Widely regarded as the game’s best prospect coming into the season, Matt Wieters hasn’t yet put up the numbers anticipated of him, but given that many of those expectations sat somewhere between Johnny Bench and a pinball machine, that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Called up by the Orioles on May 30, to no small amount of hype, the 23-year-old switch-hitter out of Georgia Tech is certainly holding his own, both at the plate and behind the dish. He simply hasn’t yet been the monster that scouts-or PECOTA-have projected, but it’s still seen as just a matter of time. Matt Wieters has a very bright future.
David Laurila: Your father played professional baseball. What role has that played in your life?
Matt Wieters: It has been huge. My dad has definitely been my biggest role model growing up. He coached me all the way through Little League, and even helped when I was in high school and summer ball, with teams like that, so he’s definitely been an influence in my life as far as my baseball career goes. He grew up loving the game, and played five years of minor league ball, and sort of had a good knowledge of what it was all about. He even went into coaching a little bit when he was done playing the game. He was coaching something he loved, and I love being able to learn from him.
DL: Which position did your father play?
MW: He played third and first in college, but he was actually a pitcher in the minor leagues, so he sort of saw it from both ends. I could get his advice for pitching, and also his advice for hitting. Or, if I was thinking about pitch count or something like that, he could sort of help me out with that from his experience pitching.
DL: You both caught and worked out of the bullpen at Georgia Tech. How much have you taken your experience as a pitcher behind the plate with you?
MW: I’ve taken it a little bit, but every pitcher has different stuff and has different ways that they want to get people out. So, as far as pitch-calling, I don’t think I’ve really taken it [with me] behind the plate, but rather it’s more of when a guy might be getting a little too amped up, or maybe when I need to amp up the guy, is probably more what I take from my pitching experience than anything else.
DL: Did you have to change your mentality when you went behind the plate?
MW: Definitely. As a catcher, you’re always thinking about how you’re going to get a guy out throughout the course of an at-bat, and when you’re pitching, you just need to think about how you’re going to make that one pitch, at that one time. When you’re catching, you’re thinking about setting guys up and about how you’re going to get them out later in the at-bat. A pitcher has to sort of focus on what he’s going to make with that one pitch there.
DL: Can a young catcher learn as much from veteran pitchers as he can from other catchers?
MW: I think so. I think that just being able to go through the league, catching veteran guys and getting to see how they sort of want to approach hitters, can help you with your pitch calling, and sort of help you learn the hitters by what they see. That’s because they’ve been doing it for a long time.
DL: Relatively speaking, there aren’t a lot of seasoned veterans on the Orioles’ pitching staff right now. Do you feel that’s a detriment at all?
MW: I don’t think so, because you play 162 games a year, so once you go through a couple of years in this league, you’re either going to figure it out, or you’re going to be out of the league quickly. If guys have been around for even a couple of years, they have a pretty good idea of what to do.
DL: How much do you talk pitching with Rick Kranitz?
MW: A good bit. Especially this first time through the league and the first time facing hitters, you’re trying to get as much information as you can. For me, that’s from both Kranny and from Gregg Zaun, who’s been around this league for a long time. Any information that you can draw from them, without having to actually see the hitters, is going to help you once you actually do get behind the hitters. All of our coaches here are great with helping me out here, especially early in my career. Any sort of advice, or any sort of knowledge that they have, they definitely feel free to pass it on. I can take that advice and apply it to my own game.
DL: Don Werner is the organization’s roving catching instructor. How much have you worked with him since signing?
MW: He’s been great, all the way through the minor leagues, with me. Ever since I started playing with this organization, he’s been there. He’s shared his experiences, and what he sees, on a day-in-day-out basis. He’s actually seen me play probably more games throughout the minor leagues than anybody else. Any time I had a question, or any time they had a drill for me to do, he’d be there.
DL: What has made for the bigger adjustment for you since the call up, your defensive game or your offense?
MW: I think it’s going to be defense. Hitting is definitely an adjustment every series, and with every different pitcher you see, but your number-one goal in the big leagues is to get guys out for your pitcher, and to call a good game to give your team a chance to win. Hitting is just sort of a bonus. If you can go out there and get some hits, and drive in some runs, you take that as a bonus. Calling a game is something you really need to do, night-in and night-out.
DL: What has been the biggest defensive adjustment you’ve had to make?
MW: I think that it is reading swings. You have so much information available to you here. You have video, you have charts; you have so much information, and you can go from that. But, being able to read the swing as the game goes on, is going to help you out, because once you get into the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning, hitters at this level are going to be able to adjust and be able to try to do something different. You need to be able to read their swing as quickly as possible, and be able call the pitch that has the best chance of getting them out.
DL: Is it harder to read swings at this level than it is in the minor leagues?
MW: I think so, because guys have more experience. They’re used to having to adjust. They’re used to having to slow their bat, or change their approach, as the game goes on, depending on how they’re being pitched. You have to be able to see when guys are actually adjusting, and when they’re going to stay with a certain swing pattern.
DL: Switching over to your offensive game, what kinds of adjustments have you been making up at the plate?
MW: I think that the big thing up at the plate is that you really have to try to stay nice and relaxed and not try to do too much. At this level, you can try to do too much as opposed to just being the same hitter you’ve always been throughout the minor leagues and throughout your whole career.
DL: What impact are the hype and high expectations placed upon you having on that?
MW: Hype is something that is always going to be there, but you just have to try to live up to your own expectations. I know what I’m capable of, so I just have to go out there and work hard. Once the game starts, you’re just playing the game. One of the good things that the minor leagues prepared me for is that I was able to get some of the hype out of the way there. Once I got up here, I was sort of used to it a little bit, so that I was able to just go out there and play like I have the last couple of years.
DL: How has the media impacted your career thus far?
MW: With the media, it’s more of how you’re going to divide your time. You can definitely make yourself accessible to the media, but at the same time you still have to be able to get your work in, and you have to be able to get your early work, to where the media isn’t taking away from anything you’re going to be able to do as a player.
DL: You were high school teammates, in Goose Creek, South Carolina, with Justin Smoak, who is beginning to get his own fair share of attention as an elite prospect these days. Do you and he ever share notes?
MW: I’ll talk to Justin, occasionally, by text messaging in the offseason. We’ll talk about it a bit, and he is going to be having it coming towards him, but he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’s going to be a good player at this level when he gets here.
DL: Jim Rice, who is also a native of your home state, is being inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. What are your thoughts on his career?
MW: Any time you get a South Carolina guy going into the Hall of Fame, it’s something special. You can sort of see the way that South Carolina baseball is coming around over the years. It’s really growing and coming up. Me and Justin, and a lot of guys who came up with us, we sort of have to look back at the guys in the past, like the Jim Rices. Mookie Wilson was from South Carolina, too. Those guys sort of started baseball getting big in South Carolina.
DL: Rice spent his entire career with the Red Sox. Do you ever think about what it would be like to spend your entire career with the Orioles?
MW: No, I don’t worry about that. I’m just excited to be here right now. That’s something that you really can’t imagine, and nowadays you see how many guys change teams on a year-in, year-out basis. You can think about how it would be great to stay with one team for your whole career, and stay in one city, and get to know that city better than anywhere else, rather than moving here and then moving there, but that doesn’t happen very much anymore.
DL: You’ve been compared to Jason Varitek, in large part because he also played at Georgia Tech, and a lot of people project you to be a better player. Do think that’s fair, given the long career that he’s had?
MW: I don’t think that you can make that sort of prediction, when he’s had so many years in the major leagues and has two World Series rings on his fingers. I’ve got a long way to go to get to where he is. Any time you can win two world championships, that’s a pretty darn successful career.
DL: You got your first big-league hit off of Justin Verlander. Do you ever look at pitchers of his caliber and wonder what it would be like to catch them?
MW: It’s something where, you see guys with that kind of stuff… actually, the guy with the best stuff that I ever caught was probably Jason Neighborgall. I caught him in college, and his stuff was probably right up there with anybody’s. When you do get to catch those guys, and they’re on, it’s something special to be able to put down the pitches for those guys and see how electric their stuff can be.
DL: Who have you caught that doesn’t have great stuff, but really knows how to pitch?
MW: If you look at Brad Bergesen, he’s not going to be throwing in the mid-90s. He’s not a guy who is going to blow up the radar gun, but he’s a guy who is going to work in, work out, and use his off-speed stuff. Guys like that, who keep their defense involved, and throw strikes, are going to be able to pitch for a long time.
MW: I have. I caught Tillman for half of last year, and the beginning of this year, and he’s got that outstanding stuff. He’s got that really very good fastball, along with a very good breaking ball. And Matusz is one of those guys who is polished. I caught him last year in the fall league, and it’s amazing how polished this guy is, just coming up out of college. He can throw his off-speed stuff when he’s behind in the count, and he’s left-handed with a fastball that he can run up there at 94 mph. That’s always going to be a good thing. I also caught Brandon Erbe and Jake Arrieta at Frederick last year, and those guys have some power arms. We have a good number of arms between Double-A and Triple-A that I think you’ll be seeing making their appearance here pretty soon. We have some real talent coming up, and I’m glad to be a part of it.