Mets Prospects Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey – Reasons for Optimism

Middling through a 54-60 season – good for third place in the National League East, 16.5 games behind the Washington Nationals – the Mets are brimming with optimism. The reasons were on display this weekend – in Queens on Friday and Buffalo on Saturday.

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Matt Harvey struck out 11 and walked three in his Major League debut.

Matt Harvey, a 23-year-old right-hander who was the seventh overall pick of the 2010 draft from the University of North Carolina, allowed two runs and two hits over six innings in a loss against Atlanta.

Called up last month, the organization’s second-best prospect according to MLB.com limited Arizona to three hits over 5.1 scoreless innings, striking out 11 and walking three in his Major League debut on July 26.

Overall, he is 1-3 with a 3.63 ERA in four starts.

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A glance at Baseball America’s 2012 Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List shows Wheeler at No. 10

A day later, 22-year-old right-hander Zack Wheeler held Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to one run and two hits in six innings. It was the second start at Triple-A for Wheeler, who MLB.com ranks as the Mets’ top overall prospect. A first round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2009, Wheeler was acquired last year in the Carlos Beltran deal.

A glance at Baseball America’s 2012 Mid-Season Top 50 Prospects List shows Wheeler at No. 10 and Harvey at No. 34. As early as next year, the duo could be part of a formidable Mets rotation.

The 37-year-old R.A. Dickey is at an age where most pitchers are entering the end of their career, but since he is a knuckleballer, the right-hander has longevity. Jonathan Niese, a 25-year-old left-hander, is in his third full season as a starter, and he gives the club a reliable back of the rotation presence.

Johan Santana, who rash of injuries in recent seasons has prevented him from making a significant impact with the Mets, is signed for $25.5 million in 2013 and has a $25 million club option and a $5.5 million buyout for 2014, so likely he will be part of the team’s plans in next season.

Harvey has rapidly ascended the Mets’ system. Last year – his first as a professional – he recorded a 3.32 ERA with a 156 strikeouts in 135.2 innings between advanced Single-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton. This season, he had a 3.68 ERA and a .233 batting average against with 112 strikeouts in 110 innings over 20 starts at Triple-A Buffalo.

Understandably, Wheeler’s climb through the minors has been longer since he was drafted out of high school. Before the trade, he posted an impressive 3.99 ERA and .218 batting average against in 21 games (including 13 starts) at Augusta as one of the youngest pitchers in the Single-A South Atlantic League.

In 2011, between two advanced Single-A affiliates (one with the Giants and the other with the Mets), Wheeler registered a 3.52 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 115 innings over 22 starts. This year, he had a 3.26 ERA, a .225 opponent’s batting average and 117 strikeouts in 116 innings at Double-A Binghamton prior to his promotion to Buffalo.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has said there is an innings limit on Harvey and Wheeler. Harvey will be shut down after reaching 165-170 innings while Wheeler will finish his campaign after 150, according to Alderson. After his start over the weekend, Wheeler has compiled 126.1 innings, so likely he will not make his Major League debut in September. Yet it is probable that Harvey and Wheeler will join each other on the 2013 opening day active roster with solid performances in spring training.

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