondary stats suggest that his ceiling may be even higher than we thought when he was drafted. The question then, really, is not whether Wheeler stock has decreased, but whether Belt's stock rose so much that he surpassed Wheeler. I still think that Wheeler has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the Giants system, but Belt's ceiling is pretty sweet too, and Belt could be in the majors as soon at 2011 while Wheeler obviously has a way to go, leaving him open to injuries or regression. In my mind, it's a close call. Stay tuned!

How would you rank Zack Wheeler in relation to Brandon Belt?

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