Matt Wieters: The Orioles Six Tool Man

Baltimore's catcher uses Rosetta Stone to communicate better with foreign pitchers.

A big aspect of a solid relationship between a pitcher and catcher is their communication. So when Matt Wieters found out that he was going to be spending this season acclimating to a new pitcher in Chen Wei Yen he decided to pick up the language learning software Rosetta Stone. The only problem is, he picked up the wrong one. As new GM Dan Duquette and manager Buck Showalter sat on stage early at Fan Fest in January they recounted Wieters' mistake. “[Buck asked] Matt, 'how's the off season going and'…[Matt] goes 'I picked up the Rosetta Stone on how to speak Japanese and…the Chinese program,'” said Duquette of Showalter's off season conversations with Wieters. “Buck said 'well you know the kid Chen he's not Chinese, he's from Taiwan, he speaks Mandarin,'” Dan continued to plenty of laughter from the fans. “'[Buck] told him, 'you're gonna have to go back to the drawing board on that one.'”

While Wieters may still be figuring out all of the various languages he will have to speak with Orioles' players this season, he seems to have figured out the catching position in the big leagues as well as anyone. Last season was a break out year for the 25 year old, one in which he not only improved in just about every offensive statistic, but won his first American League Gold Glove Award as the league's top defensive catcher and made his first All Star Game.

Interestingly, Wieters won the Gold Glove putting up nearly identical numbers to the year before. In 2010 he was 4th in the league in fielding percentage (4th in 2011), 4th in the league in putouts (also 4th in 2011) and 4th in the league in assists (he was actually 5th in 2011 but with a higher amount than in 2010). Regardless, the defensive consistency is huge for the Orioles, whose young pitchers will continue needing a very capable catcher to throw to as they develop. That most of them are as young as Matt just makes his accomplishments that much more impressive.

Still, Wieters doesn't seem to be all that worried about the young pitching staff he's spent the past few years coming up through the Majors with, and he said as much at Oriole's Fan Fest. “I think that we have a great pitching staff,” he said back stage. “I think this year some of the young stars we've had, now that they have more competition, [it will] make them even better.” Matt continued by citing how the successful young pitching of the Tampa Bay Rays have made them a main stay competing in both their division and in the American League as a whole. It is a similar pattern that Wieters thinks the O's could soon be following.

Matt also didn't just talk about the Rays at Fan Fest. He brought up other division rivals as well, citing how “tough [it is] to out hit the Yankees, and out hit the Red Sox.” It's something few people would disagree with when talking about rival players like Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Alex Rodriquez. Yet, while Wieters doesn't necessarily believe in the practice of trying to out hit those other teams there's evidence that the Orioles, as much as anyone, could be in position to do just that.

On offensive Matt continued to round into the heavy hitter the O's believed they were drafting five years ago in the first round. He raised his OPS from .695 to .778, doubled his home run output, increased his RBIs, lowered his strikeouts and did it all while playing more games at catcher and logging more plate appearances than the year before. The trends are overwhelmingly positive for Matt, and yet he was far from the only O's player to put up big slugging numbers last season. He was one of four Orioles players that broke the 20 home run plateau in 2011, while four more put up double digits in the category. Six of those eight players should be back in the lineup this season, including the top five. “I think our lineup the second half of the year was really good,” said Matt of the surge the Orioles experienced for the last month and a half of 2011. “We got a short stop hitting 30 homes runs and Reynolds hitting [30] plus home runs and that gives you some power in the line-up.”

Indeed, Wieters, like much of the Oriole's organization, believes that if the starting pitching can round into competitive form, and the O's can match teams like the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays in run production, they should become far more competitive in the tough AL East. “It's just getting our starters to be able to go deep in games,” said Matt of setting up the Orioles growing bull pen for success at the end of games rather than in the middle of them. “Then [the starters] turn it over at the end.”

Overall, Wieters seems very comfortable in his role as the Oriole's every day catcher (and subsequently their field general) heading into his fourth year in the Major Leagues. And while he may not have grasped all of the nuances of the various languages he may have to communicate in this season, he's confident both he and his pitchers can adapt. “The great thing is that baseball's a universal language,” said Wieters of the various signs and symbols that players and coaches tend to silently use in their interactions on a play to play basis. “It's gonna be a lot of work and a lot of communication work on top of it,” said Wieters, not shying away from the potential struggle. “We'll see how these guys come in and we'll find a way to make it work.”


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