Last updated: May 17. 2014 9:14PM - 1599 Views
By Dave Rosengrant

RailRiders shortstop Zelous Wheeler (18) shares a laugh with Indianapolis' Jaff Decker during a recent game at PNC Field.
RailRiders shortstop Zelous Wheeler (18) shares a laugh with Indianapolis' Jaff Decker during a recent game at PNC Field.
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So you’re expecting a baby soon and can’t decide on a name?

Well, look no further than the roster of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders for ideas. There are common names like Brian, Russ, Kyle and Scott.

Then there’s the most unique first name on the team, and maybe in all of the minor leagues in Zelous, as in Zelous Wheeler.

“There’s no story behind it. It’s a good name,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler, has a younger brother named Brian, was born and raised in Alabama and attended Wallace State Community College in Alabama. Even though his nickname growing up was ‘Dude,’ he still gets questions about his name all the time.

“Questions like where’s your mom get it from,” he said. “But she just came up with it.”

Since being drafted in 2007 by the Brewers and entering the minors on a full-time basis in 2008, every summer Wheeler has been selected to participate in Minor League Baseball’s Moniker Madness, a 64-player bracket to vote on by fans for the best name in the minor leagues.

In his first year in the bracket, he made it to the second round before losing to Al Alburqueque. The next four seasons, he reached the Sweet 16 of the bracket. He fell to eventual champion Dusty Napoleon in 2009, Gookie Dawkins in 2010, Tuffy Gosewich in 2011 and Rougned Odor in 2012. He finally broke through to the next round finishing ninth last season.

“It’s a good little tournament to be in. There’s plenty of cool names around the league,” said Wheeler, who would like to be in it again this season and has aspirations of winning. “It’s always cool to win no matter what you compete in. You could be competing in anything, whatever. My name’s been in the hat, I feel good and we’ll see who wins this year.”

It would also feel good for him if Wheeler made it to the Major Leagues. The 27-year-old infielder has never been to the bigs, having played in nearly 800 games in the minors with three organizations. After being drafted by Milwaukee, he was added to the 40-man roster following the 2011 season. But before the 2012 season began, he was waived and scooped up by Baltimore, where he spent the next two seasons playing at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk.

When he became a free agent, he signed with the Yankees this past offseason. And, he may finally be on the verge of getting a shot in the majors. He started this season only knowing one position – third base – although he’s always been willing to play anywhere he was asked.

So, he started the 2014 season as the starting shortstop for the RailRiders before an injury sidelined him for a few weeks. Not only has he played seven games at shortstop, he’s become quite the utility player for Dave Miley’s squad, seeing time at third base (nine games), second base (two) and right field (two).

In addition to his flexibility, Wheeler leads Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in batting average (.325), while posting a .378 on-base percentage.

His year got started on a good note when he performed in the Caribbean Series, leading the event with three home runs and driving in six runs in 20 at-bats and helping Mexico win its eighth Caribbean Series championship.

“It’s a good experience,” Wheeler said. “Caribbean ball is something everyone needs to see. All the countries and what they go through. It’s something to look at and something to see, it’s good times over there.”

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