KANSAS CITY -- In his first full season away from the Mets, Carlos Beltran is dominating the National League. His 20 home runs rank second on the circuit. His 65 RBIs rank first. He has played a significant role in keeping the Cardinals afloat despite the departure of icon Albert Pujols.
But the Mets would not dream of undoing the trade that officially ended Beltran's tenure in New York.
That is because of pitcher Zack Wheeler, the dynamic return on the trade who, along with infielder Wilmer Flores, represented the Mets during Sunday's SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Kauffman Stadium. A promising but somewhat undistinguished talent at the time of last July's trade with the Giants, Wheeler has since developed into one of the top handful of pitching prospects in baseball.
If the Mets are to become consistent winners in future years, they will need Wheeler, along with 2011 Futures Game participant Matt Harvey, to lead the way on the mound.
"I see what he's doing," Wheeler said of Beltran. "But I really don't look at it that way, I guess. I was just traded for him. He's pretty good."
Plenty of pretty good -- pretty darn good, actually -- prospects populated the U.S. Team's pitching staff in Sunday's Futures Game, from Dylan Bundy of the Orioles' organization to Gerrit Cole of the Pirates to Matt Barnes of the Red Sox. But Wheeler has become as highly regarded as any of them, thanks to his 8-4 record and 2.62 ERA in 15 starts at Double-A Binghamton.
He has done it as a 21-year-old, striking out 88 batters, walking 35 and allowing just 66 hits over 92 2/3 innings. And he was dominant in a brief Futures Game appearance, dialing his fastball as high as 98 mph in retiring the only two batters he faced.
"He's one of the best," Flores said. "He's got great stuff. He's so young for being very talented. He's going to make some money."
Then again, Flores knows better than anyone how quickly a Minor Leaguer's stock can fluctuate. Long considered one of the top prospects in baseball due to his power potential as a teenage shortstop coming out of Venezuela, Flores went tumbling off the radar when he played out four professional seasons without much success. That spelled extra trouble for Flores, considering few scouts believed he had the defensive skills to stick at shortstop; most figured he would settle in as a third baseman or corner outfielder.
Flores made that transition this spring and took to it, crushing 10 home runs in 64 games with Class A St. Lucie before earning a promotion to Double-A. Still just 20 years old, Flores has been even better at Binghamton, batting .390 with two home runs in his first 16 games.
"I just want to play in the big leagues," said Flores, who started at third for the World Team, finishing 0-for-2 with a groundout and a lineout. "I don't really care where I play. If I have to play in the outfield, I'll play. If I have to play third base, I'll play. I just want to play and get my four at-bats a game."
If Flores' gains this year are more than mere mirages, he should have that opportunity in New York. As should Wheeler. The right-hander has shot up prospect lists with his first-half performance, and he should be in line for a promotion to Triple-A Buffalo soon. There, he will join Harvey as one of the most heralded one-two pitching punches in the game.
"I see it," Wheeler said of those expectations, "but it's not going to bother me any. It's not going to make my head bigger, or it's not going to be a downer if I get moved down. I'm out there to pitch."