07/29/12 7:16 PM ET
Wheeler offers D-backs depth at third base
By Bernie Pleskoff / MLB.com
There wasn't much buzz around the club regarding third baseman Ryan Wheeler.
But Wheeler just wouldn't stop hitting at Triple-A Reno. In fact, at the time of his July 20th promotion to the D-backs, the left-handed hitting Wheeler was hitting .351 with 15 homers and 90 RBI. He earned an opportunity to take his hot bat to Phoenix.
Wheeler is a broad shouldered, 6-foot-3, 235-pound third baseman/first baseman. He just turned 24 in early July.
Now, probably a year sooner than expected, Wheeler is a member of a Major League club looking to make a playoff push.
News of the D-backs' acquisition of right-handed hitting Chris Johnson from Houston may impact Wheeler's playing status. However, he was likely in a platoon situation regardless of the trade.
With both Johnson and Wheeler available, the D-backs have a potent, gap-hitting third-base tandem available to face the opposition. It's an optimal situation for Arizona.
Only the best professional hitters can boast a 90-RBI season. Wheeler had accomplished that in 93 games covering 399 plate appearances in just a bit more than half a season in the Pacific Coast League.
A good overall athlete, Wheeler was a multi-sports star at Torrance, Calif. High School. He hit a robust .454 with 30 RBIs in his senior year. He was also an accomplished power forward on the basketball team.
He was among the team's leaders in doubles at the time he finished his junior year.
Wheeler was Arizona's fifth-round choice in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft.
Now, after parts of only four developmental seasons and after having played in 428 Minor League games, Wheeler is wearing a D-backs uniform.
Wheeler has a very smooth stroke at the plate. He doesn't try to hit every pitch out of the park. Rather, he centers the ball on the barrel of the bat and uses very quick hands through the ball to hit the gaps.
Wheeler's solid stroke projects as a very solid doubles-hitting RBI candidate at the Major League level. With large gaps, Chase Field is well suited for his swing. Home run power may yet develop.
I have seen Wheeler use almost an inside-out type swing with the slightest bit of uppercut that generates loft. So far, he has avoided pounding the ball into the ground.
There is a reason Wheeler was the D-backs' 2009 Organizational Player of the Year. He can hit.
He hit .361, with six homers and 41 RBIs over 316 plate appearances in two classifications that season, his first in the Arizona system.
When I first saw Wheeler in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, I was very impressed with his approach at the plate.
In a league that rotates players at positions and doesn't offer consistent playing time, Wheeler was given a very good opportunity to show what he could do.
He responded by hitting a respectable .292 with 9 doubles and 14 RBIs over 106 at-bats in the short, fall season.
Overall, he made good contact, striking out only 24 times. But more importantly, Wheeler showed an ability to hit right-handed pitching really well. In 66 at-bats, he hit .348 against righties against just .200 in 40 at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
That righty-versus-lefty hitting split seems to confirm that Wheeler may be best suited to platoon with Johnson at third base for the remainder of the season.
Wheeler's promotion to the club provided the impetus for the trade of Ryan Roberts to Tampa Bay.
Now another transaction involving a third baseman will have an impact on the remainder of the D-backs' season. The club has reshaped the position totally in the past week.
In the times I have seen Wheeler play -- in the AFL, in Spring Training and in his brief opportunities so far at the Major League level -- he has displayed poise, intelligence and a potentially loud bat at the plate.
In his initial at-bats after having been promoted, Wheeler showed a little bit of impatience by swinging at the first few pitches he saw. Since then, however, he has taken pitchers deeper in counts.
Manager Kirk Gibson has compared Wheeler to a young Geoff Blum, a hard-nosed grinder of a third baseman with a love for the game and a penchant for getting the big hit.
I'm not sure I would compare Wheeler to Blum, but I am sure of the work ethic and intensity Wheeler brings to his game.
If there is any concern about Ryan Wheeler, it may be his approach to short-hop grounders and his range coming in on balls at third base. He has shown difficulty making that play.
In his first Major League series against Houston, the Astros bunted on several occasions in an effort to test Wheeler's first-step quickness, his ability to move forward and his skill at reading the ball off the bat.
I had that concern in the AFL and it was interesting that the Astros tested that perceived range issue quickly in Wheeler's first game.
Other than that possible hiccup, Wheeler is very solid defensively at third base. His arm is strong and accurate. His range to both sides is at least average, if not a tick better. In addition, Wheeler can play first base and probably some corner outfield as well.
Ryan Wheeler improves the future of Arizona at a critical position. He and Chris Johnson offer position stability, talent and depth moving forward.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.