Prospect Zack Wheeler hopes for time with Mets next season

New York Mets Sterling Award winners (L-R) Vincente

New York Mets Sterling Award winners (L-R) Vincente Lupo, Yoryi Nuez, Miller Diaz, Hansel Robles, Michael Fulmer, Alonzo Harris, Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, Rafael Montero and Wilmer Flores. (Sept. 8, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Mets pitching prospect Zack Wheeler strolled through the clubhouse Saturday morning wearing a suit. Of course, he'd rather be wearing a uniform, which could become a reality at some point next season.

Despite the organization's excitement about his electric arm, Wheeler understands that making next year's Opening Day squad might be out of reach.

"It's sort of a long shot, but I just want to push myself," said Wheeler, the prize acquired in last year's Carlos Beltran trade with San Francisco.

Wheeler, 22, joined the Mets' other top prospects who were honored during a ceremony before Saturday's rain-soaked 11-3 loss to the Braves.

Matt Harvey's ascension to the major leagues had sparked hopes that Wheeler might join him this season. Instead, the Mets promoted Wheeler to Triple-A Buffalo, where he wrapped up a strong first full season in the organization.

Wheeler finished 12-8 with a 3.26 ERA in 25 starts between Buffalo and Double-A Binghamton. After he spent the offseason working on his off-speed pitches, Wheeler led all Mets minor-leaguers with 148 strikeouts (in 149 innings), which upped the expectations that followed him over.

"You hear about it, you see it, but you've just got to keep that in the back of your head," Wheeler said of the hype. "You've just got to go out there and just pitch and perform like you know how. That's the only way you'll get up here and make a living."

The Mets at least seem open to the idea of allowing Wheeler to compete for a spot during spring training.

"He's going to come into camp and be given the ball like everybody else," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "Right now, yeah, as we sit here today, his chances are slim. But you can't say he won't. There are no definites."

Wheeler could have another factor in his favor. His 2012 innings count puts him in line to throw about 175 innings next year. That's roughly the same amount as Harvey, who wound up finishing this season with the Mets.

"I don't imagine a whole lot of limitations on him next year," said Paul DePodesta, the Mets' vice president of player development and amateur scouting.

Of course, Wheeler must prove he's ready to make the jump.

Said the aspiring major-leaguer, "I've still got some work to do."

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