Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Is Matt Wieters the real deal?
So we're asking whether Matt Wieters is the real deal?
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Now my editors are telling me I need to be more verbose and elaborate a little.
In Wieters' professional debut last season, he hit .355 with 27 homers and a 1.053 OPS, splitting the season between high Class A and Double-A. His numbers actually improved after he was promoted.
You might have seen that Wieters' offensive ability has been compared to Mark Teixeira's. I share that assessment. Wieter is a switch-hitter with plus bat speed who will be a middle-of-the-order threat hitting for average and power from both sides. He knows the strike zone, walking almost as much as he struck out last season. There won't be any issues with plate discipline. Scouts rave about his ability to make adjustments at the plate, which will be key in adapting to upper levels of pitching.
"It's timing," Wieters told me at the Arizona Fall League. "It's such a big part of baseball, and what I've learned about my swing from both sides is that even if your swing isn't feeling that great sometimes, if you have the right timing, you can still put the barrel on the ball and get some hits, so learning about how to keep your timing on par with how the pitchers are throwing is going to lead to some success for you."
Of course, unlike Teixeira, Wieters is a catcher, and an above-average one at that, with a strong, accurate arm.
Here's a sampling of what some of his pitchers have told me about the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder behind the plate:
"Home plate seems about 2 feet closer when he's back there."
"Man, that's a big target; it feels like a Little League mound. It's like he's 5 feet away."
"His setup is so wide, he helps you get some calls."
Let's go one step further with something an American League scout told me this offseason: "This is a potential Hall of Fame catcher."
So we've established that Wieters is the real deal, and that dynasty and keeper league players will enjoy his services immensely, but what about in 2009?
Although the team traded Ramon Hernandez for a reason, Orioles general manager Andy McPhail already has gone on record saying that Wieters likely will begin the season in the minors, as he's had just 61 games above Class A ball. There also is the unspoken benefit of delaying the clock toward free agency for another season.
More on Wieters
According to Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections, Wieters will be an MVP-caliber player right off the bat. Story
If that is the case, he might stay down in the minors for only a month or a month and a half, giving him plenty of time to come in and be an impact player. He's going to hit from the moment he steps into the batter's box in the big leagues, and we need only to look back to 2007, when Ryan Braun and Hunter Pence put together excellent seasons despite starting the year in the minors, to see that Triple-A time in April is not necessarily a hindrance to fantasy value. Think rookie catchers can't have offensive impact? Just look at Geovany Soto. In other words, this is not J.R. Towles.
There is no way I woul let Wieters slide out of the top 10 catchers picked on draft day. His current average draft position in ESPN leagues is exactly the 10th catcher. That will shoot up if he gets an Opening Day job. Even if you have to work the waiver wire to grab a replacement backstop for the first month in ESPN leagues, there are enough cheap options like Jeff Clement and the Rangers' catching tandem that might be had in one-catcher formats as a temporary measure. Tuck Wieters away for a little bit and wait for the fantasy goodness.
The bottom line: Wieters? Sign me up.
Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.