With nary a single pitch thrown for the New York Mets just yet, Zack Wheeler has already become a symbolic, often hyperbolic, figure in Mets land. For fans, critics and bloviators alike, everyone's got an opinion on the young man.
And he is a young man.
It really puts things into perspective for me when I'm perusing Wheeler's minor-league stats and I notice his birthdate. May 30, 1990.
I'm not a mathematician, but I believe that when Wheeler makes his long-awaited MLB debut next week, he will be the first '90s kid to suit up for the Mets. He is younger than Ruben Tejada, Jeurys Familia and Juan Lagares. Younger than any Mets player on the roster.
He's so young that the last thing anyone should be doing is rushing to judge him before he even throws a Major League pitch.
Zack Wheeler is not Carlos Beltran, the future Hall of Famer that he was traded for two years ago. He is not Matt Harvey, the outstanding young ace that the Mets hope will be the yin to Wheeler's yang at the top of the rotation for years to come.
Zack Wheeler is Zack Wheeler.
Let Zack Wheeler be Zack Wheeler.
He is by all accounts a humble, bright young man who is well aware of the challenges he will face in the Major Leagues. Only he can control his own destiny, and trying to pigeon-hole him or define him or label him is just silly.
I know I speak for many when I say that I can't wait to see #45 show us what he can do. He's expected to make his MLB debut in a doubleheader on Tuesday, paired with Harvey, in his home state of Georgia with his family in the crowd.
There will be lots written about that day, and the days to follow, but the prudent thing to do is to just let Wheeler be himself, and enjoy that for what it is.
For better or for worse, Wheeler has become a symbol of hope, a staple of Sandy Alderson's regime. Perhaps unfairly to him, he has become the face of Alderson's deliberate, pragmatic philosophy of building a brighter future through power arms that can anchor a rotation for years to come.
But Zack Wheeler is just one young man. The Mets' future fortunes will not rise or fall solely on the shoulders of a 1990s-born right-hander. Harvey, Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud, collectively, are only the first wave.
Perhaps Rafael Montero, Wilmer Flores and Cesar Puello are the second wave. The bottom line is that the rebuilding of the Mets into a perennial contender relies crucially on the emergence of young talent that can collectively breed winning ways as a team, something no individual player can do alone.
They say the night is always darkest just before the dawn. But that dawn is coming. As gloomy and grim as these 2013 Mets have been, this necessary purge of marginal talent in favor of legitimate top prospects is an expected consequence for a franchise whose two best players (David Wright and Matt Harvey) were drafted in 2001 and 2010, respectively.
"Ya Gotta Believe" has been a popular rallying cry for Mets fans for 40 years now. My message to the Shea Faithful is to not lose that hope. Not now.
Wheeler may not be the savior, but he doesn't have to be. All Zack Wheeler needs to be is Zack Wheeler. I hope fans can understand and respect that.