By: Evan Anderholm
FORT MYERS, FLA. – In the past decade the American League East has offered stiff competition. With two of the league’s top teams, and highest payrolls, in the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox it has been tough for the division’s other teams to keep up. However, with the Tampa Bay Rays defying all odds last season in having one of the league’s lowest payrolls and one of the youngest teams in baseball and reaching the Worlds Series, other teams aren’t giving up hope. Baltimore is one of those teams. The Orioles are looking to follow suit by sticking with young talent and developing them at the big league level. One of Baltimore’s most promising young talents is catcher Matt Wieters.
The word from Orioles camp is Wieters’ power. Baltimore manager David Trembley describes Wieters as a catcher with similar abilities to a player like Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer; a catcher with a good arm, power at the plate and average, with great defensive skills. But Trembley feels Wieters can be even better than Mauer in one aspect. “I think he’ll hit with more power than Joe Mauer,” Trembley said.
From Goose Creek, South Carolina, Wieters played his college baseball at Georgia Tech University. While there he was quick to impress both his coaches and scouts. In 2005, his freshmen year, he was voted Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year and first team All-ACC. By the time Wieters left after the 2007 season, he was voted first team All-American and was among the top sixteen in all offensive categories, including home runs. Wieters also recorded sixteen saves in his three years at Georgia Tech as the team’s closer.
Baltimore drafted Wieters fifth overall in the 2007 draft and has remained a top prospect ever since. In 2008, Wieters caught for the Orioles Class A affiliate, the Frederick Keys, and was moved up to the Double A affiliate, the Bowie Baysox, by midseason. While with the Baysox, Wieters met up with Trembley, who saw immense talent in Wieters. “(Wieters) has a very good arm, put up tremendous numbers from both sides of the plateâ€¦he’s going to be an all-star player for a long time,” Trembley said from spring training. In 130 games with both teams he hit a combined .355 batting average with 27 home runs with 91 RBI.
This spring, Wieters has also caught the attention of starters on the Baltimore squad. “Hitting wise, in my personal opinion, he’s ready, left fielder Luke Scott said.] “He makes adjustments. He’s got quick hands. He’s got a flat bat path. He looks really good,” Scott said. However, as with most rookies, there are always things to work on and for Wieters it is getting used to controlling a professional game as catcher. “Matt, I think, behind the plate just he has to get some experience to learn how to read hitters and learn how to call the game, which will come. He’s got a good idea of what’s going on back there,” Scott said. According to Trembley, because he hasn’t had much experience with professional baseball, it will take some time for Wieters to adjust, but what sets him apart is, “he’s an unassuming professional,” Trembley said.
The Orioles are confident in the skills Wieters brings behind, and at the plate. With stars such as Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis recently signing multi-year deals, it looks as though the Orioles are putting the pieces of the puzzle together to bring them back to the success they had in 1996 and 1997 when they went to the American League Championship Series.
By: Evan Anderholm