By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
February 17, 2012
Ryan Wheeler is the classic example of why, as a scout, you must refute the notion that “there are no secrets.”
Man, I love Wheeler. Pretty soon he’ll have a dollar for everyone who missed him.
He played more basketball than baseball. And when he played baseball, you would have seen a left-handed high school hitter with a smooth, easy swing. Now, about five years later, he’s knocking on the door of the big leagues. This is a guy who was going to beg his way onto a junior college team until he tripped into Loyola Marymount.
What would Spider Say? He would love this kid’s swing and he would predict a lot of doubles and enough power to keep a corner. Then he would laugh at the state of the professional baseball industry, which no longer knows where to look unless it’s told where to look. Spider never had a subscription to anything except his hard work and instincts. He laughed at people who thought they were scouting experts. Man, I loved Spider.
But what’s sad is that I bet that even if a scout like me would have liked Wheeler, he would have been scared to death to turn him in and draft him, because baseball refuses to develop players the way it used to. If you don’t fit the cookie-cutter, you’re screwed, and it doesn’t matter what you do. But sometimes, people have the GFE.
And if you want to know what the GFE stands for, well, you’d have to be a Klima Guy to know what that means.
Wheeler is going to play in the big leagues. And he will hit. He will have 20-home run power. And he came from nowhere? How does this happen? It happens because you get the right guy who sees the system for what it is, puts it aside, and does his thing.
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Klima: Well look at you. I go away for six months and you go out and pop 16 home runs in Double-A and then go out and hold your own in the Fall League.
Wheeler: I finally just got better staying back. When did I see you last? Lancaster, right? So that high-A season, I wasn’t hitting for a lot of power but I was trying to lift the ball better without destroying what got me there in the first place. Then during the whole 2011 season I finally found something I liked. Instead of physical changes, it was mental changes. I had my same hitting coach, Alan Zinter, for two years, which helped me a lot. Then, instead of having the focus on video all the time and worrying about where hands started, the stride and leg kicks – it just came down to ‘What were you thinking on this pitch?’ Do you think this guy throwing 97, you’re hitting after Goldschmidt, so now he’s up, so they’ll come after you. As the year progressed, I feel like the thinking side of my game grew a lot more than it had in recent years. I think it was because I felt I grew up physically and I felt it came together this year.
Klima: You deconstructed things.
Wheeler: It really was as simple as how comfortably I could get to inside pitches and how long I could wait on an outside pitch. Where my stance was, my timing finally felt that if I could get off, I could drive the ball. Then, being able to fix the mental side a lot faster allowed me to fix the physical side a lot quicker. I wasn’t thinking. I didn’t have to. I was just doing it.
Klima: Now you sound like a professional hitter.
Wheeler: I’d go as far as to say that. Playing in Double-A, I had four teammates called up, and seeing them the night before, then having the manager say to us, ‘You might wanna watch the game tomorrow because so-and-so will be playing.’ There they are in the big leagues making 2200 bucks a day, and last night they were here on the bus with us, it’s ‘Oh crap, I’m right on the doorstep.’ Knowing that I’m getting close. I know it’s not going to come back to the physical side. It’s too hard and too fast to worry about that. Now that I am comfortable with that, with what I do mentally, I think it will come.
Klima: In high school, you were a small forward. In college you were a first baseman. In the big leagues, you predict you will be…
Wheeler: I still think I’m going to be a third baseman. I’m about 230 pounds and dropped a little more weight. I took some ground balls today and my hands feel good. I’m going in trying to be a third baseman. I feel like I can adjust to that. I want to be a third baseman.
Klima: Not that the journey is complete, but are you starting to reach points where you are capable of looking back to say, ‘I beat the system, coming from nowhere?’
Wheeler: I feel like I’m getting there. I feel like I’ve been athletic enough all along. To look back to high school, nobody gave me any attention for college and I didn’t have the power numbers. I never did the year round showcase deal and went back to basketball. Considering how I picked up baseball after that first year in college, I like how I’ve progressed, physically, and now I think the mental side is projecting. Just getting to the point where I am almost playing with the best guys in the big leagues, to be able to pick people’s brains on little things, is something I’m proud of.
Klima: Big league camp for the first time and then Triple-A in all likelihood, are those the next logical steps for you?
Wheeler: That’s my focus. I feel real confident with the big things. I can catch the ball at third base and make a strong throw. Now it comes down to refining the smaller things. I’m hoping I can go to Triple-A and play for Brett Butler and learn those things. I know the physical attributes are there, so now it’s the finer points. Because when I get to the big leagues, I want to be ready to step in from day one and stay there.
Scouting video/Q&A with Ryan Wheeler
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