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So Friday is officially the day the Next Big Thing arrives
in Baltimore. Matt Wieters, Baseball America’s
top prospect officially arrives in the Show against Detroit
on Friday. We’ll see whether that’s the
day he actually makes his debut, but I wouldn’t bet against it with Andy
MacPhail saying the team is not bringing Wieters up to sit and watch. He’ll likely quickly be inserted as the
regular starting catcher and the team is going to let him see what he can do at
the top level. He’s been great at each
stop along the Minor League ladder and now the Orioles are ready to introduce him
to the world. Through May 27 he’s
hitting .305 with 5 HR and 30 RBI at Triple-A Norfolk. Clearly this kid looks like everything he’s
cracked up to be.
He dominated two levels of Minor League baseball last year
and with a 4-for-4, 4 RBI Tuesday night he showed that the imminent call up
hasn’t fazed him yet. He’ll spend the
next few days staying healthy while the clubbies with the Big Club get
everything ready for what everyone hopes will be a permanent stop at Camden.
As someone who personally picked Wieters as the AL Rookie of
the Year, I’m expecting big things from him.
However, I think Wieters is similar to Stephen Strasburg in that even a successful
rookie campaign may not live up to the gargantuan expectations. A scout was quoted earlier this spring saying
that Wieters is “Joe Mauer with power.”
(This was before Joe Mauer returned to lay claim to the title of “Joe
Mauer With Power”)
Never mind that Joe Mauer has already won two batting
titles, two Silver Sluggers, a Gold Glove, and is a two-time All-Star. Mauer is currently hitting .429 with 11 HR, 31
RBI, .881 SLG, and 1.400 OPS. He could
be on his way to a first MVP and his best season ever. Wieters is being compared to, perhaps, the
best catcher in the last 25 years, a guy who is both an offensive and defensive
prodigy. Even if Wieters plays
reasonably well and is a contributor some will think he’s a bust if he doesn’t
start earning hardware immediately.
Think of the enormous task in front of this kid who,
remember, just turned 23 six days ago.
Not only is he going to be dealing with the pressure and nerves of his
first Major League action, but he’s expected to step in as a regular starter at
the most demanding position in baseball.
He’ll be trying to learn the pitches, tendencies, and demeanor of an
entire staff, many of whom he’s never caught, while simultaneously learning the
scouting reports of every hitter on every team he faces and figuring out how to
get them out. While that’s happening he’s
expected to continue hitting at the torrid pace he’s set in the Minor Leagues,
even though he’ll be facing better pitchers who he’s never seen before and
trying to learn the scouting reports on them as well. Oh, and also he’s expected to be the savior
of a franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since he was playing Little
Wieters has enjoyed almost immediate success his entire
life, but even if he gets off to a quick start, he’ll still have to prove
himself everyday. A young catcher in the
National League is struggling mightily this year and he’s already been in the
league for a full season. Last year’s NL
Rookie of the Year, Geovany Soto of the Cubs, is currently hitting just .214
with 1 HR thus far after last year’s incredible season in which he hit .285
with 86 RBI and 23 HR. Soto has failed
to make adjustments early on and has been put into a semi-platoon with Koyie
Hill after starting the season with a terrible April. Soto’s success came as a big surprise last
year, but now the league is on to him and he’ll have to show that he can stay
one step ahead and find the stroke that made him so valuable last year. Wieters notoriety as a top prospect and the
media buzz that will surround him won’t give him the chance to surprise anyone.
Opposing pitchers will know about him
and will have detailed scouting reports immediately available.
Being a Major League catcher is a demanding enough position
physically, what with crouching a couple hundred times each day, taking foul
tips off the mask, shins, and chest, blocking pitches, throwing out runners, and
toss in an occasional collision at home plate.
When you add the mental strain that Wieters will be under as he tries to
acclimate himself to his teammates, coaching staff, the media, fans, and
opposition, it’s almost impossible to imagine him being able to maintain
anything close to what he’s done so far.
The fact that the Orioles are bringing him up shows their tremendous
belief in his abilities both on the field and between his ears. Wieters will have several things in his favor
that may ease the transition.
First, he’s clearly a unique talent. Not just anyone can be compared favorably to
Joe Mauer and obviously Wieters has shown that he can dominate at any level he’s
seen. Also, the Orioles are still bad enough
that his performance won’t affect their season either way, so there’s no
additional pressure of playoff contention.
It will be at least next year before Baltimore
can look at moving into the top three in their own division, let alone contend
for bigger things. Another big help will
be all the young stars surrounding Wieters in the Baltimore
clubhouse that I wrote about last week.
He should find it easy to fit in with guys who’ve come up not much more
recently than himself and their ability to immediately contribute may rub off
on him. Comfort can play a big role in a
young player’s ability to adapt. Wieters
should find a welcoming atmosphere as his teammates are as eager to see him
(with the possible exceptions of Gregg Zaun and Chad Moeller) as the fans
Once Wieters gets settled and finds some normalcy in his new
routine people around baseball will expect big things from him. I hope we’ve got another bright young talent
to watch, but I expect it will be some time before we see just what this kid
can do on the big stage. If the reports
are true, the other teams in the AL East might want to savor whatever length of
time it takes him to get comfortable.