When Ryan Wheeler was promoted on July 20th it was the only likely move for the Diamondbacks. After all, the left handed hitting third baseman was ripping through Triple-A pitching at a big league pace. Through 93 games he had already recorded 90 RBI’s while accruing a .351 average and a team-leading 15 homeruns. Yes, that was 90 RBI’s in 93 games- and it doesn’t appear to be a fluke season- he also recorded 89 RBI’s in Double-A in 2011.
So, as Ryan Roberts was unable to anchor his position for the majority of the season, the Dbacks made a second move to try to upgrade their lowly numbers on the hot corner- the first [failed] attempt was Josh Bell. It took only five days following Wheeler’s arrival for the organization to shake up the position once again with the demotion of Ryan Roberts to AAA Reno making a trade for the fan favorite easier as he was later dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays that afternoon.
In one week Wheeler went from the minor league leader in RBI’s to the starting third baseman for the Arizona Diamondbacks- but Kevin Towers wasn’t finished. Four days later, on July 29th, Towers dealt for Astros third baseman Chris Johnson and just like that Wheeler’s starting role shifted to that of a platoon player. Like most initial call-ups for rookies, this one was a whirlwind for Wheeler.
Now Wheeler is faced with a difficult position as he tries to acclimate to major league pitching while receiving spotty at bats in pressure situations late in games. He is facing hard throwing relievers who are in the game to specifically retire hitters like Wheeler. While never knowing when his next at bat will come he also isn’t afforded the luxury of adjusting his approach from one at bat to the next. An adjustment for sure as the fifth round pick in 2009 had started in 93 of the Aces’ 99 games this season before being promoted.
Since the acquisition of Johnson, the 24 year old hasn’t started a game and has received just six at bats- all pinch hit appearances. He is 1 for 6 in these at bats collecting his first career pinch hit single against the Pirates on Tuesday evening. For the season Wheeler is 4 for 19 (.211) with one career double that also netted his first career-and only- RBI. Despite leading the Reno Aces in homeruns in 2012, Wheeler believes it is his gap-to-gap hitting approach that will translate into success in the majors. He is still looking for his first career multi-hit effort and it may be a while before the rookie is given the opportunity with the way Chris Johnson has been hitting the ball for the team.
Still, being used in these situations isn’t all bad for Wheeler as he is able to absorb the big league pace of the game while learning from the Dbacks on the field. Hopefully easing the 6′ 3″ rookie into the major leagues with a mid season call-up will allow him to be more prepared when he is needed in September and potentially as an everyday infielder for years to come. Either way Wheeler isn’t complaining, “I don’t know what exactly is in store for me here. It doesn’t matter to me, I’m just happy to be here.” After all there isn’t much to complain about when you’re 24 years old and wearing a Diamondbacks uniform right in the middle of a race to win the N.L. West.