Matt Wieters: Believe the Hype, Folks
With top prospect Matt Wieters finally in Baltimore, there is excitement in Baltimore. Before we analyze why this kid will be a superstar, let's go on a journey to see how he got to Baltimore.
It started on May 21, 1986, when Matthew Richard Wieters was born in Goose Creek, SC. Because he was so big, it would be difficult to determine what position he would play, but at Stratford High School, he played catcher.
Wieters drew attention from multiple colleges, but ended up signing a L.O.I. (Letter of Intent) to attend Georgia Tech, where he would play for the Yellow Jackets. He got his career off to a great start.
In 2005, he was ACC Rookie of the Year, Freshman All-American, and First Team All-ACC. As for numbers, he led a 45-19 Georgia Tech team, batting .366 with 10 home runs, 68 RBI, 45 walks, 32 strikeouts, and a 1.051 OPS.
On top of that, he proved his worth on the mound, going 3-3 with a 2.85 ERA and six saves. He proved himself as a catcher with unique power, solid patience, and ability to hit the ball to all fields.
As a sophomore, he didn't slip, showing even more power, slugging 15 home runs, driving in 71 runs, and batting .355 in just 68 games. As voted by Baseball America, he was a member of the First Team All American roster.
As soon as Wieters entered the draft, you had to assume he'd be a top five pick. However, Wieters stayed at Georgia Tech for one more season to prove himself even more so than he had his first two.
In 58 games, Wieters hit ten homers, drove in 57 runs, batted .358, had 51 walks, 37 strikeouts, and an amazing 1.072 OPS. Wieters became just the third Georgia Tech baseball player to make the All American squad at least twice, quite an accomplishment in a system as rich as Georgia Tech's.
It would be Wieters' last year at GT, as he decided to enter the 2007 MLB Draft.
With the first overall pick, the Tampa Bay Rays, a team in rebuilding mode, decided to draft David Price, a Vanderbilt left-handed pitcher who went 11-1, posted a 2.63 ERA, and struck out 194 in 133.1 innings the previous year.
That pick was no mistake. Price is developing into one of the best pitchers in baseball, and I can't complain about that selection. However, the Royals, Cubs, and Pirates made huge mistakes passing on Wieters.
The Royals decided to add high school shortstop Mike Moustakas. In his final year at Chatsworth High, Moustakas had a legendary year, hitting 24 homers in 97 at bats, driving in 59 runs, and winning Baseball America Player of the Year.
The Cubs then selected Cypress High School third baseman Josh Vitters, a power hitting right handed batter. The Pirates, not exactly known for their wise front office decisions, selected Clemson pitcher Tyler Moskos.
Now, the only pick that appears wise at this point is Vitters. Moustakas, while one of the top Royals prospects, is batting a mediocre .262 with seven homers for High A Wilmington.
Moskos, pitching for the Double A Altoona Curve, is just 3-5 with a 3.94 ERA and .289 opponent's batting average. Vitters is doing very well in the Class A Midwest League, with a .321 average, 13 homers, and 37 RBI. However, there is no debate as to who has had the most productive minor league career.
Because he was a client of the feared Scott Boras, Wieters was a tough sign. Literally minutes before the deadline, the O's signed Wieters to a $6M signing bonus, the largest in franchise history.
Because he signed so late, he couldn't get any minor league seasoning, and had to wait until the next season to make his minor league debut. Because he was so talented, the O's had him skip rookie league Bluefield, low A Delmarva and Aberdeen, starting the switch hitting catcher at High A Frederick. He didn't waste any time.
In his first at-bat, he hit a home run the right field—while batting right handed. He went on to hit another home run in the same game, going 2-for-3 with two homers in his first minor league game. Not bad. Not bad at all.
In 69 games for Frederick, he hit 15 home runs, drove in 40, batted .345, and had a 1.024 OPS. His presence was definitely being felt at the plate. The O's decided to move him up to Double A Bowie, where he was actually even better, batting .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBI to finish the year.
On the year, he hit .355, slugged 27 home runs, drove in 91, and had an amazing 1.053 OPS. The Orioles had an open competition at the catcher position going into the year. Ramon Hernandez had been traded to the Cincinnati Reds, and Guillermo Quiroz had been released.
Most suggested Wieters start the year with the O's, as he did win Minor League Player of the Year in 2008 and was the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball. However, the O's decided to sign veteran Gregg Zaun to a one-year deal, and putting Wieters in Triple-A Norfolk.
It's not because they weren't confident in Wieters ability, it's because in putting him back in the minors, they gained an extra year of team control.
Wieters got off to a slow start at Triple A, as he was hitting just .260 with one homer and five RBI at the end of April. As the month came to a close, you could see he was starting to hit the ball a lot better, just not for much power. In May, however, he hit .330, drove in 25 runs, and hit four homers.
At that time, he was hitting .305, had five home runs, and had driven in 30. During a win over the Toronto Blue Jays, Andy MacPhail announced the team would call up Wieters on a Friday, May 29 matchup with Detroit.
So far, Wieters is batting just .256 without a homer or an RBI. Some fans are calling for drastic measures, declaring him a bust after a minimal number of at-bats. However, I'm telling you now: believe the hype.
Wieters is doing just EXACTLY what he did at Triple A Norfolk. He started slow (just 4-for-28, in fact), but is hitting the ball a lot harder lately. In his last three games, he is 6-for-11 (.545), and has upped his average from .143 to .256, hardly a number to sneeze at for a rookie catcher.
Sooner or later, like he did at Norfolk, he's going to show more production. First of all, he's going to need to get more RBI opportunities. The Orioles lineup is slumping collectively right now. Brian Roberts is the only one showing signs of life.
Adam Jones, once hitting in the .360s, is down to .329. Nick Markakis, once around .330, is now batting .289. Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora are both in the .250s. Luke Scott is also producing, as is Nolan Reimold, but most of their hits come on home runs, which leaves Wieters, currently the eighth hitter in the order, with bases empty situations.
Also, it's not as if Wieters has faced terrible pitchers, either. Since getting the call, Wieters has faced good major league pitchers, like Justin Verlander (7-2, 3.02 ERA), Edwin Jackson (6-3, 2.24 ERA), Erik Bedard (5-2, 2.47 ERA), Felix Hernandez (6-3, 3.06 ERA), Jason Vargas (2-1, 2.35 ERA), Jarrod Washburn (3-5, 3.30 ERA), and Dallas Braden (5-5, 3.33 ERA).
The pitchers Wieters has faced can't get much stiffer, and the 23-year old rookie catcher hasn't fared badly, either. He hit a triple and a double off Verlander, got on base twice against Bedard, and had multi-hit games against Hernandez and Vargas.
But it's not just at the plate where Wieters makes a difference. Behind the plate, the young pitchers seem a lot more comfortable. Just ask Brad Bergesen. In three starts since Wieters arrived, Bergesen has pitched 23 innings, has gone into the ninth once, and has allowed a mere four runs.
In the first game Wieters came up, Bergesen pitched eight solid innings, allowing two runs, and walking none in a 7-2 win. In his next start, a 3-2 loss to Seattle, he allowed two runs in seven innings. In the third appearance, he pitched an eight inning shutout, and very well could have gone the distance.
But this, of course, has nothing to do with the fact that Wieters caught Bergesen last year at Double A Bowie, where "Bergy" went 15-6 with a 3.22 ERA. Does it?
I'm telling you right now: believe the hype surrounding this kid.
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