Top O's prospect Wieters gets chance

Updated: May 29, 2009, 10:17 PM ET
Associated Press

BALTIMORE -- As his teammates groaned in mock dismay, Matt Wieters stood at his locker as a throng of reporters and cameramen swept through the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse to interview the newest and most prominent member of the team's youth movement.

Wieters
Wieters

Wieters, the top prospect in the organization, was formally added to the 25-man roster Friday. Baltimore selected his contract from Triple-A Norfolk, and catcher Chad Moeller was designated for assignment.

Wieters, a 6-foot-5, switch-hitting catcher, was to make his major league debut Friday night against the Detroit Tigers. He was inserted into the No. 7 spot in the lineup.

The anticipation for his arrival began Tuesday, when president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail announced that the fifth overall pick in the 2007 amateur draft would join Baltimore on Friday. Hours before the game, the media swarmed through the clubhouse to get his take on becoming a major leaguer less than two years after being drafted out of Georgia Tech.

"I'm pretty excited to get playing tonight," Wieters said. "This debut has been a dream of mine ever since I was little. It's going to be fun, especially once we actually start playing the game."

Asked if he had any idea of the hoopla surrounding his arrival, Wieters answered, "You get the voice mails and text messages from everybody you've ever met in your life, you sort of see how big this is."

The 23-year-old Wieters has excelled at every level of the game, going from college through three levels of minor league ball before finally getting his chance to play for Baltimore. He's been labeled a can't-miss star, but he knows there are no guarantees he will live up to expectations.

"You've got to go out there and play. I've been able to have success through the minor leagues, but it's a different animal up here," he said.

"Guys are going to make mistakes, but we're all confident that Wieters will be able to handle when things don't go well for him," manager Dave Trembley said. "That's why I'm batting him where I'm batting him, so he doesn't have to feel like he's got to be the guy. Because quite honestly, and this is no disrespect to him, he's not the guy. It's about the team."

Perhaps, but there's no denying the pressure a No. 1 pick feels upon his arrival in the majors. Adam Jones received similar treatment in 2006 when he was in Seattle, and the arrival of Nick Markakis generated a similar buzz in Baltimore that same season.

Markakis now has a long-term contract and Jones, who has settled in comfortably with the Orioles, was among those who razzed Wieters when the media arrived Friday.

"There is a lot of excitement in the city. I guess Markakis is the last top pick to have that stature. The fans have been hearing how good this kid is and want to see firsthand," Jones said. "I just asked him, 'Are you nervous?' He said he just wanted to get this first game over with. I told him he would be all right once he got that first at-bat out of the way."

Wieters hit .305 with nine doubles, two triples, five home runs, 25 runs and 30 RBIs in 39 games with Norfolk this season. He hit safely in 11 of his last 12 games with the Tides.

His arrival dropped starting catcher Gregg Zaun into a reserve role and forced the ouster of Moeller, who hit .200 in 15 games. Trembley said Moeller will accept a demotion to Norfolk if he can't latch on with another major league team.

When Zaun signed as a free agent during the offseason, he knew he would ultimately be forced to become a backup to Wieters. That time has come.

"I knew what my situation was coming in. I agreed to the terms of the deal and the situation the way it was," Zaun said. "I agreed to all of this, so now my job is to be what this team needs me to be. Whatever it is that they need me to be, that's what I'm here to do."

One of Zaun's duties will be to serve as a mentor to Wieters -- if called upon.

"I'm not going to force it down his throat," Zaun said. "He's going to come to me when he needs me, or if he needs me at all."


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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