FutureBacks Q&A: 1B Chance Wheeless

Chance Wheeless had been the everyday first baseman for the Eastern Division Champion South Bend Silver Hawks before Ryne White got promoted from Missoula last week. Even though Wheeless drives in lots of runs and can sometimes provide game-changing power, the big Texan's recent defensive inconsistency could relegate him to DH duties in the postseason.

Chance Wheeless ranks third among Silver Hawks players in home runs (9), and fourth in both walks (45) and RBI (41).  In the August 13-15 series at Fort Wayne, Wheeless cranked out five hits, three of which were homers, and drove in six runs.  In the first game of that series, he made a defensive error, and in the last game, the Silver Hawks team committed five defensive miscues, although Wheeless himself was not charged with one.  He did commit a fielding error in each of his next four games at first base, however, each on seemingly routine ground balls.

Midwest League Manager of the Year Mark Haley gave Wheeless some time off, replacing him with newly-promoted Ryne White for a few games, both to clear his head and rest his body, which is undergoing the grind of a full season for the first time.  We spoke with last year's 17th-round pick out of Texas before the August 17th game in which he walked and singled, but also made an error in the field.

FutureBacks: So tell me how this year has been different from last year for you?

Chance Wheeless: Well, this year, it's the long season.  You've really got to prepare your body in the offseason for the end of the season.  It's pretty grueling on your body.  So you've got to stay in shape better and really focus on taking care of your body.

FB: But you joined the team a little late out of Extended Spring Training, right?

CW: Yeah, I did.  We were playing every day in Extended too, and it was really hot in Arizona.  I hit a little skid at the beginning during spring training.  It took some time at Extended to really get things going.  I'm facing much better pitching here than I did in Short-Season.

FB: Is it mostly command or the breaking pitches?

CW: It's definitely the command.  Guys just don't miss their spots as much as they do at the lower levels.

FB: You're still taking a lot of walks, though.

CW: Yeah, I was for a little while... I'm starting to get back in the swing of things.

FB: I know your average is down, but you've got a lot of RBIs.  You're getting the big hits.

CW: Yeah, I think that's a product of where I hit in this lineup.  There are a lot of guys who get on base.  A lot of guys have a lot of RBIs, like [Taylor] Harbin and [Sean] Coughlin.  It's a product of being on a first place team.

FB: And Harbin hits a double every time he comes to bat, now.

CW: [Laughs] It's pretty easy to hit behind a guy like that.

FB: What's with the defense lately and all of these errors?

CW: I don't know.  I take a lot of pride in my defense.  The past couple of days, we've played on some rough fields, and I've made little mistakes: not staying in front of the ball, fishing bad hops.  You've got to really stay focused.  There are some really good fields in this league, but there are also some pretty bad ones, so you've got to really keep your mind right every inning and stay ready every pitch.  That's another part of the long season: keeping your mind ready.

FB: You've been a first baseman all your life?

CW: Yeah.

FB: Because you're so tall?

CW: [laughs] Yeah, and left-handed.

FB: Is that a big deal, being left-handed for that throw to second base?

CW: Oh yeah.  Definitely.  You know, I consider myself a pretty defensively-oriented first baseman.  It's just tough making errors.  It's something you have to work on. 

FB: Who are you most worried about in the playoffs?

CW:  I'm not really worried about anyone, but Lansing has got a bunch of good left-handed pitching.  It's going to be a grind against those guys, because they've got some good ones.   I've struggled against left-handed pitching this year.  There's some good teams in this league.  We've done a pretty good job in the second half, but Lansing pretty much dominated the first half.  This team we're playing now (West Michigan Whitecaps) is pretty good, too.  Everybody's just going to have to grind it out.

FB: Has Mo (hitting coach Francisco Morales) suggested anything to you about how to improve against left-handed pitching?

CW: He just reminded me that versus lefties, it's more of a battle.  It's out of my comfort zone.  Just trying to put the ball in play.  Against lefties, when you're a left-handed hitter, Mo talks about really getting that one pitch that you can hit.  You can't miss it, because they're just going to flip curveballs in there after you. I've maybe opened up [my stance] a little bit to see the ball better and done some drills with the ball coming at you from that angle.  A lot of them are in there to get you out specifically.  They're coming with all different angles with the ball.

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