By any measure, Baltimore Orioles rookie catcher Matt Wieters has been outstanding since making his Major League debut for the Orioles on May 29.
While it is easy to notice his 13 RBI in the month of August and .277 batting average since July 1, what is especially impressive is the strides Wieters is making in his role of grooming the young Baltimore pitching staff.
With five rookies having made their first big league start this season and nearly half the starts on the staff coming from first year pitchers, it might seem strange to have a rookie catcher behind the plate.
But former major league catcher and current Orioles Broadcaster Buck Martinez thinks having Wieters working with the young pitchers could be a long-term blessing for the Orioles.
“Ideally you might want a veteran presence behind the plate when you have so many young pitchers,” Martinez said, “but because he [Wieters] is such a high profile catcher and projects to be an impact catcher with the bat you kind of let them grow together.
“The pitchers have a lot of confidence in Matt and throw to him with conviction.”
While adjusting to the Major Leagues is a tough task for any rookie, it has been particularly challenging for Wieters because he is being asked not only to become a solid major league hitter, but also to call games for a young pitching staff against hitters that he has never seen before.
“One of the problems in the minor leagues is that there aren’t enough instructors to teach catchers the art of game calling,” Martinez said. “In the minor leagues you don’t groom a catcher. You instruct the catcher to groom the pitchers.
“Matt never called a pitch at Georgia Tech. Now he is dealing with calling pitches for pitchers he doesn’t know against hitters he doesn’t know and might not see again this year,” Martinez added.
Making things even more complicated for Wieters is that as a switch hitter he is working on two offensive swings while also getting a crash course in the art of calling a major league game behind the plate.
“So he has two swings to worry about, blocking balls, calling pitches for a rookie staff and dealing with the American League hitters,” Martinez said. “It’s quite challenging.”
But, so far, Wieters appears to be up to the challenge. After hitting .247 during his first month in the majors, Wieters has raised his average to .271 and has 16 multi-hit games (including a four-hit game on July 28 against Kansas City).
He also has increased his run production and now has five home runs and 25 RBI in 66 games. He had a career-high four RBI in a recent win over Cleveland.
“Given everything he’s dealing with, Matt has done a marvelous job,” said Martinez.
Certainly, he is giving the Orioles the kind of production they expected when he was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft.
His continued improvement, along with that of the young pitching staff that he is grooming, is a primary reason that there is a sense of optimism in Baltimore even as the Orioles struggle through their 12th straight losing season.
“The only way to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox on a regular basis is to out-pitch them and to play good defense. That is the kind of ball club the Orioles are building,” Martinez said.
Without question, Matt Wieters will continue to be an important part of that building process and as he becomes more comfortable in his multitude of roles it is exciting to think that he is just starting to tap his full potential.
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