Enter Zack Wheeler, the No. 1 rated prospect in the Mets' farm system. A sluggish second half prompted the Mets to bring up right-hander Matt Harvey in July -- the team's No. 2 prospect -- which almost immediately beckoned the question: How long until fellow righty Wheeler joins him in the Mets' clubhouse?
Harvey's July callup was earlier than initially anticipated, but his midseason arrival -- and ensuing success -- laid out a game plan for how the Mets will approach Wheeler in 2013. As it stands, Wheeler will almost assuredly open the season with Triple-A Buffalo before following Harvey's footsteps and joining the Mets midway through the season.
"Each one is an individual case," said Mets vice president of player development and amateur scouting Paul DePodesta. "We try to build each guy up to a point where hopefully they can get to that 200, 200-plus [innings] level, but it takes a few years. But he's getting a lot closer to that now; he had a pretty full year this year. I don't envision a whole lot of limitations on him next year."
Wheeler finished a combined 12-8 in 25 starts between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Buffalo, posting a 3.26 ERA and striking out 148 over 149 innings. He was honored at Citi Field on Saturday as the Sterling Most Valuable Player for Binghamton.
Harvey, who is set to be shut down following his two remaining starts, is under a 165-170 innings limit this season after he threw 135 2/3 innings in his final full season in the Minors last year. At 149 innings, Wheeler is a step ahead, but it won't necessarily prompt an earlier callup come next season.
"It's all a matter of when we think he's going to be ready," DePodesta said. "With Matt, when we started this year, our hope was that at some point throughout the course of the year he will be ready, and he proved to us that he was."
Wheeler said he will give it his all in Spring Training next season, but admitted that winning a slot in the starting rotation will likely be a long shot. General manager Sandy Alderson said earlier this year that it is unlikely Wheeler will open next season with the Mets.
"I've still got some work to do," Wheeler said about being Major League ready. "I've got to work on the mental part a little bit more. I feel good after 150 innings, but I think I have some more work to do.
"It's what you work hard for during the offseason, so that you can last 150 innings. I felt good, my fuel was still there in the sixth and seventh inning at the end of the year, so I'm happy about that."