Minnesota Twins Free Agent Profile: Could Zack Wheeler be the ace the Twins need?

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PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets poses for a photo on Photo Day at First Data Field on February 21, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets poses for a photo on Photo Day at First Data Field on February 21, 2019 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 04: Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets throws to a Washington Nationals batter in the fourth inning at Nationals Park on September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 04: Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets throws to a Washington Nationals batter in the fourth inning at Nationals Park on September 04, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

A look at Wheeler’s background

Wheeler’s career began with plenty of hype as he was selected by the San Francisco Giants with the sixth overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft. Coming out of East Paulding High School in Dallas, GA, Wheeler was considered a top prospect with a wiry frame that had room to add velocity on his fastball. That promise landed Wheeler at the Metrodome for a Perfect Game USA showcase in 2009 and scouts liked what they saw from the young-right hander.

"“(Wheeler) pitched 90-93 topping at 94 with a very lively fastball and little to no effort in the Metrodome. He gets good extension out front and has an excellent breaking ball with a sharp break in the upper 70s. He commands his pitches well and everything looks easy for him on the mound. Wheeler continues to project … and he is already one of the top 2009 RHP in the country.”"

While Wheeler showed off that polish with a solid first season in the Giants organization, he was traded to New York in a deal that sent Carlos Beltran to San Francisco. Once arriving in the Mets’ organization, Wheeler continued to rise up the prospect rankings ranking fifth in Baseball Prospectus’ 2013 rankings, eighth for MLB Pipeline and 11th for Baseball America.

With a fastball that sat in the mid-90s, Wheeler showed plenty of promise in his first two seasons in the major leagues, going 18-16 with a 3.50 ERA. But that velocity would come with a cost as Wheeler underwent Tommy John surgery in the spring of 2015 and his recovery took nearly two full seasons until returning to the mound in 2017 for another injury-plagued campaign that saw him go 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA.

Just as things were headed downhill, Wheeler made huge strides over the past two seasons. He enjoyed a career year in 2018 (12-7, 3.31 ERA) before backing it up with a solid effort in 2019 (11-8, 3.96 ERA), which has helped ensure his upcoming payday this winter.

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