Wieters Mania

wieters.jpgIn case you missed it, the biggest thing since Cal Ripken swept through Baltimore this weekend.

Matt Wieters — the most highly anticipated Orioles prospect in two decades — hardly snuck in through the back door Friday. He got a standing ovation before stepping to the plate for his first big league at-bat.

One network later called it, “the dawn of the Matt Wieters era.”

One commentator even mentioned his name in the same sentence as Johnny Bench.

Now, before we begin to wrap our minds around that comparison, a little background:

Anyone following baseball closely over the past several months knew this moment would come. What Wieters brings to the table is practically unrivaled: six-foot-five, switch-hitter, catcher, starred at Georgia Tech, selected fifth overall in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, bulleted through the Orioles farm system in less than two years time and a career .343 average and a .576 slugging percentage in the Minors. Not only is he talented, he also possesses something that separates him from the pack of freakishly gifted prospects: outstanding plate discipline.  Superstar is practically written all over this guy’s forehead.

But does his name really belong in the same sentence as Bench? Maybe we should roll out the carpet to Cooperstown now instead of waiting another however many years to induct Wieters into the Hall of Fame.

This whole situation raises an even larger question: When did we all start giving big-time rookies star treatment? Did it start with Lebron? A-Rod?

Regardless, it’s hard to ignore how many bright young stars have fallen victim to hype. What happened to Jeff Francoeur since gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated in 2005? Years after Alex Gordon and Jeremy Hermida were favored to win Rookie of the Year honors, and we’re still waiting for them to arrive.

The good news for Wieters is that history is working in his favor.  Only so many hitters have wrecked havoc on Minor League pitching over the last quarter-century quite like the South Carolina native. He also joins an up-and-coming Orioles lineup that is just hitting its stride.

So it really just comes down to a test of character. Will Wieters fold under the spotlight, seize the moment or stumble for a while before getting his act together?

Having watched him play a little bit, I will say that he seemed fairly calm under fire. He doubled and tripled on Saturday, and despite hitless performances on Friday and Sunday, the fact that he didn’t start swinging at everything in arm’s length shows signs of maturity.

Cynicism aside, in the face of some ridiculous expectations, Wieters can and I think, ultimately, will blossom into one of baseball’s top catchers, batting well above of.300 and rake 20-30 homers annually.

Just don’t go haywire if it takes longer than a week or two before he gets there.

— Alex Cushing, MLB.com

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