Danny Hall has coached Georgia Tech since the 1994 season, when he inherited a roster with the likes of Nomar Garciaparra, Jay Payton and a senior catcher in Jason Varitek, who went on to be the College Player of the Year. That Yellow Jackets team lost in the College World Series championship game in what remains the best season in Tech’s baseball history.
Since then, Hall has coached some special talents to rival Garciaparra and Varitek, and two have won BA awards. Sophomore third baseman Mark Teixeira was our College POY in 2000, and this year Matt Wieters, who played at Tech from 2005-2007, is our Minor League Player of the Year.
Varitek, Teixeira and Wieters have more in common than BA hardware and having played for Hall at Georgia Tech. They’re all switch-hitters, and all three are Scott Boras Corporation clients. One factor that sets Wieters apart, though, is his ability to pitch, which actually affected his catching duties as a freshman, Hall recalled. Without having to catch every day, Wieters was able to make an impact with his bat from the start, batting .366/.470/.581 with 10 homers, and even moreso as a closer, working 41 innings and going 3-3, 2.85 with six saves.
“With Matt, we looked to recruit a guy to come in as a catcher and play right away, so we looked at him first and foremost as a catcher,” Hall said. “We felt good about him as a hitter, but I don’t think we thought he’d light it up as he did as a freshman. He came right in and had a great year, and we didn’t even need him as much to catch.
“He really took off as a catcher in the fall before his sophomore year, really made a jump. That’s when I definitely thought he’d be a catcher. Each year, he pitched less and caught more, and he became more of a leader from the catching standpoint.”
Leadership often is cited as the factor that sets Varitek apart. He’s captained two World Series championship teams in Boston, and continues to contribute as a pitching staff leader and defender even as his offense declines. Hall says Wieters’ leadership style has developed differently from his vocal predecessors.
“All three are different personalities, yet you watch them play, and they’re all pretty special. All are switch-hitters, which is really very unique,” Hall said. “Varitek was the most vocal of the group. He led two ways, vocally and then with the example of his work habits. Still to this day, I’d put his work habits there with anybody. He’s made his mark with his defense and his leadership.
“Wieters is a little more quiet. Tex was a good leader, a little more vocal; Matt leads more by example, but if he knows you, he will talk to you and he did that with our team. I think his background helps in that regard. His father deserves a lot of that credit; he played in college, played in the Braves organization and really taught his son a lot of the nuances of the game, really educated him on the game and in particular on the position he plays. That’s why Matt did such a great job for us.”
Offensively, Wieters didn’t put up the college numbers of either of his predecessors. He hit 35 home runs in three seasons; Teixeira hit 36 even though he missed 45 games as a junior with a broken ankle. Varitek is Tech’s all-time home runs leader with 57 in four years.
“Varitek was crazy good in college,” Hall said. “And then Mark was your Player of the Year as a sophomore and hurt as a junior, so it’s hard to judge his career. All three had a very mature approach as hitters, a very high IQ. And all three are switch-hitters, which is just very unique.
“Mark has made quite a mark as a hitter, but the next guy is coming. I have no reason to believe he’s not going to be a superstar as a hitter and as a catcher. And there’s no doubt he expects it.”
One last comparison Hall was qualified to weigh in on was Wieters versus Buster Posey, Wieters’ contemporary in the Atlantic Coast Conference for two seasons and the 2008 College Player of the Year. Posey surpassed Wieters’ record for an up-front signing bonus, getting $6.2 million this year to pass Wieters’ $6 million. One of Posey’s agents, Casey Close, played at Michigan when Hall was an assistant coach there, and he beat BA to the punch in getting Hall’s assessment of the two players.
“I told Casey what I’ll tell you: It’s unbelievable to have two players like that come back to back in this league,” Hall said. “Posey had a phenomenal year offensively and defensively. The only thing he doesn’t do that Matt can do is switch-hit. I’m still amazed that Posey was so good instantly as a catcher. I know guys who have done it as conversion guys, but not at this level as he did, in our conference, as well as he did it. I have no doubt Posey will catch in the majors, just like I have no doubt Matt will.”