Wieters working to live up to hype
Rookie catcher stays levelheaded through highs, lows
CHICAGO -- Matt Wieters didn't run from the expectations and won't back down from adversity. Baltimore's rookie catcher will readily admit that he hasn't performed up to his offensive capabilities during his first few months in the Majors, a fact he attributes to the high caliber of competition and the quality of advance scouting.
"I don't know if I'd say that it's a tougher challenge than I expected," said Wieters before Sunday's series finale against the White Sox. "I'd say the playing level is about the same, but the adjustment time is definitely a little bit quicker. It's amazing how the information gets out there and how quick you're going to have to adjust up here. I think that's the thing you see with the really great hitters -- they're able to adjust to what a pitcher's trying to do to them within an at-bat. It's not just within games and within series. Every at-bat you get, you've got to adjust."
Wieters, the fifth overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, quickly rose through the Minors and rarely experienced much of a learning curve. The switch-hitter batted .345 with 15 home runs for Class A Frederick last season, following that by hitting .365 with 12 homers for Double-A Bowie.
The Orioles saw that resume and knew Wieters would be ready soon, and after he batted .305 with a .387 on-base percentage in 39 games for Triple-A Norfolk, they called him up to the Majors.
But that's where the cakewalk ended. Wieters has batted .264 with minimal pop with the Orioles, and the recent numbers haven't seen him rounding into form. Matt Wieters has hit .232 with a .280 on-base percentage and a .319 slugging mark in August and has just two home runs in his last 36 games.
"I don't think it's been frustrating, because I've been able to mix in the mini hot streaks and the good games here and there," said Wieters, who served as designated hitter on Sunday after catching on Saturday night. "I need to be able to extend it into a longer hot streak, which I haven't had yet, but hopefully, it's coming soon. And that's one thing: It hasn't been a prolonged struggle at any time, either. It's just something we have to keep battling."
Baltimore manager Dave Trembley has tried to temper the massive expectations surrounding Wieters, and he went out of his way on Sunday to say that his catcher has been a success in every regard. Trembley said that Wieters is faring well, both offensively and defensively, while playing the game's most strenuous position.
"Obviously, we all had very high expectations for him, but I don't think they're any less than what he had for himself," said Trembley. "I don't see any change in his approach, his body language, his demeanor. I think he's smart enough and sharp enough to understand that he'll be better because of it."
Wieters, just 23 years old, also has his hands full with learning the league's hitters and ushering one of the league's youngest starting rotations through its learning curve. True to form, though, Wieters said that he's been able to separate his two tasks and that one hasn't necessarily affected the other in the early going.
"It's two completely separate things," said Wieters, "And especially being young, the most important thing is going to be calling a good game. And that can acs tually help when you're struggling. You put it behind you and say, 'If I call a good game, we've got just as good a chance to win as if I was to get two or three hits.'
Wieters possesses extra-base power from both sides of the plate and didn't experience much of a platoon split in the Minor Leagues. In fact, he performed better against lefties in Triple-A, but has has struggled heavily in the Majors, batting .227 with a .284 on-base percentage and a .330 slugging mark thus far against southpaws.
By contrast, Wieters has batted .289 with a .328 on-base and a .398 slugging percentage against right-handers, and Trembley said that the disparity is likely a fluke of the statistics and a function of limited a fluke of the statistics and a function of limited experience. Wieters, however, said that the quality of big league lefties is something not seen in the Minors.
"There are a lot of different lefties up here that I didn't see before," he said, detailing the subtle differences. "It's not the sink-it-away and changeup lefty that you're used to seeing all the way through the Minor Leagues and all the way through college. It's definitely different, as far as what left-handers up here can do. You see a lot of power lefty arms that get up here fast and stay for a while that you don't see before you get up here."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.