It took 5 straight losses, 9 of 11, and dropping below .500, but the Yankees finally decided to make a move to attempt to help their floundering offense. As first reported by Donnie Collins and later confirmed and elaborated on by Chad Jennings, last night Zelous Wheeler was called up from Triple-A to join the team in Minnesota. He will be available for, and possibly playing in, tonight's game. No corresponding move has been announced yet, so we still don't know who's gone. That may be something the team is still figuring out. Because Wheeler needs a 25 and 40-man roster spot, there could be a couple of moving pieces here.
For those unfamiliar, Wheeler is a 27-year-old utility man who's spent the entire season thus far in Triple-A after receiving a MiL invite to spring camp. Drafted by the Brewers in the 19th round of the 2007 draft, Wheeler, like Yangervis Solarte before this season, has spent all of his 8-year pro career in the Minors. He'd been bounced between Double-A and Triple-A every year going back to 2011 in the Brewer and Oriole organizations before the change of scenery this year. This spring was his first real chance at winning a Major League job, and after putting up a consistently great batting line for the RailRiders all year he'll get his shot.
A right-handed hitter, Wheeler's line was at .299/.367/.467 before getting pulled early from last night's game and called up. He's mostly a gap hitter (20 doubles), but he's shown pretty good home run power this season with 7 homers and he's drawn 20 walks in 270 plate appearances. He's also scored 42 runs and driven in 31. Wheeler's best asset at the plate is easily his ability to hit lefties. In 75 PA against them this year, he's hitting .348/.400/.522. He's no slouch against right-handers (.800 OPS), but his calling card is what he can do to southpaws.
Defensively, Wheeler offers even more flexibility than guys like Solarte and Kelly Johnson. He's played every position except first base, catcher, and center field in his MiL career and this season he's seen time at second, third, shortstop, and right field. He's a natural infielder and his skills are best there. The bulk of his time in SWB was spent at third base and short, and while he's no Brendan Ryan with the glove, he's competent enough at every infield position.
If I had to guess, I'd bet Joe is planning to use him similarly to how he's used Solarte, which leads me to believe that Solarte will be sent down to Triple-A to open a spot on the active roster. Maybe this means Brian Roberts will be the everyday second baseman while Johnson and Wheeler platoon at third. Wheeler's abilities to play an outfield corner and rake against lefties, however, do leave the possibility open for Alfonso Soriano to get the DFA treatment. That would open spots on both rosters and make the move much simpler. It would also be simple to move Jose Campos to the 60-day DL to clear a spot, so methinks Soriano could be safe for now.
Something had to happen. There was no way the Yankees could continue to trot out lineups with this many bad hitters in them, especially not if Teix and Ellsbury are banged up again. Wheeler may not have been the best choice of the available players in Triple-A (I would have taken Jose Pirela), but he's one that gives Joe a lot of options and the chance to play to favorable matchups. Once the corresponding roster moves are made later today, this will become official and we may see another Yankee rookie make his MLB debut tonight.