You probably remember that Wheeler had a terrific spring training, good enough that Joe Girardi said yesterday that Wheeler was part of the discussion for the Opening Day roster. The Yankees didn’t send him to minor league camp until the very end of spring training, so Wheeler knew he’d made an impression. And when he got to Triple-A, Wheeler kept hitting. He had two hits in four of his first six games.
But in that seventh game, Wheeler felt something in his back.
If Wheeler knew he’d just made a good impression on the big league staff, he also knew he was a 27-year-old career minor leaguer who’d spent his entire career toiling in other organizations. A good first impression only lasts so long, and Wheeler asked Triple-A manager Dave Miley to basically ignore the injury.
“Miley came on the field and I’m like, ‘Miley, I’m alright. I’m alright,’” Wheeler said. “(Miley) said, ‘No, no, we’ve got to take you out.’ Because you know how the Yankees are. If you’re hurt, you’ve got to come out so (the training staff) can take a look at you. So I think it was two days later, and I’m on the DL already. Just like that.
“I was like, ‘When I get to feeling better, Miley, I’ll let you know. I want to get in there and play.’ Miley said, ‘No, we’re going to take every precaution. Make sure it’s right before you go out on the field.’ I was like, ‘But Miley, I’m not a prospect. I need to get out there so I can get up to the big leagues.’”
Not a prospect. You have any idea how many long-time minor leaguers feel that way? It’s awfully easy to get discouraged and fully believe the window of opportunity has come and gone. It’s easy for a guy like Wheeler — not a prospect, by almost every usual standard — to think he’s never going to get a serious look.
Miley’s heard that plenty of times.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I don’t give a s***. I don’t give a s***,’” Wheeler said. “‘Anybody who puts a uniform on is a prospect.’ That’s what he said.”
One thing I learned from covering the minor leagues: for a lot of the veteran guys, the struggle is mental. It’s about trying to keep going, always believing the big leagues are within reach. It’s about a player believing he’s a “prospect” — whatever that means. In an odd way, it’s about a player believing he’s worth a DL stint because he needs to be healthy and won’t be forgotten. Sometimes a Triple-A manager has to make sure a player like Wheeler believes that.
This season, the Yankees have put Yangervis Solarte, Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Shane Greene, Chris Leroux, Bruce Billings and Chase Whitley on their big league roster. Not all would have been considered a “prospect” — and certainly those were not the biggest names in the minor league system — but they all performed and put themselves at the top of the pecking order when opportunity presented itself. That’s what Wheeler did. Miley told him he was a prospect, and wouldn’t you know it, when the Yankees went looking for a new infielder, Wheeler was productive, healthy and at the top of the pecking order.
“I kind of knew that (I needed to go on the DL). I’ve been around for a while,” Wheeler said. “But my heart and gut said, I want to play.”
Associated Press photo