Orioles sending Wieters to Norfolk

Club sticks to plan to start top prospect at Triple-A

March 27, 2009|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -The Orioles told top prospect Matt Wieters on Thursday that he will be reassigned to the Triple-A Norfolk roster effective Monday.

Manager Dave Trembley met with Wieters after Thursday's exhibition loss to the Florida Marlins and informed him of the club's plans, but the assignment is not yet official. Wieters will remain with the team over the weekend and is scheduled to accompany the Orioles to Jupiter for Friday's Grapefruit League game against the Marlins.

None of this comes as a surprise. The Orioles intended Wieters to start the regular season with the Tides and spend several weeks at the Triple-A level, regardless of how he performed during major league spring training. He has played very well, batting .343 with a home run and five RBIs and getting several clutch hits in late-inning situations, and said he has had a great time with the major league club.

"It's fun up here," he said. "It's fun wherever you are, but it's even more fun up here. I'm excited to be playing in Norfolk. It's a different level of competition for me. I just want to go there and work hard and get back as soon as possible."

The catcher, 22, who was named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year last season and the publication's top major league prospect this spring, is considered by many to be ready for prime time now, but the Orioles signed free agent Gregg Zaun to mentor him and open the season in the starting lineup.

President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail confirmed the move and said he was impressed with Wieters' performance on the field and the way he has handled himself in big league camp.

"I think he had a good camp," MacPhail said. "He certainly had a good spring offensively. He's certainly one of the best disciplined young hitters that I've ever seen in my career. I think there is probably more work to do on the defensive side of the equation. Hopefully, he'll continue the type of year he had last year and it won't be long before we see him in Baltimore. Those things become self-evident over time."

The move is both strategic and economic. The club wants to give Wieters the chance to excel at the Triple-A level the way he did at Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie. Team officials also want to hold him back to preserve a seventh year under club reserve, a strategy the Tampa Bay Rays employed with Evan Longoria that led to his signing a long-term contract at favorable terms for the team.

Wieters needs to stay in the minors for the first 12 days of the regular season to keep the free-agent clock ticking for an extra year, but team officials have indicated he'll probably play at Norfolk for a month or two to get more professional experience before moving permanently into the major league lineup.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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