The parent Orioles are still struggling at second base; Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla aren’t hitting and Yamaico Navarro wasn’t doing the job defensively. If the Orioles got desperate, would Zelous Wheeler be an option? Could he plug the second-base hole; either by playing second himself, or taking over at third, reassigning Manny Machado and/or J.J. Hardy? If he did somehow get a chance, what would we expect? Defensively, he could probably handle third base but I wouldn’t want to play him at second or short on more than an emergency basis. I will look in more detail at his offense.
First, some background. Wheeler, who turned 26 in January, was claimed on waivers from the Brewers at the end of the 2012 spring training. He spent most of 2012 at Bowie, with three short stints at Norfolk (the beginning of the year, a brief period in the middle, and the end of the year.) He’s been uncannily consistent throughout his minor league career, although he’s performing substantially better than his norms in 2013. Physically, he looks a lot like the end-of-career Bill Madlock, if you remember him.
I’ve seen 31 of Zelous Wheeler’s plate appearances. Here’s the pitch breakdown:
Called Balls: 48
Called Strikes: 35
Swinging Strikes: 4
Ball Put in Play: 25
Hit By Pitch: 1
At first glance, it looks as though Wheeler may be suffering from too little aggressiveness, because he’s taking 68% of the pitches he sees. On the positive side, when he does swing, he makes contact; of his swings, he’s only missed 10.3%.
For his entire season at Norfolk (through June 6), Wheeler has walked only six times and struck out only six times in 70 plate appearances. Players who take a lot of pitches generally have high walk and strikeout rates; Wheeler does not. Nor does Wheeler have a particularly high isolated power; his combined AA-and-AAA 2013 isolated power is .135. If the idea behind taking pitches is to wait for a pitch to drive, the success of that notion isn’t reflected in his power.
Zelous Wheeler would probably make a fine bench player for the Orioles. He can fill in at third, second, or short, and can serve as a DH against lefthanded pitchers, especially in an on-base offensive role. There’s no real reason to believe that Zelous Wheeler is a realistic option for second base. Nowadays, most teams don’t carry a bench player with Wheeler’s skills. He’s someone to be aware of, but not to get too excited about.