Wieters starts with 2 homers

5th overall pick in '07 sparks talented Keys to 7-3 win in opener

April 05, 2008|By Rich Scherr | Rich Scherr,Special to The Sun

FREDERICK -- Tommy Thompson doesn't have to look far to see the future of the Orioles. The Frederick Keys' manager need only glance across his clubhouse.

"We've got a lot of guys here that are going to play in Baltimore," said Thompson.

If his professional debut last night was any indication, one of them, catcher Matt Wieters, may get there quicker than most.

Wieters, the fifth overall pick out of Georgia Tech last June, homered in each of his first two official professional at-bats after walking in the opening inning, leading the host Keys to a 7-3 win over Lynchburg in the Single-A Carolina League opener for both teams.

While his first homer, an opposite-field shot down the right-field line, barely cleared the fence, his second - a shot to left - sailed over a 28-foot fence behind the outfield wall.

"You always dream of [a debut like this], but you just go out and play," Wieters said. "I never have [opened] like tonight. I've only hit two home runs in a game a couple times. It's good to get the year started off right, but there's 139 games left."

His performance was one of several bright spots on a night that showcased a stable of top Orioles prospects.

Frederick features six players - Wieters (No. 1), third baseman Billy Rowell (No. 6), first baseman Brandon Snyder (No. 7), and pitchers Jake Arrieta (No. 7), Pedro Beato (No. 9) and Brandon Erbe (No. 10), a former McDonogh standout - rated among the organization's top 10 prospects by Baseball America.

Four of them - Wieters, Rowell, Beato and Snyder - are former first-round draft picks.

So green is this group of prospects that the team's public address announcer was forced to call the players out of the dugout three times before they responded and took the field for the first pitch.

But in the midst of talk about the most talented roster in team history, the buzz was squarely focused on Wieters, who signed with the Orioles moments before the mid-August deadline. His $6 million signing bonus was the biggest in team history.

After never playing more than 68 games in a college season, Wieters said his focus this season will be on conditioning.

"I just want to really keep myself in shape for 140 games," said Wieters, a two-time All-American. "I put pretty high expectations on myself. If I live up to [the expectations] I set, then I'll go home at night and I'll be able to sleep."

Simply surviving the grind of the season, however, will be job No. 1.

"The first full season will kick them in the butt, no matter how good condition they're in," said Thompson, himself an ex-catcher. "I know the wear and tear on the body back there. ... But Matt's ready for it. He'll hit the wall at some time, but when he does, he'll have to learn to work through that.

"When he's in the major leagues, he's going to catch five-six days a week. He's going to be a horse."

Wieters finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs.

Arrieta, a fifth-round pick out of Texas Christian, got the start, allowing a run on two hits and striking out nine in four innings. The only sour note involved Rowell, who pulled up while running to first in the first inning and was removed from the game.

"Every time you walk out on the field, with that much talent, it makes you want to step up to your game," said Snyder, the 13th overall pick in 2005.

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