O's catch a good one in Wieters

Club gets wish as switch-hitting Ga. Tech backstop is available at No. 5

June 08, 2007|By ROCH KUBATKO | ROCH KUBATKO,SUN REPORTER

As the last few hours approached before yesterday's amateur baseball draft, the Orioles still didn't know whether the one player they coveted most would remain on the board.

Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters was regarded as the best college hitter available and perhaps the finest overall talent. Scouts followed him around the country, and most teams shared the same lofty opinion as the Orioles. He easily could have been gone by the fifth pick.

Team officials held their breath, waited for the other selections to be made and got their wish. Four clubs passed on him. The Orioles would not, choosing Wieters over Quebec pitcher Phillippe Aumont and Missouri State left-hander Ross Detwiler, who went No. 6 to the Washington Nationals.

"Obviously, [Wieters] was a guy who was very high on our board," scouting director Joe Jordan said. "We took the player we wanted."

The Orioles took a switch-hitter with a career .359 average in three college seasons. Wieters batted .358 in 57 games as a junior this year, with 17 doubles, 10 homers, 59 RBIs, a .480 on-base percentage and a .592 slugging percentage. He reached safely in 55 consecutive games.

"He does a lot of things right," executive vice president Mike Flanagan said.

That includes the intangibles he brings behind the plate. His laser arm has drawn comparisons to former Oriole Charles Johnson, and his offensive skills remind scouts of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft.

"He has very soft hands and sets a good, low target," Flanagan said. "And I like the way he calls a game."

Said Jordan: "Pitchers love to throw to this guy. He's not a vocal, throw-a-bat type of guy, but every pitcher that I've spoken with, the coaches at Georgia Tech, this guy is a leader."

Wieters, 21, is unusually tall for a catcher at 6 feet 5, but his size isn't a concern for the Orioles.

"Not when you watch him play," Jordan said. "It's not prototypical, but this guy has done it three years in college without any problem, so we're good."

As expected, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays chose Vanderbilt left-hander David Price with the draft's first selection. The Kansas City Royals followed by taking infielder Mike Moustakas of Chatsworth (Calif.) High, and the Chicago Cubs selected third baseman Josh Vitters of Cypress (Calif.) High.

Only the Pittsburgh Pirates stood in the Orioles' way, and they took Clemson left-hander Daniel Moskos.

Now comes the hard part - signing Wieters before the Aug. 15 deadline, when he'd be eligible to re-enter next year's draft. Agent Scott Boras, who is advising Wieters, reportedly is seeking a major league deal, though he wouldn't address the subject yesterday.

"Generally, when I advise families, I don't have a requirement of any type of contract, whether it be major league or minor league," Boras said, "and I advise families that's not the relevant issue when you negotiate for players. I think the relevant issue is the value of the player and his skills to a particular major league team."

Jordan said a major league contract was a possibility.

"As we start getting into the negotiations, it may be to our advantage to explore that," he said. "It will be our decision if we do that."

Asked to describe his relationship with the Orioles, Boras said: "A couple years ago, Mike Flanagan and I were up until 5 o'clock in the morning at the winter meetings talking about players. I've known [vice president] Jim Duquette a long time. I consider them to be solid baseball people."

Jordan, Flanagan and Duquette had spoken numerous times with Boras leading up to the draft.

"We feel like, at the end of the day, this guy [Wieters] is going to be part of our history here," Jordan said.

Some draft gurus had Wieters slipping as far as 18th because of Boras, a tough negotiator.

Depending on how quickly he signs, Wieters could report to Double-A Bowie. Otherwise, he'd play at one of the full-season Single-A affiliates.

The Orioles have taken a position player with their first pick the past three years, including catcher Brandon Snyder in 2005. Snyder is playing first base at Delmarva this year after undergoing rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder, and he could remain at the position if Wieters signs.

The Orioles forfeited their second- and third-round selections after signing free-agent relievers Danys Baez and Chad Bradford.

In the fourth round, the Orioles chose pitcher Tim Bascom, a sixth-round selection of the San Diego Padres in 2006 who didn't sign after injuring his knee and lost his college eligibility.

Note -- University of Maryland junior pitcher Brett Cecil was selected by the Toronto Blue Jays with the 38th overall pick.

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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