Giants take focused pitcher in Draft
Tough-minded Wheeler hopes to advance quickly
Zack Wheeler possesses the attributes you would expect from a first-round Draft choice: a fastball that can exceed 95 mph, a curveball that's projected to be an above-average pitch and statistics that appear to be the stuff of fantasy.Yet while all that prompted the Giants to make Wheeler their No. 1 selection (sixth overall) Tuesday in the First-Year Player Draft, the 19-year-old right-hander said that he considers his "strong mental state" as one of his primary attributes.
"If there are a couple of errors or a run scored, I try to pitch right through it and give my team a chance to win," said Wheeler, a graduate of East Paulding High School in Dallas, Ga.Wheeler became the second high school pitcher in the last three years -- left-hander Madison Bumgarner (2007), now a top prospect, was the other -- to be taken by the Giants in the first round. The last prep right-hander San Francisco drafted No. 1 was Matt Cain in 2002, who's a mainstay of the club's starting rotation. Cain spent all or part of four seasons in the Minor Leagues before ascending to the Majors, which is probably a realistic timetable for Wheeler before he joins the Giants rotation. Naturally, Wheeler would like to accelerate matters. "Hopefully it'll be pretty short, like two years," Wheeler said of the time he'll need to steep in the Minors. "Maybe even a little bit quicker. Who knows?" In fact, Giants scouting director John Barr preferred not to set any limits on Wheeler.
"Everybody's on their own schedule," Barr said, declining to liken Wheeler to anyone, since such comparisons often are unfair. Citing three of the most glittering pitching prospects to come through the organization recently, Barr added, "You don't want to say he's going to be a [Tim] Lincecum, Bumgarner or [Tim] Alderson."Wheeler's high school performance compares favorably with anyone's. In 13 games this season, he finished 9-0 with a 0.54 ERA. He struck out 151 and walked only 20 in 77 2/3 innings. He allowed 31 hits as opponents batted .118 against him. Named 2009 Gatorade High School Player of the Year for Georgia, Wheeler compiled a 95-36 record in four varsity seasons. Wheeler struck out 10 or more batters in eight starts, including one witnessed by Giants general manager Brian Sabean. The Giants were linked to several different high school and college stars in pre-Draft rumors, including left-hander Tyler Matzek from Capistrano Valley (Calif.) High School.
But Barr indicated that signability was an issue with a few prospects.
"Some guys we were nervous about," he said. Wheeler obviously wasn't one of them."I think the kid wants to play," Barr said. Wheeler proved that by skipping basketball during his senior year to focus on conditioning for baseball. He noted that he used the same personal trainer employed by Baltimore's Nick Markakis. Listed as weighing 170 in some Internet reports, both the Giants and Wheeler insisted that he carries 185 pounds on his 6-foot-4 1/2 frame. "He's got room to put on more weight, more size, more strength," Barr said. Wheeler also absorbed numerous lessons from his older brother, Adam, who played four years in the New York Yankees organization. Zack said that Adam's advice ranged from the mundane, such as living conditions, to more substantive topics, such as maintaining a solid mental approach. That might explain why although Wheeler admires the competitive fire of the Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano, whom he has cited as his favorite pitcher, he resists copying the right-hander's on-field histrionics. "I don't have his temperament," Wheeler said. "I'm cool and calm." The Giants can't wait to find out. Round 2, Thomas Joseph, C, Horizon (Ariz.) HS
The Giants wanted power, whether it was with pitchers' arms or hitters. They got the former with Wheeler and they believe they have the latter with Joseph. He's regarded as a promising hitter with a decent throwing arm but questionable defensive skills otherwise. Round 3, Christopher Dominguez, 3B, University of Louisville
Another power hitter, Dominguez looks the part at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. In 64 games for the Cardinals he hit .345 with 25 homers, 82 RBIs and a .698 slugging percentage.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.