Zack Wheeler's future isn't now, but it's getting close

U.S. Futures All-Star Zack Wheeler, then of the

U.S. Futures All-Star Zack Wheeler, then of the San Francisco Giants, throws a pitch during the 2010 XM All-Star Futures Game. (July 11, 2010) (Credit: Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Zack Wheeler already looks as though he belongs in a major-league clubhouse, even if this one is at Kauffman Stadium, and it's the luxurious room belonging to the Royals.

Standing 6-4, dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, Wheeler was taking the Futures Game in stride Sunday. It was his second in three years, and you get the feeling this will be his last. So does he.

Aside from hiccups in consecutive starts last month, he has been dominant for Double-A Binghamton, going 8-4 with a 2.62 ERA, striking out 88 in 92 2/3 innings and limiting opponents to a .204 batting average.

On Sunday, Wheeler was scheduled to pitch the ninth inning. Instead, he entered with two outs in the eighth and needed only three pitches to retire Indians prospect Jesus Aguilar.

The first was a 98-mph fastball, followed by an 88-mph slider and 80-mph curve, which Aguilar popped up. In the ninth, Wheeler took care of the Twins' Oswaldo Arcia with four fastballs, the last a 97-mph pitch that produced a grounder. It was a brief glimpse into what Wheeler has been doing for Binghamton.

"Amazing," said B-Mets teammate Wilmer Flores, who played for the World Team in Sunday's All-Star Futures Game. "He's one of the best. He's going to make some money."

Before that payday is Buffalo, where Wheeler is likely to show up in the next month or so. And once there, he's only a phone call away from Flushing.

"I'm just out there doing my job," he said, "and I'm doing good at it right now, I guess you could say. I've just got to stay down here and perform . . . And then if I ever get the call, go up there and do the same thing."

Maybe that's the most impressive thing about Wheeler: He's unfazed by the whole process.

A year ago, he was traded straight-up for Carlos Beltran, who arrives here Monday for his seventh All-Star Game. That's heady stuff for a 22-year-old, but apparently not this one. He shrugs off the connection: "I mean, I see what he's doing. But I don't really look at it that way, I guess."

Wheeler sounded more enthused tweeting about the women in yoga pants (courtesy of @wheelerpro45) than he was discussing his value relative to Beltran. But the two are inextricably linked, and Sandy Alderson's Wheeler coup is something other GMs dream of as the July 31 non-waivers trade deadline approaches.

If Wheeler develops into a front-line starter, that deal will be remembered more for the young pitcher it yielded than Beltran's brief stay in the Bay Area. "I hope so," Wheeler said. " . . . I'm a chilled, laid-back guy, so I really don't care about that kind of stuff."

By his own assessment, his breaking pitches are "a lot better, probably a 180 or so" since spring training, and he has shown significant improvement throwing them for strikes.

But even in failure, there is progress. His recent two-start stumble -- 17 hits, 11 earned runs in 13 2/3 innings -- taught him a valuable lesson. "Sometimes you can get away with throwing hard and missing your spots," he said. "But in those games, I was missing my spots and they were hitting me. That reminded me of what would happen if I was in the big leagues. It was a good learning experience, so actually I'm glad it happened."

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