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September 16, 2010

Revisiting the sophomore season of Matt Wieters

I wrote a story that should be up on the site later today on the sophomore season of Matt Wieters. With another torrid September – Wieters is batting .395 in 11 games this month – the switch-hitting catcher has raised his average to .260. He has hit 11 home runs and driven in 53.

Still, I’d imagine that most people would consider his offensive production this year as a significant disappointment as this was supposed to be a breakout season for Wieters. Even he admitted recently that while he’s pleased with the progress that he has made defensively, he was disappointed in some of his struggles at the plate.

“I expect big things out of myself,” Wieters said. “Every year, I’m working to try and be the best player that I can. This year didn’t feel like I played quite up to the level I’m capable of. It’s something that you can take into the offseason and work out even harder to try to get to where you can.

“Hopefully, I can keep finishing strong. The good thing is I have negatives and positives to take in the offseason. There are enough things I need to work on and enough things I can look at and say, ‘I need to do this every day.’ The offseason is about making the negatives into the positives. That’s how you get better.”

One thing that is important to note – and this should be comforting to Orioles fans - is that in reporting this story, I didn’t talk to one player, executive or scout who still doesn’t believe that Wieters is going to be a very good player in this league. In fact, several indicated that Wieters has made nice progress considering all that has been on his plate since he arrived in the major leagues last May.

That includes learning his own pitching staff, learning opposing ones, working on his swing from both sides of the plate, working on his game calling and defensive mechanics, and doing it all while confronting enormous expectations.

“I think it’s far too early to get concerned about him,” said one American League scout. “When he was brought up, he was the second coming of Joe Mauer. That’s a lot of expectations to live by. And then all of a sudden, he’s going to catch 145-150 games a year. It is a tremendous grind playing that position, being a switch hitter, learning a league and then having a losing season. That’s a lot to deal with.

“To be honest with you, I think he’s going to be fine, but I think the transition is going to be a lot slower than people probably expect. The responsibility that he has is tremendous. … I see this guy hitting 25 plus [homers], driving in close to 100. I see him somewhere in the fifth or sixth hole in the order and being productive. I got him being one of the top three catchers in both leagues eventually.”

Another scout, this one from the National League, also remains enthusiastic about the catcher’s future, saying he’s still a “Wieters’ guy.”

“I don’t know that he’s ever going to be a star, but I think he’ll be a very good catcher for a lot of years,” the scout said. “He’s just too good of a talent and he’s also the type of guy that elevates to the situation. I saw him against Tampa with [Carl] Crawford on base and he really sped up everything. There aren't too many guys who can do that.”

And because everybody wants to hear what Buck Showalter has to say these days, let’s just say that the Orioles’ new manager has been very impressed by Wieters, especially his game calling and defense.

“He’s pretty good,” Showalter said. “Maybe everyone expects him to be this huge offensive player and this towering presence in the lineup. I don’t know about that. All I know is what I’ve seen from him when I got here and I am impressed. And I’m not easily impressed. I’m glad Matt is on our side. I’m glad that he’s wearing our uniform.”

Showalter met with Wieters earlier this month and made sure the 24-year-old realized how much he is counted on for both his play and leadership.

Wieters is a pretty quiet and mild-mannered guy, but there have been times this season where he has let his feelings known. During one of Jeremy Guthrie’s starts in late June, Wieters stalked Guthrie down the tunnel to let him know that he wasn’t happy with Guthrie’s execution in the inning.

“He was on a clubhouse manhunt,” joked Guthrie.

Posted by Jeff Zrebiec at 3:13 PM | | Comments (13)


let's not...

funny, that I talked with a ML scount recently and he said still is how he is. He has a slow bat and difficulty recognizing pitches.

I'm a Wieters fan, I think this kid is going to to be a star for a long time. He was rushed to the majors ahead of schedule and he's taking a little while to get up to speed. Relax, catcher is the hardest position on the field, there's a lot to learn and it's hard work. He's a much improved defensive catcher this season, and I think we'd all agree that he and this staff certainly are working together well right now. Add that to his resurgence at the plate and I think we have a real diamond here. This guy is the real deal.

In my mind, the question is whether Wieters has the ability to hit .280 with 25-30 home runs and 100 RBI because, if he does, why not move him to first base now and solve our problem there and either have Tatum catch or pick up a proven vet behind the plate who is strong defensively? Although his getting stronger late in the season perhaps belies this, I think the grind of being a catcher necessarily curtails his offensive production overall. Wouldn't it be great to have four switch hitters playing the infield next year (assuming Bell progresses and Izzy is back)? I know it probably won't happen now, but I wonder if it should. Of course, if Wieters is really only going to hit .260 with about 15 homers and 60 RBI then perhaps we are best served with having his defense behind the plate. Those numbers are good for a catcher.

.260/15/60 are good numbers for a catcher and I should think that if he was moved to first base, those numbers would increase substantially.

I also talk to scouts all the time, and all believe Wieters is going to be a very good player. No one is terribly concerned about his supposed slow bat and like young hitters, he can get fooled on a breaking pitch. His bat appears slow because he has long arms and a big swing. While he could stand to cut down on his swing a little, and I'm sure he will, he has the bat speed to get around on most fast balls, he has shown it time and again. But having a long swing works against him and it is something he's working on.

The problem with having a catcher being one of your offensive cornerstones is that he's not an every day player. If a catcher plays 130 games, that's a lot and that means in 32 games, the club doesn't have it's best offense out there. Sure, you can DH him, but what about your regular DH? So, for the long run, the club has to decide if they're happy having a guy who's going to miss 30-40 games a year or do they want to move him to a less strenuous position and bring in a catcher who doesn't have the offensive potential for the 130 games that Wieters would be back there.

I would give him another year and see where he is at that point. Thus far, I think he's good defensively, but not very good offensively. I think if he hits between 200-230 most of next year w/10 homers or so, we have a bust on our hands. I also think he lacks intensity...just my opinion.

I vote to leave him at catcher for at least a few years. A good defensive catcher who can hit is in short supply. A first baseman who can hit is much easier to find. Most teams have one. In fact, we had one last year. Check out Aubrey Huff's stats. He leads the Giants in everything. Last year was a down year for Aubrey.
I think Weiters will have a pretty good year next season. I'm guessing .285-.290,22-25hr,85-90 RBI's and improved defense, throwing out runners, better handling of the pitchers and calling the game. That's not easy to replace. The time to consider him at 1B is when we develop another outstanding catcher, not now. No one has brought up the fact that , maybe , he is part of the reason for our improved pitching lately. They're growing up and so is he.

First THANK YOU, for being the first person to publicly acknowledge that Weiters has not lived up to expectations. Listening to the O's broadcasters talk about his "torrid September" over the last week, you'd think he had 11 HR's and 23 RBI in the month thus far. Actually that's Tulo in Clorado and THAT's a torried September.

I've been ripping Weiters a bit on your pages, but actually it was probably too much when I suggested he was a bust. It's not that he's awful, it's just that he's so far from what was advertised. In fact, it is so far frm his initial minor league performances where he just destroyed pitching - that is until he hit the wall at AAA. Perhaps he should have stayed there longer. But even in his initial spring training he showed awesome power and actually made it hard to send him to the minors.

Now, his swing is long, slow and surprisingly weak. He shows a startling lack of aggression, takes far to many pitches, especially in clutch spots where he appears at times to be working a walk instead of trying to drive in a run.

It's sad to hear words like "pretty good", "maybe 25 HR's and close to 100 RBI" and "batting 6th".
I understand all the talk about learning to be a catcher, catching hurts offense etc... but they told us this guy was "Mauer with power". I remember one scout called him "the best prospect in 40 years". Now we'd be thrilled 25 HR's and while he shows little sign of that now, it good still develop.

In the end, most teams would be happy if their catcher produced Matt;s numbers - it's just sad he isn't going to be the player we thought he was.

Its kind of hard to call a 24 year old kid a bust, don't you think Jeff? He's hitting .260 obp is what .330 . He actually has more homeruns than Joe Mauer right now, and power is the usually the last tool to develop. The scouts and people that I have talked to, echo what Ken said, he appears to have an elongated swing, not a slow bat. That isn't impossible to fix. Actually most scouts would still take him over Buster Posey. FYI 25 hr's for a catcher is exceptional, and Mauer has only hit over 20 once. .300 25 hr "x amount of RBIs" (RBIs don't matter), is great for a 1st baseman let alone a catcher. When all is said and done, I think Wieters will be fine.

Jeff Z's reply: Not sure if you are referring to me, but I agree. I think he will be a very good player in this league, and I think he has made fantastic strides defensively already.


You are more diplomatic then I am.

Posted by: Jeff | September 16, 2010

This fellow has no idea what he's talking about! I don't even know what games he's been watching!

If the Orioles somehow/someway get a power hitting 1st baseball. The whole line-up will change for the better.

Wieters will and IS just fine!

Jeff Z, not you, but thanks for replying. I as responding to the "Jeff" that posted above me.

LOL thanks Dan W. There's enough negativity around the warehouse (although things are getting better). SO there is no need for me to be negative in here, lol.

I totally agree w/ you about a power hitting 1B, or even a DH since Scott and Wiggy(if resigned) look to have 25+ HR power. But we need a legit slugger in the 4 slot. I don't want to hear about Aubrey Huff. He looked done last year so I couldn't blame the O's for letting him go. And he is in the NL in a stadium custom made for Lefty hitters (Barry Bonds anyone).

Konerko would be great, obviously Adam Dunn would as well.

JEFF great story;; I am not going to argue with anyone just say Wieters will be fine and be a star.. HIS swing is workable, his power to all fields will continue to develope, he is trying to work the count better, and most importantly he has the desire and determination to excell which he will do, HE will be fine in a couple years..

Raymond and Jeff, not sure you actually read my post. Had you done so, you would see I said it was too much to suggest he was a bust. I was referring to a post some time ago, when he was hitting .235, in which I asked Jeff if he didn't turn it around, at what point we might consider him a bust.

The entire point of this post is that he's "fine" - I'd even say better than many catchers in the league - but you can't possibly disagree that he has NOT been the player everyone seemed to think he would be. We were told to expect tremendous power - maybe 25 HR's per year early in his career moving into the 30's later. He also looked like he would be a .300 hitter - (batting about 350 in the minors).

I understand patience, but he is 24 (not 21 or 22) - so do you guys actually think he will get to those original expectations or are you just saying you are happy with .260/15/80? I agree there is nothing wrong with that, but those numbers don't make you a star.

Maybe this is too subtle a point, but I'm OK with that for the average catcher, just disappointed that Weiters isn't more than that.

Raymond, as to what I've been watching - it's every single inning of every single game (while pulling for Matt to turn it as much as anyone). What I have seen in those games, is 400 at bats yielding 11 HR's and 53 RBI - not exactly Mauer with power!

I'm thrilled some still think/hope he will be a star and I didn't rule it out - It's just he has shown very little evidence to suggest this. Next year will be a huge indication as to whether he will make strides. For starters, let's see if he comes back bigger and stronger (take a look at Mauer).

Finally Raymond - I offered a reasoned opinion, based on his numbers to date and my own observations. - As to whether I know what I'm talking about - I guess we'll just see over the next few years.I certainly respect your right to a different opinion - in fact that is half the fun of sports and the main reason for these things.

No one will be happier if next September you can post how wrong I was about Matt.

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About the bloggers
A Baltimore native, Dan Connolly has been covering sports for 14 years, and baseball and the Orioles for 10 seasons, including the past six with The Sun. His first year covering baseball on a daily basis was Cal Ripken Jr.'s final season as a player. It's believed that is just a coincidence.

Steve Gould is an assistant sports editor for The Sun, overseeing Orioles coverage. The Columbia native joined The Sun as a sports copy editor in 2006 after graduating from the University of Maryland.

Peter Schmuck has been covering baseball for a lot longer than Steve Gould has been on this earth. He is now a general sports columnist, but has been a beat writer covering three major league teams (the Dodgers, Angels and Orioles) and also spent a decade as the Sun's national baseball writer. If you want more of his insight on the Orioles and other sports issues, check out his personal blog -- The Schmuck Stops Here.

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