Diamondbacks' Wheeler Handles Double-A Challenge
PHOENIX—Ryan Wheeler seems to have the mechanics of hitting well in hand after his first three seasons in the Diamondbacks organization. He paid particular attention to the mental side of the art this season, and the numbers suggest that went well, too.
The third baseman had his most productive season while helping Double-A Mobile to the Southern League championship, hitting .294/.358/.465 with career highs in doubles (30), home runs (18) and RBIs (89).
"The pitchers got a lot better, so you had to go to the plate with some type of plan—cutting the plate in half, looking for your pitch, (looking) middle-away and laying off offspeed pitches that you are seeing a lot more of," Wheeler said. "Everyone gets better. Everyone's physical skills start to get a lot more similar, and that (mental approach) is what sets you apart as a hitter, as a defender.
"I think Double-A, for me, that's when it really started to show that you needed it."
There were other adjustments. After hitting behind Southern League MVP Paul Goldschmidt the first four months of the season, Wheeler spent the stretch drive and the playoffs without that big bat in the order, forced to adjust to pitchers attacking him as the big hitter in the lineup.
That did not seem to be an issue, either. A fifth-round pick out of Loyola Marymount in 2009, Wheeler, 23, punctuated his best year with a potent postseason that included two doubles and three RBIs in a 7-1, Game Five victory over Birmingham that sent Mobile to the league final. He smacked a three-run homer in the first game of the championship series against Tennessee.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound Wheeler maintained his stroke early on in the prospect-stocked Arizona Fall League. He had 12 hits in his first 23 at-bats for the Salt River Rafters, with five doubles and five RBIs, and was a co-player of the week in the first week.
"There is a lot more velo in this league. The pitchers are all trying to show their GMs that they are throwing strikes, so you know you are going to get something to hit. For me, it's just staying aggressive," Wheeler said.
• The other hitters in the Diamondbacks' AFL contingent, outfielder Adam Eaton and second baseman David Nick, were off to hot starts as well. Eaton was batting .341/.444/.545 with six extra-base hits in 11 games, while Nick was at .314/.400/.371.
• In the Mexican Pacific League, outfielder Evan Frey had 11 hits in his first eight games, batting .324/.439/.382 in 34 at-bats. Frey spent most of the regular season at Triple-A Reno, where he hit .275/.369/.373 in 389 at-bats.