Since Joe Jordan took over the scouting duties in 2005, the Baltimore Orioles have had some memorable draft picks. In 2005, the team selected and signed good players like Brandon Snyder, Nolan Reimold, David Hernandez, and Brandon Erbe, and even picked Tanner Scheppers with the O's 29th round pick. Scheppers appears to be a consensus Top 15 pick in the upcoming draft. 2006 was a shaky draft, as well, as none of the early picks have lived up to their hype. Billy Rowell has shown vast improvement this year (6 HRs, 22 RBIs), but doesn't have a role on the team in the future, nor does Pedro Beato, Ryan Adams, or Jedediah Stephen, all early picks who haven't lived up to their expectations so far.
But in 2007, also the same year Andy MacPhail took over as team president, Jordan pulled off an epic draft. With the fifth overall pick, he chose catcher Matt Wieters, Timothy Bascom, Jake Arrieta, Wally Crancer, Cole McCurry, Colin Allen, and Kraig Binick, all guys who are succeeding in the O's farm system. In Wieters case, succeeding in Major League Baseball. There is no doubt Wieters is the most prized of all. A Boras client, the switch hitting catcher signed minutes before the August 15th deadline. Because he signed so late, he wasn't able to get any minor league seasoning that year, and would report to High Single A Frederick in 2008. It didn't take him long to move up the ranks.
In just 69 games, Wieters became the best prospect in the Carolina League, hitting .345 with 15 home runs and 40 RBI before getting the promotion to Double A Bowie. There, he performed even batter, batting .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBI. Wieters impressed many during Spring Training, batting over .300. There was no doubt he was major league ready. However, to make sure the O's have control of him for a longer period of time, the O's decided to give him some at bats at Triple A Norfolk. Wieters got off to a slow start, starting just 1-for-11, but in late May, he was hitting .305 with five homers and 30 RBI - certainly not top prospect in baseball numbers - but impressive ones, to say the least.
On May 29th, he got the call to play against the Detroit Tigers. He struggled in his first game, going just 0-for-4, but called an outstanding game, leading rookie Brad Bergesen to an eight inning, two run performance. In a 6-3 loss to Detroit the next night, he went 2-for-4 with a double and a triple, and showed why he is the top prospect in baseball. So far, Wieters is just 2-for-11 (.182), but fans have no reason to worry. He's hitting the ball hard, and the way batting averages are adjusted this early, one at bat could make a difference. If he goes 3-for-4 tonight against the Seattle Mariners, he's suddenly hitting .333.
After making such a good selection in Wieters, the O's weren't hesitant to go with an experienced, college player early in the 2008 draft, picking San Diego left handed pitcher Brian Matusz. Like Wieters, the O's decided to start Matusz right away. Some analysts argued that Matusz had the poise and command to be major league ready right away. He hasn't hurt that title in Frederick, where he has a 2.37 earned run average and in his last five starts, has allowed a combined five runs.
In a Sunday afternoon win over the Salem Red Sox, Matusz dominated, pitching seven innings, allowing five hits, walking one, and striking out four. In Matusz' previous start, he shut down Wilmington, allowing four hits and no runs over seven frames. Three starts prior to that, he allowed one run and struck out 13 in seven innings. Looking over his numbers, Matusz has to be the O's Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He hasn't missed a start, has pitched 60.2 innings, allowed just 51 hits, has struck out 69, and walked just 20. In the majors, he doesn't project as a guy who can strike out a lot of hitters, but currently leads the Carolina League in punchouts.
It appears the O's are taking the Wieters approach with Matusz. He's lighting it up in Single A, practically pitching his way into Bowie, just like Wieters hit his way into. Just ask Orioles MASNSports blogger Roch Kubatko. "I don't know when he'll move up to Bowie. He might have to wait until the break. It might happen a little sooner. But it's coming." It wouldn't be surprising if Matusz takes over Troy Patton's role in Bowie as the No. 2 starter, just behind Jake Arrieta. For the first time, we'll see a rotation with the two paired up.
With the way he's been pitching lately (14 IP, 9 H, 0 ER last two starts), I wouldn't be surprised if his next start is in a Bowie Baysox uniform. A rotation in Bowie consisting of Arrieta, Matusz, along with a healthy Brandon Erbe could be a very scary one. Matusz also has the right attitude: "You can't focus on, oh, I want to be in Double A right now, I want to be in Triple A, the big leagues. It's just a matter of going out there start by start and working on the things I need to work on to get better. I struggled in my first few starts. I was trying to make the major leagues in one day, and you can't do that. It's a long season, and a long process."
Matusz hasn't struggled in his last few starts, and many argue he's major league ready right now. There's even video of him retiring major league hitters like Jeremy Hermida and Dan Uggla. With what we have seen from him in recent years, I wouldn't argue that he's major league ready. The O's would be wise not to rush him, but I think we're seeing a Matt Wieters approach - send him to Frederick, promote him to Bowie. Then the next season, play it safe - start him in Triple A, and make him earn the most important phone call of his life.