If there is one position where the Orioles are set for the next several seasons and one position where they can hold their own with just about every other club in baseball, it is catcher.
With Matt Wieters, they have a 25-year-old catcher that is a Gold Glove winner, was a first-time All-Star in 2011, a switch-hitter, a player that is big and durable and is under team control through the 2015 season.
Those factors would make most teams envious of what the Orioles have at that position.
Wieters became the first Orioles catcher to ever win a Gold Glove after a year when he allowed just one passed ball all season, threw out an American League-best 37 percent and was second in the league in innings caught.
At bat, Wieters played a career-high 139 games hitting .262 with 28 doubles, 22 homers, 68 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .450 and OPS of .778. His batting average with runners in scoring position of .321 rated 13th best in the league.
After hitting a homer every 34.5 at-bats before the All-Star game, Wieters hit 14 of his 22 longballs in the second half, averaging one every 16.0 at-bats then.
Wieters’ offense has been trending up from his 2009 rookie season through last year. His homers have increased from nine to 11 to 22, his doubles totals from 15 to 22 to 28 and his OPS from .752 to .696 to .778.
Wieters made dramatic improvement last year in his batting against left-handed pitchers. After hitting .248 against southpaws in 2009 and .210 with an OPS of .564 in 2010, Wieters made a huge increase last year to an average of .339 and OPS of 1.124 against lefties.
There was no single explanation for the big change in 2011 for Wieters in batting production from the right side.
“I definitely have had a good year right-handed,” Wieters said late last season. “It’s weird. Right-handed, left-handed, it’s always where you hit the pitchers at the right time. I think the strange thing is when you see a real career year out of a switch-hitter, they hit the right-handed pitchers when they feel good from the left side and hit the left-handed pitchers when they feel good from the right side.”
Manager Buck Showalter could not pinpoint Wieters’ improvement from that side, but said the Orioles emphasized his right-handed batting more in spring training and had Wieters hit more off lefties in the spring.
After a short but rather spectacular stay in the minor leagues, Wieters was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in all of baseball. So much was expected and the hype was almost too much for any player to handle.
I think there is still a small group of fans disappointed with Wieters, even his play last season, because they expected instant stardom and a dominant player.
But Wieters took a big step forward last year and now looks like a player poised to become one of the game’s best catchers now for years to come.
Stardom awaits for Wieters.