When Wallace State Community College baseball coach Randy Putman signed Zelous Wheeler to a scholarship in 2006, he saw an athlete with good skills and the potential of making it to the major leagues one day.
Wheeler is on the right path as the former standout for one of the top junior college programs in the nation is moving up in his quest to be a major league performer. Wheeler will be in his first full season for the Huntsville Stars this year, the Double A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Following two great seasons that helped Wallace State produce its sixth Alabama Junior College championship and a third place finish in the National Junior College World Series, Wheeler has made progress in two seasons of organized ball for the Brewers, getting promoted from the rookie league in 2007 to the Midwest League in 2008 and on to Brevard County in the Florida State League last year.
"Zelous was a great player for us for two years," Putman said. "He has contnued to improve and has a chance to play in the big leagues."
A friend of Putman's informed the veteran coach about Wheeler in 2005 when Putman was well into recruiting for the upcoming season. "We could tell that he was very athletic. He was extremely quick for a big guy who weighed 220 pounds. He could move very well playing third base."
While at Wallace State, Putman was able to develop Wheeler into a solid hitter, especially hitting the ball the opposite way from the right side of the plate. "He was one of our best hitters," Putman added. "a great clutch hitter, we wanted him at the plate when the game was on the lne. Zelous is a hard worker. He came here as a pretty good player and left here as a better player. He's very coachable."
His numbers have increased from one year to the next while playing professional ball. Wheeler batted . 258 with 13 home runs and 87 runs batted in during the 2008 season and last year in getting the move to play for Brevard County, he clubbed a .268 average, smacked 23 doubles, belted seven homers, drove in 64 runs and had an on base percentage of .760.
Drafted in the 19th round by the Brewers in the 2007 draft, Wheeler was a mid-season All-Star in the Florida State League last year and was selected player of the week during the third week of '09 FSL season. His best performance came in the rookie league when he was four for five in a game against Casper with a triple, home run and three runs scored.
Putman said Wheeler got to play for Huntsville in the final couple of weeks for the Stars and was a member of their Southern League playoff team. Putman compared Wheeler's skills to former Cubs and Pirates' slugger Bill Madlock. Madlock had a stocky-type body and could hit for power and average, especially when he was traded to Pittsburgh and helped the Pirates win the World Series in 1979.
With good ability to hit the ball to the opposite side of the field, Putman feels that Wheeler has the potential of getting a lot of extra base hits and possibly hitting 15 to 18 homers in the upcoming season for the Stars.
"I felt Zelous was ready for professional baseball when the Brewers drafted him in 2007," Putman continued. "He's very mature and was ready for it."
Putman reflected on a time where many coaches have told the 21-year veteran at Wallace State that Wheeler is one of the best third baseman they've seen in junior college.
Wheeler is one of five former Lions that is currently innvolved in Major League Baseball. Pitcher Derek Holland has worked his way to the roster for the Texas Rangers while Trey Kimbrell is in the Atlanta Braves' organization, Jake Elmore is playing minor league ball for the Arizona Diamondbacks and Ryan Keedy is a member of the Florida Marlins' farm system.
Putman will continue to follow the career of Wheeler, especially that he's an hour from the Wallace State campus in Hanceville, even while he is busy with his 21st season coaching the Lions and trying to lead his ball club back above the rest of solid competition in the Northern Division of the Alabama Community College.
Putman has experienced a great moment from the coaching standpoint in having former players such as Jey Bell, Travis Fryman, Terry Jones and Derek Holland to make it to the majors and believes that with the determination and hard work Zelous Wheeler provides on an every day basis, he will be wearing the uniform of the Milwaukee Brewers in the near future.