Continuing with our series of Draft Day Spotlights, I recently caught up with Zack Wheeler, a high school pitcher out of Georgia. Wheeler finished his high school season impressively, taking the East Paulding Raiders deep into the Georgia state playoffs. Recently he has been climbing the draft boards, drawing the most interest from teams selecting #4 through #8. The right-hander, long and lanky at 6'4'' and 170 pounds, has a tremendous arm and can throw up to 95 mph with good movement on his fastball and breaking pitch.
Scouting reports have described him as having a "projectable body", and cite his poise and make-up under pressure in addition to his obvious arm strength. From talking to him, Wheeler has a low-key and easy going manner about him, which likely helps keep his cool on the mound.
Zack was kind enough to answer a few questions for Baseball Analysts before the June 9th draft.
Zack Wheeler pitching during his no-hitter
(Photo from East Paulding Raiders Baseball website)
BA: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talking us today. You’re obviously one of the top prep pitchers eligible for the draft, and it’s been said you’re a lock to be a first round pick. Where will you be on draft day and who will you be watching with?
Wheeler: I’m going to be up at a place called Stars and Stripes. They’ve got bowling and everything, some big screen TV’s, it’s like a family hangout. That’s where I’ll be watching it. I’m going to have friends, old coaches, current coaches, family…that’s about it.
BA: What’s your favorite ballclub? Are there any teams you’re particularly hoping to be drafted by?
Wheeler: I really don’t have one. There’s really none….I don’t really don’t care who picks me, I just want to go out and play.
BA: I’m sure you’ve had a lot of scouts come watch you, including from what I understand, some general managers. How does it feel to be pitching in front of those guys? Any added pressure?
Wheeler: Ah, no, I don’t think so. I’ve been playing over at East Cobb, on the number one team, the past two summers. Playing over there on the number one team, you get that all the time. I think I’m pretty used to it. The Aflac All-American game, Under-Armor All-American game, those really helped a lot – all the people watching you all the time and stuff. I don’t think there’s really any more pressure than usual.
BA: Have any teams taken a particular interest in you?
Wheeler: Teams…the Pirates, the Orioles, the Giants, and Braves. Those are the main four.
BA: Speaking of pressure, you recently threw a no-hitter in the state playoffs. Describe what was going through your mind when you were on the mound?
Wheeler: I really didn’t know about it until the seventh inning, when I had three outs to go. My second baseman came up to me and told me I had a no hitter. He jokes around with people all the time, he’s like the jokester on the team – so he just let me know about it. I just tried to go up there and get three more outs. I really didn’t know about it until the 7th so, there was really no pressure until the end.
BA: Well congratulations, that must have been really exciting.
Wheeler: I appreciate it.
BA: Are there any pitchers that you really model yourself after?
Wheeler: No, not really, I don’t think so. I mean, I like Carlos Zambrano, but it’s kind of hard to model yourself after him. I just like how he loves the game and how he plays it.
BA: There’s definitely a lot of intensity with him.
BA: What’s your greatest strength as a pitcher? Something you’re really proud about?
Wheeler: I think my mound mentality. If something goes wrong behind me I just keep on pitching, you know, try to get more outs – don’t try let anything get to me really. I think that’s a good strong key to have.
BA: That’s definitely important. Can you describe the pitches in your arsenal and maybe your approach to facing hitters in terms of pitch selection?
Wheeler: I’ve got my 4-seam fastball, my 2-seam fastball. Then I’ve got my slurve, and I’ve got a change-up. When I get two strikes on somebody, I want to make them chase an 0-2 curve ball. I usually try to throw a swoopy curveball that just dives out of the zone. If I have a 3-2 count and I want to throw a curveball to strike them out, I’ll throw more of a harder curveball that has a bit more bite downward.
BA: You feel confident throwing that curve ball with a 3-2 count?
Wheeler: Yes sir.
BA: Have you given much consideration to pitching in college or are you pretty much set on going straight to the pros?
Wheeler: I mean, if it doesn’t work out when the draft comes around, I’d definitely consider pitching in college. But, you know, I want to go play, so I hope it works out.
BA: Your older brother Adam also played professional ball from what I understand. What lessons have you learned from watching him?
Wheeler: You know, just keep your poise on the mound. Don’t let anything bother you and just have command. Be strong every time out.
BA: What kind of personality do you have in the clubhouse? Are you a vocal leader? A lead by example guy? A prankster? What’s your personality?
Wheeler: I lead more by example. I’m not quite a vocal leader. But, you know I like to play jokes on some people too sometimes, just to keep things live in the locker room.
BA: First round draft picks can command a lot of money. Are you nervous at all about the contract negotiations? Do you have a plan for that?
Wheeler: I don’t know, me and my agent haven’t talked about it very much. We’re just gonna let it flow and everything. When the time comes around I’m sure we’ll figure it out.
BA: I'm sure you will. One more kind of fun question. You mention you like Carlos Zambrano, and I notice that you’re a switch hitter yourself, which is unusual for a pitcher. Do you think you’ll keep that up or do you think you’ll settle into one side of the plate?
Wheeler: I think I’ll keep it up – I still hit both ways right now. I mean, I hit better lefty, but I can hit righty too.
BA: Big Z certainly seems to handle it perfectly well himself.
Wheeler: Oh yeah.
BA: Well that’s all the questions we have for you today. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to Baseball Analysts.
Wheeler: No problem.
BA: Thanks again and good luck on June 9th.
Wheeler: Alright – appreciate it.
Wheeler at the Under Armor All-American Game at Wrigley Field in 2008.