Wieters has not met own expectations

Second-year catcher plans to spend offseason turning negatives into positives

September 16, 2010|Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

The expectations were such that Matt Wieters was supposed to have already played in an All-Star Game.

The final month of his first full big league season was supposed to be about adding to already robust offensive numbers, not salvaging some positives to take into a long offseason.

That kind of talk, which went into overdrive not long after Wieters made his major league debut May 29, 2009, was not realistic, and it was also quite unfair for a switch-hitting catcher learning his craft in the toughest division in baseball.

But as he evaluates the first 213 games of his major league career, Wieters acknowledges that while he has been pleased with the progress of certain aspects of his game, such as his defense, he hasn't met his own overall expectations, never mind any bestowed on him by fans and baseball pundits.

"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 [into] 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."

With another strong September -- he's batting .395 in 11games this month after hitting .362 last September -- Wieters has raised his average to .260 to go along with 11 homers and 53RBIs. By all accounts, he had made solid strides defensively and with his game-calling, and he's slowly taking on more of a leadership role, evidenced by his confronting starter Jeremy Guthrie after a rough inning in late June.

Still, his uneven play has been the subject of much consternation from an Orioles fan base that imagined the March15 cover boy of Sports Illustrated becoming the face of the franchise and making the same immediate impact that rookie catcher Buster Posey is having for the San Francisco Giants.

That has yet to happen, but Wieters' teammates, Orioles officials and scouts who have watched the 24-year-old this season insist that he is headed in the right direction, and even their most modest projections have him, at worst, being a solid big leaguer for a long time.

Plenty of people in his corner

"I think this year was good for him, actually," said second baseman Brian Roberts, the longest-tenured Oriole. "You go into your second season, and you're on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You're expected to hit .350 with 35 homers. You see how guys do in their sophomore year in general, and to put that on somebody in their sophomore year, that's just not fair.

"I think it's been positive for him. He's played really well lately and is swinging the bat better and better. Defensively, he's thrown the ball really well. I think he's learning the game, he's learning to catch, he's learning to call pitches. I think the best is by far yet to come for him."

As an analyst for "Baseball Tonight" on ESPN, Buck Showalter had seen and heard plenty about Wieters before becoming the Orioles' manager Aug. 2. He also knew one of his main responsibilities was trying to reverse the perceived regression of many of the organization's young players. Wieters, who was drafted out of Georgia Tech in 2007 with the fifth overall pick and given a team record $6 million signing bonus, was near the top of that list.

"Maybe everyone expects him to be this huge offensive player and this towering presence in the lineup. I don't know about all 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," Showalter said. "Keep in mind, he's 24 and he's already pretty good. I'm glad Matt is on our side, I'm glad that he's wearing our uniform. Matt is going to be as good as he's capable of being, and that's a comfortable thought to me and it should be for Oriole fans."

While Wieters was one of the most ballyhooed prospects before even playing a game in the minor leagues, he did much to raise the expectations of him. In his first professional game in 2008, he hit two home runs for Single-A Frederick. He played 130 combined games for the Keys and Double-A Bowie that year, totaling 27 home runs and 91 RBIs and batting .355.

But if there has been a prominent criticism of Wieters, it's that his power has yet to translate to the big leagues on a consistent basis, even though most baseball people will tell you that is the last thing to arrive for a young player. There have been impressive displays, such as the opposite-field shot he hit off New York Yankees rookie Ivan Nova last week, the ball easily clearing the first section of seats in left field at Yankee Stadium.

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