The Albuquerque Isotopes’ first season as a Colorado Rockies affiliate is drawing to a close. Tim Wheeler’s career in the Rockies organization could be drawing to a close as well.
A former first-round pick back in 2009, Wheeler never panned out as the Rockies had hoped. He looked every bit the top prospect when he hit .287/.365/.535 with 33 home runs, 86 RBI and 21 stolen bases at Double-A Tulsa in 2011.
Wheeler moved up to Triple-A Colorado Springs the next year. He has never advanced past this level, batting a cumulative .262/.336/.383 in four seasons, three with the Sky Sox and one with the Isotopes.
With six full seasons in the minors, Wheeler will become a free agent this offseason. He has not started to look at what that might hold, preferring instead to look back at his time in the organization.
“It’s been a good four years,” Wheeler said. “I’ve really enjoyed playing for the guys I’ve played for, the coaches (Glenallen) Hill, (Dave) Hajek and Stu Cole and (Rene) Lachemann before that.
“With free agency coming up, yeah, it’s going to be different. We’ll see what opportunities present themselves, what comes up. I’m looking forward to it but (until then) it’s just another day at the ballpark at the end of the day.”
Injury was the cause of Wheeler’s struggles only back in 2012, when was limited to 92 games by a broken hamate bone that sidelined him for six weeks in the middle of the season. It also sapped his power, from 33 homers to just two.
“It’s a matter of getting your strength back,” Wheeler said of that injury. “It’s different for everybody.
“You’re just taking six weeks in the middle of your season. It’s mental and physical (rehab).”
Wheeler struggled to hit just five home runs in Colorado Springs’ thin air in 2013 and 11 in 2014. This season he has hit .253/.349/.379 with 10 home runs and 45 RBI while seeing time at all three outfield positions.
“I would say this year has been some of the best pitching I can remember in four years,” Wheeler said. “The quality of the starters has been a lot better.
“I mean, (Las) Vegas had that rotation for a while that was ridiculous. There’s a lot of teams with some good arms.”
Wheeler did have a good game Wednesday night as the Isotopes rallied to defeat Oklahoma City 11-6. He was 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI.
“To have Timmy Wheeler square up two balls, he’s battled all year, to see him look right and for him to feel right (was great),” manager Glenallen Hill said. “I’ve always said some of the greatest games in the season were made in the last two weeks.”
Wheeler and the Isotopes are now in the midst of a four-game series against Colorado Springs. Seeing other players in Sky Sox uniforms has not been too weird for Wheeler.
“The only thing that’s kind of strange is seeing the exact actual jersey that I wore last year,” Wheeler said. “I think (Robinzon) Diaz is wearing the No. 7. Other than that it’s just another team.”
Wheeler said he has enjoyed the organization’s move from Colorado Springs to Albuquerque. He has even taken some time to explore the city beyond the ballpark.
“It’s a much better opportunity to play here facility-wise,” he said. “Ballpark condition and production-wise, I’d say in general this park is probably a little more offensive because of the way the ball consistently flies.
“I like the city of Albuquerque, I’ve had a good time. Having a college here close by keeps everything (fun), there’s a lot going on.”
The Isotopes and Sky Sox play Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The final home game of the season will be Sunday at 6:05 p.m.