Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Rolling out the Orange Carpet for Matt Wieters

Windsor is off on yet another vacation, and while I am still technically on sabbatical from ATH for the rest of this week I couldn’t in good conscience leave it with only one writer for the week.

Well folks, it is time. There has been a great deal of debate over whether to bring up Chris Tillman or David Hernandez, whether it is time to release Felix Pie or any of the underperforming pitchers, this move was never in debate and predicted long before the season started. That’s right, Matt Wieters is coming to Baltimore starting. The team was waiting for Wieters to sit out the first month of the season so that he would have an extra year under team control before he would reach free agency (a very sound decision in my opinion), and for him to go on a hot streak to ride into his time in the majors. After a seemingly torturous wait, he is taking over on Friday against the Detroit Tigers.

It couldn’t come at a better time, either. I have enjoyed watching Gregg Zaun, believe it or not, and have really rooted for him to succeed. He truly enjoys the game, and his struggles remind me a lot of Kevin Millar, another lighthearted veteran who was long past his prime by the time he got to the Orioles. However, Zaun’s smile won’t make up for a pathetic appearance on both sides of the plate. His .216 average is his worst since 1998 and second worst in his career. His throws to second to gun down runners have been wild, and there is a chance that part of the struggles of the O’s pitching staff has been a product of his calling of games. Zaun will still be able to serve as an excellent mentor for Wieters, but he is not and has not been a true starting catcher in a long time. Baltimore fans should be grateful for his time, enthusiasm, and energy, but not for his play.

However, I am not going to join the chorus of sportswriters and fans who think that Wieters will dive right into the 3 spot in the order and start giving Joe Mauer a run for his money as best catcher in the American League. Matt Wieters will have his struggles, if only at first. The Georgia Tech standout took a while to get going in AAA, only recently going .391 in his last 46 at bats to pull his batting average to .305. This rookie has never seen major league pitching, and his adjustment time to Norfolk will only be exacerbated at the major league level, particularly against the pitching staffs of the AL East. Additionally, it is a lot tougher to call a game in the majors than in the minors. The hitters know all the tricks, and Wieters needs to gain the knowledge and skills that only experience can teach. He will be great, but it could take time.

Nor can this move be used as an excuse to bring up the other youngsters, particularly in the pitching staff. Wieters was a known commodity, and he has nothing more he can learn at the minor league level- I will leave the arguments for not spoiling pitching prospects to Falco and Windsor, but Wieters is a unique case. He is not being brought up in desperation or for lack of any other option (though the organization doesn’t really have any other good options at catcher). This move won’t turn the O’s around, but it will definitely give fans another reason to watch and could add a few wins here and there by September.

I will be in town to see the game on Saturday, and perhaps get a glimpse of some historic event in the young catcher’s career. It certainly won’t be the last one.

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