NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Mets top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler took the mound at Port St. Lucie on Wednesday, delivering 30 pitches in live batting practice to Marlon Byrd, Justin Turner and John Buck.
And the Mets couldn’t help but rave about the ace up the 22-year-old right-hander’s sleeve.
“It’s not just him looking like a big leaguer, it’s him looking like a No. 1,” said Byrd, according to the New York Post.
The veteran outfielder described Wheeler’s stuff as “a blinky,” meaning “you see it, lose it and then see it at the last second, which makes his fastball, his slider, even tougher to hit.”
Byrd also threw the name of Detroit ace Justin Verlander out there, according to the Post. Turner said the baseball “looks like a little aspirin” coming out of Wheeler’s hand, and compared him to a certain young starter in Washington.
“That’s the first time I’ve seen him throw in person, and he’s got some late life on his fastball,” said Turner. “It kind of jumps on you, and we’re talking the late explosion that (Stephen) Strasburg has on his fastball. I was impressed.”
Wheeler, the centerpiece of the 2011 trade that sent Carlos Beltran to San Francisco, is expected to start the season at Triple-A. But it’s only a matter of time before the young gun joins the likes of Johan Santana, Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey on New York’s staff.
“You’ve got to go in prepared, and that’s what I trained for this offseason,” Wheeler said. “I’m looking to go in there and compete and make some decisions hard.”
Wheeler combined to go 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA at Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo in 2012. He had 148 strikeouts in 149 innings.
Mets manager Terry Collins came away impressed on Wednesday, saying the prospect “wasn’t intimidated at all” despite facing big-league hitters and working in front of a curious crowd behind the batting cage.
“He’s the real deal,” said Collins. “And it tells me there’s a tremendous light at the end of the tunnel here.”
When’s the last time you were this excited about a prospect? Mets fans, sound off in the comments!