Sticking To Their Guns

Giants draft Zack Wheeler, yet another young promising arm

Click here to see the complete Giants draft class of 2009 and track signings

SAN FRANCISCO—Zack Wheeler had been on the Giants' scouting radar for nearly two years, but he wanted to give Brian Sabean a little something extra to remember him by when the general manager visited the righthander's high school game in rural Georgia in late March.

"That's when I hit 98 (mph)," Wheeler recalled. "I figured I'd boost it up a couple miles an hour for him."
The Giants' rapidly improving farm system got a familiar infusion of high-upside power arms in RHPs Zack Wheeler (first round), Jason Stoffel (fourth), Matt Graham (sixth) and Jeremy Toole (10th). Under third-year scouting director John Barr, they've done a better job of drafting and developing hitters, and will take a crack at honing the contact ability of C Tommy Joseph (second) and hulking 3B Chris Dominguez (third).

It was performances like that that convinced the Giants to select Wheeler with the sixth overall pick in the draft.

The draft didn't figure to provide the Giants much opportunity to address their lack of offense. But in a draft heavy in pitching, the Giants see in the 19-year-old Wheeler another Matt Cain (or maybe Madison Bumgarner or Tim Alderson), a prep pitcher who already has made significant competitive and physical strides before their eyes.

The skinny kid from Dallas, Ga., a town in the northwest corner of the state of about 5,000 people, has filled out to 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds, and probably still is growing.

"We got a really good player at a place in the draft where need to get a good player," Sabean said.

The Giants' interest peaked this spring when Wheeler went 9-0, 0.54 in 13 starts, with 151 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 77 2/3 innings.

"Every time we went back, we liked him a little bit more," said John Barr, a special assistant to Sabean and the Giants' de facto scouting director.

Although Wheeler's status had been gaining momentum on a lot of draft boards, more highly-touted pitchers were available when the Giants picked. But even with Tyler Matzek, Kyle Gibson, Aaron Crow, Tanner Scheppers, Shelby Miller and Alex White all there for the taking, Barr and Sabean said Wheeler was their top-rated player remaining.

"We compared him to Cain; we compared him to Bumgarner; we compared him to Alderson," Sabean said. "It all came back that this kid was very reminiscent of those types of picks.

"With his size, strength and ability, he should be on the fast track."

Wheeler is the third pitcher the Giants have selected in the first round in the past three years, and fourth since they took Tim Lincecum with the 10th overall pick in 2006.

Wheeler's fastball sits in the low 90s and he reportedly throws an advanced power breaking pitch. He projects favorably along the lines of the Giants' heralded 2007 picks, Bumgarner and Alderson, who both reached Double-A this season.

Wheeler, who is committed to Kennesaw State, said he's eager to begin his pro career, so signability isn't expected to be an issue.

"It's a good organization to go to," Wheeler said. "They develop a lot of pitchers, I know that. (Signing) as soon as possible would be great so I can start playing."