Colorado Rockies Prospect Tim Wheeler – Home Coming
There is no place like home for Colorado Springs Sky Sox outfielder, Tim Wheeler. The Sacramento Native was in his home town this weekend to play the Oakland A’s triple-A affiliate, Sacramento River Cats.
Drafted in the first round (32nd overall) by the Colorado Rockies in the 2009 MLB Draft out of California State University, Sacramento, Wheeler is entering his second season with the Sky Sox. And while his season totals aren’t much to look at, he has been hitting the ball well as of late. His seasons stats may suggest otherwise, .229 AVG with 22 R’s, 6 2B’s, 0 HR’s, 12 RBI’s, and an OPS of .613, but over his last 10 games (thru June 22nd), Wheeler is hitting a solid .316 AVG with 6 R’s, 2 2B’s, 4 RBI’s, and a .734 OPS. He is starting to show signs of life and hopefully is turning things around.
There are high hopes for Wheeler, as he is rated the #9 prospect on Keith Law’s top 10 organizational prospect list for the Rockies, and MLB.com has Wheeler #6 on their top 20 organizational list.
I had the opportunity to watch Wheeler play against the River Cats, and he showed that his hot streak is not ending soon.
In his first at-bat, he worked the count to 3-2, seeing a lot of pitches. But he ended up fouling out to the third baseman in the 3rd inning.
In his second at-bat, he crushed a 2-run HR to deep right field in the 4th inning on a 3-1 count, his first HR of the year. He showed good bat speed, as he turned on an inside fastball and sent it flying over the right field wall. There was no doubt that the minute the ball hit his bat it was gone.
In his third at-bat coming in the 7th inning, Wheeler grounds out to short on the first pitch he sees. He shows good hustle and runs hard down the line, making it a closer and normal play.
In his and final at-bat in the 9th, Wheeler works the count nicely, laying off pitches outside the zone. On a 3-1 count, he hits what is thought to be a game-ending double-play, but the second basemen under-hands the throw low to the shortstop covering second and he loses the ball. Runners are called safe and the official scorer rules the play a fielder’s choice.
Wheeler’s final line: 1-4 with a HR, 1 R, 2 RBI.
Wheeler had good at-bats, showing patience at the plate, going deep into counts in all but one of his at-bats. Twice Wheeler took River Cats starting pitcher, Bruce Billings into 3-1 hitter’s counts, with Wheeler crushing an inside fastball for his first HR of the season. He saw a lot of pitches and made the pitchers work to get him out.
What has really hurt Wheeler and caused his star to drop from where it once was is his lack of power numbers. After a somewhat slow start to his minor league career, Wheeler had a stellar double-A campaign, hitting for a .287 AVG, with 105 R’s, 28 2B’s, 33 HR’s, 86 RBI’s, 21 SB’s, and a .900 OPS. He wasn’t as patient as maybe the club would want him to be, having a 142:59 K/BB ratio, but you can’t ignore the offensive production he outputted.
Entering his first season at triple-A and hoping to build on his outstanding double-A season, Wheeler had a set-back as he suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand. This put him out of commission for a while at the start of the season, but he salvaged his season by ending the year with a .303 AVG, with 67 R’s and 27 2B’s. However, his power numbers faltered, as he had just 2 HR’s, with 37 RBI’s, and an OPS of .768 in 415 at-bats. This 2013 season is turning out to be much of the same power wise, as he only has 1 HR thus far.
Wheeler also showed that he is an average defensive outfielder. He was drafted as a CF, but he’s played most of this season in RF, and when I saw him, he was in LF. He showed decent range moving left and right, but he had a couple balls go over his head, one actually caromed off his glove as he was back-tracking on the ball. Both balls were well-hit and would have been tough plays to make regardless of how good of a jump he got, so I won’t fault him for those.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Wheeler in terms of getting a shot with the Rockies. Obviously he is not going to displace current LF, Carlos Gonzalez, and current CF, Dexter Fowler. But current Rockies RF, Michael Cuddyer, while signed through 2014, has experience playing multiple positions, mainly 1B, and with current 1B, Todd Helton, looking to be on his last leg, it’s conceivable that the Rockies could move Cuddyer in to play 1B and call-up Wheeler to play RF. I don’t see that scenario playing out this season, but with injuries and the trade deadline approaching, crazier things have happened.
For now, as Wheeler continues to refine his skills and build on recent hot-streak, there is nothing wrong with a little home coming.