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by Editor Rick Cabral

WHEELS ON FIRE
Tim Wheeler’s On Path to a Major League Career

Wheeler_Outfield
Tim Wheeler peers in from his center field position at Raley Field.

Following the 2011 season, Colorado Rockies prospect
Tim Wheeler (El Camino High/Sacramento State) was goin’ good.

 

The Rockies 2009 first-round draft pick had just completed his second full season in the minor leagues at Double-A Tulsa, where he set a team record with 33 home runs, batted .287 and slugged .535 and was named to the Texas League All-Stars.

 

Following spring training this year, he was rewarded with a promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs, a short drive away from Denver, where Wheeler hopes to realize his dream of someday playing for the Colorado Rockies.

 

Then just six games into the season, Wheeler sustained a hamate bone break in his right hand forcing him to miss 47 games, a big loss for the fifth-ranked prospect in the Rockies' organization, according to Baseball America.

 

He claims the right wrist is healing nicely and almost back to normal, although he still feels a “buzz” in the right palm area when he swings and misses, which he’s been trying not to do.  

 

During his recovery, Tim Wheeler used the time off to employ visualization techniques in an imaginary batter’s box to better prepare for his return. Seemed to work.

 

Right after his return to the lineup, the left-handed hitter went on a tear, hitting in 16 straight games. The one noticeable remaining weakness: no home runs and just 10 RBI, anemic comparied to last year's bust-out season.

 

The native Sacramentan played his first game tonight at Raley Field, patrolling center field for the Sky Sox. In the fifth inning of Saturday's contest, he singled in a runner from third with a game-tying RBI (The Cats clawed the Sox 9-3). He is now hitting .307 for the year. Prior to the game, he imagined it would be great fun playing before friends and family who’ve watched him develop into one of the area's best. 

 

As a sixth grader coming to watch the River Cats, "Wheels" as he is called by teammates,  dreamed of playing professional ball. He starred at El Camino High, batted .535 and was named to the All-Metro team. He had several offers to play at several high- level baseball programs, but eventually chose Sac State because “I had a goal that anything that I wanted to accomplish in baseball, I could accomplish at Sac State in front of family and friends.” He followed older brother Jim to Sac State and immediately became one of the star players in Green and Gold. 

 

In his sophomore season (2008), he posted a 20-game hitting streak, finishing the year batting .330 with 43 runs batted in. That summer, he played in the Cape Cod League and turned heads when he made the All-Star team and later was named most valuable player for the Orleans Cardinals after leading his team in hits and the league in stolen bases. 

Wheeler_On_Deck
Sky Sox outfielder
Tim Wheeler watches on deck.

A pre-season All-American selection, Tim Wheeler shined in his junior season. He batted .385 and hit 18 home runs (three in one game twice), while setting school records for RBI in a season (72) and career (142). He was named second-team All-American by Baseball America and the American Baseball Coaches Association. 

 

He culminated his career at Sac State by being selected in the first round (32nd overall) by the Rockies and signed a $900,000 bonus. 

 

He’s been on a steady, upward climb toward the majors ever since.  

 

He also understands that being a first-round pick brings with it high expectations, especially by the organization. But he doesn’t feel the pressure. 

 

“They just want me to succeed. That’s really the only type of pressure you feel…what it comes down to is they’ve (the club) invested in you initially because they think you have the talent and they’re just looking for that success.” 

 

Wheeler understands there are solid, young players ahead of him playing well in the Rockies outfield (Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler) and younger, equally talented guys coming up through the system (highly touted Kyle Parker), but  Wheeler tries to stay focused on what he can control.  

 


“One of the things I control is the mindset. I’m a tireless worker. I’m always trying to get better and be more consistent,” he says honestly. “Largely, as a hitter, I’m unfinished. I’ve got a way to go.

“But, I’m getting a lot closer.” 

 

Sidebar: SAM What AM

Wheeler_Swinging
Tim Wheeler's final swing
with this SAM BAT.

We sat down for an interview with Tim Wheeler just after he got out of the batting cage at Raley Field. He was still holding his black SAM maple bat made famous when Barry Bonds and other MLB sluggers turned to maple for its hard wood density that purportedly propelled the ball further.

We asked Tim what he was swinging: a modified model 271. He said prior to his hand injury he used a 34", 32 ounce, but has since gone to a 31.5" ounce bat after the surgery.

We noted that maple bats had been known to shatter, but Wheeler countered that Major League Baseball's new guidelines for bat manufacturers had pretty much solved the problem.

Ironically, in Wheeler's first time up at Raley Field (see right),
he shattered his SAM BAT. Next time up he was seen swinging a blonde Old Hickory, which offers a variety of maple and ash pro style bats.

To read more about the rap on maple bats, and what MLB has done to counteract potential injuries due to splinterization, read a recent report at SB Nation.

Uploaded 07/01/12
All contents © Rick Cabral 2012 

 

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