Some players might be discouraged when given No. 98 upon reporting to spring training, that’s not the case with Zelous Wheeler. Wheeler, a 27-year-old career minor leaguer who has spent time bouncing around the Baltimore and Milwaukee organizations, is happy to have a chance to show what he can do for the Yankees, with an opportunity to break camp with the big league club.
Zelous, primarily a third baseman, has shown versatility, a key for any player trying to prove his worth to a team, by manning second base in addition to shortstop. He has also displayed a bit of pop, putting up .275/.354/.414 splits with 11 home runs and 56 RBI in 114 games last year between Baltimore’s Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.
Wheeler is fully aware that his best chance at snagging a job in the show is to put his head down, work his tail off, and let the chips fall where they may. “I’m a worker, and guys like me just have to hope a spot is available and they recognize how I fit,” Wheeler said. “And I’ll perform the best I can at whatever position they put me at, control what you can control on the field, and force them to recognize me.”
Recognition is something that has come easier for some of Wheeler’s college teammates at Wallace State, a junior college in Hanceville, Alabama. Wheeler spent his time as a Lion playing alongside the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Derek Holland and Jake Elmore. While those players, particularly Kimbrel, have traversed smoother, and certainly shorter, respective roads to the bigs, Wheeler’s head is not down. “The journey’s been good. It’s been a fun ride, but I’m not done. I haven’t reached my goal yet.”
To keep sharp, Wheeler has spent the past two winters playing in the Mexican Pacific League, mostly with Algodoneros de Guasave. This past season he tied for second in the league in home runs with 11 and finished third in RBI with 41. Success like this has given Wheeler the confidence to believe he belongs on a big league diamond, “It’s a sign I can do it, whether it’s over there or over here,” Wheeler said. “Any kind of competition, it’s still baseball. If I can do it there, I feel like I can come close here, because I know I’m a good player and I can hit.”