Zack Wheeler is an exception.
The 22-year-old right-hander’s locker is between those of two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana and Matt Harvey, who made a sparking big league debut last summer.
“We’ve talked a little bit here and there,” Wheeler said. “Nothing serious, just some chit chat.”
Barring an injury to one of the Mets projected starting pitchers, the Paulding County native and former Kennesaw State signee likely will start the season at Triple-A Las Vegas. Mets manager Terry Collins said Wheeler needs more time at the highest minor league level, where he made six starts last season.
“He needs to go to Triple-A and pitch,” Collins said. “He wants to be on the staff? Go be the best pitcher in Triple-A. Force us to call him up.”
Wheeler went a combined 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA and 148 strikeouts in 149 innings last year at Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo. He was selected to play in his second All-Star Futures Game last July, joining Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout and New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano in the group that has appeared in that event multiple times.
“They’ve said they want me to start the season in Triple-A, but I’m going to make the decision hard on them,” Wheeler said. “I’m going to go out there, compete and try my hardest. My whole offseason has been getting ready for this point, spring training. I’m coming in and competing for a job at this point. In my mind, I think you’ve got to come in thinking like that. I’m coming in
competition for a job. Terry said he’s going to give me the ball and let me pitch, so we’ll see what happens.”
The locker placement was intentional. Collins wants Wheeler to learn from Harvey, who had a strong spring training last year, then was sent to the minors until late July.
“It’s tough, but you can’t really think about it,” Harvey said. “It’s out of your control. It’s out of any decision you have or any decision you can make. The only thing you can do is keep your head down and keep going, and that’s what I’ve told Zack.
“You can go out there and completely dominate and get sent down to Triple-A. Or you can go out there, pitch mediocre, and you never know, you could make the team. Anything can happen. But they have a plan and they have the final say. The only thing you can control is what you can control.”