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.
Three of the last four days in our player preview countdown to Opening Day have been lost to Brewers coaches. Yesterday’s culprit was bullpen coach Stan Kyles who wears #53 when in uniform.
Today however, and for the next seven days following today, a player wears the number in question. That would make it eight straight for “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”, a stretch which shall not be broken this year and which is only duplicated once, but this stretch includes a non-roster invitee to Spring Training who I’m still debating on whether to profile. Unless I hear an outcry of want, that player, Juan Perez who was assigned #46 when the Brewers acquired him, probably won’t be previewed.
I won’t be holding my breath while waiting for his fan base to cry out in support, but I still haven’t officially made up my mind. After all, I strive to preview players on the 40-man roster and/or those who could contribute to the 25-man roster at some point in 2012. The only thing working in Perez’ favor is his handedness.
But enough about those other members of the Brewers organization; as it is 52 days until Opening Day, we are here today to discuss the player who wears 52:
Working as a starting pitcher for each of 23 appearances in 2011 as a member of the Double-A Huntsville Stars, Cody Michael Payne Scarpetta posted a season linescore of 8-5, 3.85 ERA, 100 H, 61 R (50 ER), 8 HR, 61 BB, 98 K, 1.38 WHIP over 117.0 innings pitched. He held opponents to a .234 batting average.
Scarpetta’s play in the first half of the minor league season earned him a reward of sorts. With a bit of an overworked bullpen just before the Major League All-Star Game break, Milwaukee officially optioned Mat Gamel back to the minor leagues on July 10, 2011 and called up Scarpetta for a game that same night against the Cincinnati Reds.
With the game tightly contested the entire way (eventually won by the Brewers with a bottom of the ninth walk-off from Craig Counsell), Scarpetta didn’t enter the game and therefore has no official Major League career to speak of yet. The fact remains that Scarpetta was in uniform for the game and no doubt learned plenty from his 24-hour tour of Milwaukee.
The level of performance that earned him that one-day callup would not carry over to the 2011 Arizona Fall League where, in five appearances (four starts) as a member of the Peoria Javelinas, Scarpetta lost three games and allowed 16 earned runs on 13 walks and 14 hits, two of which were home runs, in just 7.1 innings pitched. That was bad for an ERA of 19.64 and a WHIP of 3.68!
Small sample size or not, and regardless of the fact that the AFL is littered with on-the-cusp talent, it’s clear that Scarpetta simply didn’t have much of anything to offer in Arizona. The future remains bright enough for Scarpetta, though, and he likely could contribute out of the bullpen if needed in 2012.
For a look at how he got to this point, let’s go back and review Scarpetta’s early years as a professional.
Scarpetta was originally drafted in the 11th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Guilford High School and forewent a commitment to Creighton University to sign with the Brewers organization. In an odd circumstance, Scarpetta (who is still only 23 years old today) had his original deal voided because of an injury and when the team resigned him it was forced to add him to the 40-man roster at the end of the same year (2008) or risk losing him to the Rule V Draft.
What that also means is that Scarpetta’s minor league options began having to be used up immediately to keep him in the system beginning with the 2009 season. Normally a player has three options but with the unique circumstances of Scarpetta’s situation, the league granted a fourth minor league option to the Brewers on Scarpetta therefore allowing them to stash him in the minors for one more year before doing so would require exposing him to waivers first.
As you can surmise, 2012 will be an important year in Scarpetta’s development as his final minor league option will be used.
Scarpetta will be working on a fastball that’s already been described as “very good” and sits in the low 90s, a plus curveball that was described as “the best in the system” by Baseball America prior to the 2011 season and a changeup which, while improved, is still developing. He’ll need all three of those pitches to profile well if he’s to get a legitimate shot at joining a Brewers rotation that could, technically, have four openings in 2013. As it stands today, Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum will both be free agents at the end of 2012, Randy Wolf could become of a free agent if the Brewers decline their 2013 option and Chris Narveson becomes arbitration-eligible prior to the 2013 season which could always lead to a non-tender if Narveson doesn’t perform well enough this year.
Preparing for that final step, Scarpetta will take the next step in 2012 by most likely beginning the year in the rotation for the Triple-A Nashville Sounds. If he doesn’t start in Triple-A, he’ll likely be one of the first looks for an early-season promotion thereto.
To be successful at the highest minor league level, Scarpetta will have to overcome the command and delivery issues that have some baseball people saying that his best (or possibly only) path to the majors is a complete dedication to the bullpen. It’s been said that Scarpetta has “enough stuff” to start, but you have to be able to control that stuff to be successful at starting.
Listed at 6’3” and 244 pounds, Scarpetta has good size and a build that should hold up well throughout a season regardless as to his eventual role. Naturally everyone in Milwaukee hopes Scarpetta can be an effective contributor in the rotation, but again it remains to be seen if he’s got those kinds of chops.
With pitchers and catchers set to officially report to Spring Training in just five days, and all the uncertainty beginning in 2013 both individually and with the big league pitching staff, the most important season so far in Cody Scarpetta’s career is about to get underway.
What he does with it could make all the difference.