It’s February 15th. It’s 51 days away from Opening Day.
Enough opening. Let’s cut right to the chase.
Number 51 on the countdown is the proud owner of one of the best names in the Brewers organization, if not the entirety of baseball:
While Zelous Lamar Wheeler only joined Twitter a few short weeks ago, Twitter was the place last season where several of his biggest supporters started a hashtag that permeated the general consciousness of Brewers-themed tweets. That hashtag is #ZealotsForZelous.
A zealot is defined as a fanatic. Therefore the Zealots For Zelous group are some that have high hopes for Wheeler’s future career projections. Let’s take a look at what exactly makes someone a Zealot.
Before we get there though, let’s lay the groundwork. Wheeler is listed at 5’10” and 220 pounds. For the sake of comparison, Rickie Weeks was most recently listed at 5’10” and 215 pounds. Wheeler was born on January 16, 1987 in Alabama. He bats and throws right-handed and plays mostly third base.
Wheeler was drafted by the Brewers out of Wallace State Community College in the 19th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. This is the same draft that has given the Brewers organization Jonathan Lucroy, Caleb Gindl, Eric Farris, Dan Merklinger, and Cody Scarpetta.
Listed as a third baseman when the Brewers drafted him, Wheeler has maintained his defensive spot during his rise through the minor leagues. Wheeler manned the hot corner for both Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville during 2011, compiling similar lines at each locale. In Huntsville, where he spent the majority of 2011, Wheeler compiled 62 hits and scored 34 runs while he put together a .272/.377/.465 line filled out with 20 doubles, 8 home runs, 32 RBI, 7 stolen bases (in 7 attempts), 30 walks and 49 strikeouts in 228 at-bats. As for Nashville, in 51 at-bats Wheeler hit safely 14 times and put up .275/.383/.431, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 1 home run, 6 RBI, 9 walks and 8 strikeouts.
Also encouraging, despite the small sample size with Nashville, is that Wheeler’s walk-rate and strikeout-rate were both better in Triple-A. His ISO, wOBA and wRC+ were worse, but again, small sample size can be argued on both sides.
He then spent some time with the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League where he got 56 more at-bats, posting a .276/.358/.397 line with 16 hits, 15 runs scored, 8 runs batted in, 7 walks and 14 strikeouts in 16 games. All of that hard work and consistency paid off in the form of being added to the 40-man roster last fall. What that means in the short term is that when Wheeler begins the 2012 season assigned to the minor league affiliate, it’ll cost one of his three minor league options to get him there.
Wheeler did play a little first base in the Arizona Fall League, for the record. It’s likely that the majority of Wheeler’s defensive plays in 2012 will still be at third. Wheeler is blocked at his natural third base position, however, by both recent Brewers signee Aramis Ramirez and fellow prospect Taylor Green who finished 2011 on Milwaukee’s 25-man playoff roster. That won’t stop Wheeler from continuing to work on his game at whatever affiliate he does start the new season with.
There is some doubt as to where Wheeler will begin 2012 because although he did start the season with Triple-A Nashville in 2011, he only played with Double-A Huntsville from June 29th through the end of the season. He also missed nearly two months of the year due to an injury suffered in the second game of the season. Wheeler was hurt in a collision at home plate, a collision which resulted in a torn PCL in Wheeler’s right knee.
After being added to the 40-man roster, however, if Taylor Green wins a backup infielder spot with Milwaukee, it’d be a safe bet to put Wheeler in at third base for the Sounds on a roster projection.
Wheeler isn’t merely a consistent bat with no defense. In fact, coming into the 2011 season, Baseball America labeled Wheeler as the Brewers prospect with the best infield arm. He picks the ball well and makes strong, accurate throws. Wheeler isn’t resting on those laurels though. He wants to be a super utility player that can handle any defensive position. He said that he even started catching a little bit recently because he’s simply wants to get in the lineup and contribute.
It’s that kind of attitude and commitment that will win him fans in Milwaukee, both in the stands and in the front office.
Or perhaps I should say that those qualities will be earning him some more zealots.