Matt Wieters is surprisingly under the radar this offseason, if only in comparison to where he was last offseason, when the Orioles faithful eagerly waited for the phenom catcher to burst into the majors with home runs in his first 9 at-bats en route to a .450 average, a perfect percentage of stolen base attempts thwarted, and a presence that would drive the team to the postseason and force all potential competitors to prostrate themselves before the 8’9” catcher and forfeit the World Series trophy unto him. Okay, so maybe the expectations weren’t quite that great, but Wieters-mania was clearly out of control for much of last year. And to be honest, I think fans looked at him too much as a savior and not as another great young player to build the team around.
I admit, while I tried to temper expectations I was still part of the hype. The picture on the main page is one I shot after Matt got his first career hit, a double against the Tigers at Camden Yards in his second major league game. I remember jumping around, grabbing the camera from my girlfriend to make sure I preserved this historic moment.
All that pressure may have showed in his performance. Wieters gathered a .257 average in May, which is perfectly respectable for an ordinary 22 year old prospect, but fans immediately wondered what was wrong with their young catcher. Of course, as more attention shifted to the young pitching of Bergesen and then Tillman & Matusz, and as he adjusted to the big leagues, Matt Wieters gathered himself with a strong September in which he batted .362 with 3 home runs, his most of any month last season. He finished with a remarkably strong .288 average, and will likely build on that performance. However, while the Joe Mauer comparisons will invariably continue throughout the first few years of his career, it is important not to try to compare him too much to one of the greatest hitters in baseball and the best all-around catcher in the game. That simply isn’t fair. Matt will continue to develop both offensively and defensively, the latter of which might need more work.
While he did a good job of guarding the plate when his young pitchers went awry, Wieters nevertheless struggled in his delivery to second in catching baserunners, with his throws often going high and resulting in additional bases. He needs to shorten the delivery of his strong arm and make an accurate throw later rather than a quick and inaccurate throw. Brian Roberts and Cesar Izturis are more than capable of gathering the ball and making the tag so long as the ball is there. It isn’t possible for us to determine this watching the game, but he has indicated several times over the last 6 months or so that he needs to work on his ability to help pitchers call their games as well. Hitters were starting to recognize patterns in the cycle of pitches being thrown, and it is on the catcher to, well, catch that before this hitters make the pitcher pay for being to predictable.
All in all, Matt Wieters is an incredible player already, with an average that is already 30 points higher than the average major league catcher. However, we need to keep our expectations reasonable for any second-year player, however hyped. If he can stay in rhythm and not push like he did for parts of last season (easier said than done), the Orioles could have a catcher on their hands with at least a .300 average and 17-20 home runs, which would be a huge boon to a team that will need their offense.