Orioles' Top Prospect Wieters Is a Prized Catch

Catcher hopes to make major league impact

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If the constant hype that surrounds Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters is beginning to wear him down, he isn't allowing it to show.

He's blocking each distraction as if it's another curveball in the dirt.

Wieters reported to camp with bags in hand and the weighty expectations that come from being named the 2008 Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America. He's the can't-miss prospect that scouts drool over, but all he cares about is blending into the Orioles' clubhouse and doing his job.

"I think you take it as a compliment, but you've got to have expectations that are even going to exceed those and you've got to work hard so you can meet them," he said. "And if you're doing that, working hard every day so you can get to where you want to be, you'll be able to sleep at night."

It's the opposing pitchers who toss and turn.

The Orioles made Wieters the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft out of Georgia Tech. In turn, Wieters has made them look awfully good. The switch-hitting catcher batted .345 with 15 homers and 40 RBIs at Single-A Frederick, and .365 with 12 homers and 51 RBIs at Double-A Bowie. He also showed off a strong arm and skills behind the plate.

"There's always more you wish that you had done and you're always going to expect more, but last year was a good year," he said. "Most importantly, I stayed healthy the whole year and was able to get a full season in."

Wieters also was invited to camp last spring and made a good impression before being reassigned to the minor league camp in Sarasota, Fla. He didn't come across as a cocky kid; instead, he displayed a workmanlike attitude and was open to all instruction, whether it came from the coaching staff or the veterans sitting in catchers' row.

"You know more people now because you played with more of the guys," Wieters said. "It's a different feeling, definitely, but it's just as exciting as last year. I'm ready to go."

The Orioles signed free-agent catcher Gregg Zaun in part to serve as a mentor to Wieters, who is expected to begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk before heading to the major leagues later in the summer.

"I'm here to make myself available, but it's really going to be him who dictates the pace of our relationship," Zaun said. "I'm hoping he'll be inquisitive. I'm here to answer questions. I'm not the coach yet, so I go out and do my thing and I'm here to answer any questions that could possibly come up on any aspect of the game. We just met. We're going to develop a relationship and let it play out, see how it goes."

Wieters has the mind-set that he's competing for a job this spring, though he's heard talk of a pending assignment at Norfolk.

"The good thing is, I'll be playing baseball someplace this year and that's what I love doing," he said. "You've got to understand their situation, but at the same time, where they put you really isn't your choice, so you've got to go out and make the best of it."

At this point, he's fielding as many compliments as throws.

"I think this guy is so centered, he's got it in perspective," manager Dave Trembley said. "I've listened to him, I've had conversations. I think the guy has got the right idea and is prepared and will give you what he's got. He's a lot like Nick (Markakis) for me with his demeanor. He doesn't get all wrapped up in that (hype). He just wants to play baseball. That's how I see Matt. He just wants to play baseball. I don't think he's all about that other stuff."

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