Next Big Thing is MLB FanHouse's look at emerging teams, trends and stars in 2009.
If you're the type of person who studies up on the top prospects from year to year in Major League Baseball, you knew who Evan Longoria was well before he made his first appearance for the Rays. From the moment he was taken third overall in the 2006 draft, Longoria was called a can't miss future star who would help the Rays climb out of the basement.
It didn't take long. After a surprising trip to the minors after Spring Training, Longoria made his debut on April 12 and immediately started to hit. He didn't stop, either, until the Rays had won the American League pennant and he'd taken home Rookie of the Year. Longoria made good on all the hype, now it is Matt Wieters' turn to do the same.
Like Longoria, scouts and fans have been drooling over Wieters since he was in college. Wieters was picked two spots lower than Longoria in the 2007 draft, but he also went to an American League East team, the Orioles, and again followed in Longoria's footsteps by destroying minor league pitching in his first full professional season.
Wieters split his time between Single-A and Double-A and finished with a 1.054 OPS, 27 homers and 91 RBI. He walked more than he struck out and, in a significant difference from Longoria, is a switch-hitting catcher which makes him that much more valuable of a player going forward. In another similarity, Wieters probably won't get a chance to start raking on Opening Day.
Wieters hasn't swung a bat at Triple-A and the Orioles signed Gregg Zaun to carry the load until they're sure he's ready for the big leagues. Since he's a catcher, that will likely take a bit longer than it did for Longoria. If Wieters isn't up by June 1st, though, something's gone terribly wrong. He looks like a superstar from every angle, and if he isn't, it will represent the biggest advance scouting failure since the missing weapons of mass destruction.
The most significant difference between Longoria and Wieters figures to be in the standings. Longoria was one of the final pieces in the Rays' puzzle last season, while Wieters is one of the first building blocks in a Baltimore resurrection. Even if Wieters is better than advertised, the Orioles aren't winning the AL in 2009.
Oh, there's one more difference as well. Wieters is represented by Scott Boras which means he won't be signing any long-term extensions that buy out some free agency years while he's still a rookie like Longoria did last summer.