On hold but staying busy

As O's prospect waits patiently for big league shot, catcher prepares for inevitable from Bowie perch

August 20, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

BOWIE - The date - Sept. 1 - looms large in the life of Matt Wieters.

Some might think Wieters would be consumed with the day the Orioles, like every other major league club, stretch their roster to 40 players by calling up some of the organization's top prospects.

Wieters, who as the team's No. 1 draft pick last year signed the largest bonus in Orioles history, thinks about something else happening around that day - Double-A Bowie getting ready for its first playoff series since 1997.

The switch-hitting catcher from Goose Creek, S.C., has certainly earned such consideration in his first full season of professional baseball, and his potential promotion has been a favorite topic on local radio talk shows and the team's message boards.

But Orioles fans will likely have to wait until next year to see him play at Camden Yards.

"I'm of the mind that the most important thing for Matt is to continue to get as many at-bats and as much experience as he can," Orioles president Andy MacPhail said recently. "I don't see it likely that we'll bring him up here and have him sit. That just doesn't make much sense to me. When he comes here, he should expect to play."

That will likely be next season, especially if Wieters continues to pummel minor league pitching as he has at Single-A Frederick (where he hit .345 with 15 home runs and 40 RBIs in 69 games) and now with the Baysox (.352 with nine home runs and 43 RBIs in 49 games) while deftly handling the pitching staffs for both teams.

Wieters, who turned 22 in May, will use one of his most natural attributes - his patience - to ignore those clamoring for his arrival in Baltimore.

"It's not that hard," Wieters said Friday, sitting outside the no-frills Baysox clubhouse at Prince George's Stadium. "I'm actually a pretty patient guy with most aspects of my life. Baseball is no different."

If major league baseball were more a game than a business, Wieters would certainly be catching for the Orioles already.

Wieters, who signed a $6 million signing bonus minutes before last year's deadline, clearly understands there is more at stake in making that call.

"You definitely learn the business side, but at the same time, they know the business side better than I do," Wieters said. "They've been doing it a long time, and I'm sure they're going to do what's best for the organization and what's best for me. Right now, I'm a baseball player and just like coming to the park and [playing]."

But the moment he is called up, the clock starts ticking toward his first potential arbitration hearing and free agency for someone who Orioles player personnel director David Stockstill said will be "our starting catcher for a long time."

Baysox manager Brad Komminsk grudgingly said Wieters could be playing for the Orioles today.

"He could hold his own right now," Komminsk said. "Is he 100 percent ready? Probably not. Especially on the defensive end of it, he's got a ways to go. But he's pretty good. He's got a ways to go in terms of game-calling, how to get hitters out. He wouldn't embarrass himself, I know that."

Wieters does his best not to answer that question.

"I think you definitely have the confidence in yourself. If you don't believe you can do it, you probably won't be able to do it," he said. "I definitely believe that I could do it right now, but at the same time, every day you go to the park, there's something new to learn no matter what level you're at."

In a year in which he reached base in 23 straight games and has twice smashed home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game, there are still adjustments for Wieters to make, most of them behind the plate.

The difference between Frederick and Bowie came in judging the depth of opposing lineups, Wieters said.

But the biggest change for Wieters, who got a brief taste of pro ball playing last fall in Hawaii, has come from being in the lineup every day.

"Coming from college, where you're getting two or three days off a week, I think the biggest adjustment is playing 130 out of 140 games. That's a big accomplishment your first year," Wieters said.

Come next winter, the hot-stove league will be firing up again with talk of when, not whether, Wieters will be called up. Will he be given a fair chance to compete for the starting job come spring training, with the continuing debate of whether the Orioles would be better off with a star-in-making in Wieters than 32-year-old Ramon Hernandez? Again, the business side might be given more consideration because the Orioles still owe Hernandez another season at $8 million.

"We'll deal with it when the time comes," MacPhail said. "I wish we had those kinds of problems in more positions."

For now, Wieters waits patiently for his turn.

"I really don't set timetables," he said. "There's nothing you can control about when you get called up or where you're playing. All you can control is how you're playing where you're at."

don.markus@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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