Prospect hounds rejoice. The long winter is over and spring has brought us to a matchup between the Nos. 1 and 2 prospects in the game. The Norfolk Tides visit the Durham Bulls tonight in a Triple-A International League game that will feature Rays lefthander David Price squaring off against, among others, Orioles catcher Matt Wieters.
We caught up with both uber-prospects before their confrontation to ask them their thoughts on the game and other assorted tidbits.
|Aug. 2004 • Price declines to sign with the Dodgers as a 19th-round pick and honors his commitment to Vanderbilt. Wieters, whose strong college commitment caused him to go undrafted despite ranking as the top prep prospect in the state of South Carolina, arrives at Georgia Tech as part of the nation’s No. 5 recruiting class.
June 29, 2005 • Wieters earns first-team Freshman All-America honors after hitting .366 with 10 homers. Price earns second-team honors after posting a 2.86 ERA and striking out 92 in 69 innings.
July-Aug., 2005 • Wieters and Price are teammates on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National team. Price is one of the team’s top pitchers, going 2-0, 1.26 in a team-leading 29 innings. Wieters starts 12 of the team’s 20 games and ranks third on the team with a .545 slugging percentage.
June 3, 2006 • Price faces Wieters in opener of Atlanta Regional, their only college meeting. Wieters singles in the first, draws a bases-loaded walk in the second, singles and steals a base in the fifth, and walks in the seventh. He reaches in 14 of 15 plate appearances in the regional. Price allows seven runs over 6 1/3 innings, and Georgia Tech wins 7-3, then goes on to win the regional.
Aug. 2006 • Price earns Summer Player of the Year honors after going 5-1, 0.20 with 61 strikeouts and seven walks in 44 innings for Team USA. Wieters ranks second in the Cape Cod League in batting (.307) and homers (eight), ranking as the circuit’s No. 3 prospect.
June 2007 • Price earns College Player of the Year honors after going 11-1, 2.63 with 194 strikeouts in 133 innings. Wieters captures first-team All-America honors for the second straight season, hitting .358/.480/.592 with 10 homers and 59 RBIs.
June 7, 2007 • The Rays select Price with the first pick in the draft, while the Orioles have reason to rejoice when Wieters falls to them with the fifth pick. The Royals (Mike Moustakas), Cubs (Josh Vitters) and Pirates (Daniel Moskos) all pass on Wieters.
Aug. 15, 2007 • Negotiations between the Rays and Orioles with Price and Wieters come down to the singing deadline, which had been instituted for the ’07 draft. Price receives a $5.6 million bonus as part of a six-year major league deal, while Wieters nets a straight $6 million bonus.
Sept.-Nov., 2007 • Wieters participates in Hawaii Winter Baseball, batting .283/.364/.415 with nine doubles and one home run in 106 at-bats for Honolulu. He nabs 33 percent of basestealers and strikes out just 15 times, making him the second most difficult player in HWB to fan. Wieters ranks as the league’s No. 1 prospect.
April 4, 2008 • Wieters makes his official pro debut for high Class A Frederick, going 2-for-3 with two home runs (both batting righthanded) and keying the Keys’ 7-3 win against Lynchburg. Price stays behind in extended spring training after coming down with a sore elbow at the end of camp.
May 22, 2008 • Price makes his professional debut with high Class A Vero Beach. He picks up the win after throwing five shutout innings against Clearwater.
June 26, 2008 • Price leaves the Florida State League behind, earning a promotion to Double-A Montgomery, where he earns the win in the Biscuits’ 8-2 victory at Mobile. He exits after six innings, having struck out seven, walked four and allowed two runs.
June 28, 2008 • Two days after Price makes his Double-A debut, Wieters does likewise in jumping to Bowie. This time, he has to settle for going 1-for-3 with a double and two RBIs. The Baysox defeat Altoona 7-1.
Aug. 13, 2008 • Price makes his Triple-A debut for Durham. He gives up three runs in four innings in a game the Bulls lose to Norfolk 7-6.
Sept. 2008 • Price dominates in the International League playoffs, making one start against Louisville and one against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He pitches 11 innings, compiling 15 strikeouts and four walks and goes 1-0, 3.27. Durham loses to Scranton in the finals. Over in the Eastern League playoffs, Bowie bows out to Akron in the first round, with Wieters hitting an uncharacteristic .133/.316/.133 (2-for-15) with four walks.
Sept. 2008 • Wieters ranks as the top prospect in two leagues—the Carolina and Eastern—while Price finishes a close No. 2 to Clayton Kershaw in the Southern League, the only prospect list he qualified for. Wieters captures our Minor League Player of the Year honors.
Oct. 2009 • After compiling 14 big league innings in September, Price shines in the major league playoffs with the Rays, recording the save in a memorable Game Seven against the Red Sox. He strikes out three of the five batters he faces. All told, he goes 1-0, 1.59 with a save in 5 2/3 postseason innings, racking up eight strikeouts and four walks while allowing a measly two hits and recording Tampa Bay’s only World Series win.
Feb. 2009 • Wieters (No.1 ) and Price (No. 2) top our annual Top 100 Prospects list.
March 2009 • Both Price and Wieters tear it up in spring training, but neither can escape the fate of an assignment to Triple-A, temporary as that may be.
Contributing: Aaron Fitt
How often do you get recognized in public?
“Quite a bit. It’s something you really can’t complain about. Other than the fact that you’re eating with your family and people come up to you . . . that’s the only time it’s kind of out of hand. Other than that, I don’t mind it. I kind of enjoy meeting my fans. I guess I’ve met a couple Boston people in the airport who say, ‘You crushed my Red Sox. All right, well good luck to you.’ I don’t mind it. I kind of like it. It’s good fun.”
Did you consider becoming a closer after your dominating turn in the playoffs?
“No I did not. Not once. It’s not something that I necessarily want to do. But if the Rays wanted me to do that, and they thought that was best for the team, you know I’d definitely do it. But that’s not something I’d raise my hand for.”
What part of you game gets overlooked?
“Probably just the mental part. That’s something I’m very strong in. It’s something I’ve worked at in the three years I was at Vanderbilt, with coach (Tim) Corbin, coach (Derek) Johnson and coach (Erik) Bakich and those guys. It’s something I feel like I’m pretty good at, something I’ve worked on for four years now. I’ve grown to the point where I can hold my own at this part of baseball.”
Have you ever faced Matt Wieters before?
“I faced him, I guess, during his sophomore year in college. Obviously, everything is hyped up—but I guess you can look at his stats and see that. I didn’t face him the other day, but we faced Norfolk the other day and he hit a two-run double. I guess that’s what Matt Wieters does.”
How are you going to attack him?
“I can’t tell you because if you write about it, then he’ll read in and he’ll know what I’m doing (laughs).”
Any disappointment about ranking No. 2 behind Wieters in Top 100?
“No, not at all. I don’t pay any attention to that. That’s what you guys think, and that’s completely fine. If you want to put me at 100, or not even on the list, then that’s fine—it’s motivation.”
Favorite player and team while growing up?
“David Justice and the Atlanta Braves.”
Which minor leaguer has been toughest adversary for you?
“Drew Stubbs has been a tough one for me. Faced him in High-A, didn’t face him in Double-A, then I faced him again in Triple-A. He’s a tough out.”
What would you be doing if you weren’t playing baseball?
“I wouldn’t be outside right now (in windy 45-degree temperatures during Bulls’ media day). I know that (laughs). No, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”
What lesson did you take away from big league spring training?
“It’s just a matter of learning, getting experience facing big league hitters and catching big league pitchers. Anytime you get experience against those guys it’s going to help you in the long run—especially sitting next to Gregg Zaun and Chad Moeller it’s always good to learn from those guys.”
How often do you get recognized in public?
“No, not too much yet. Only when I come to the park and a few autograph seekers out there recognize me.”
For all the attention you get, what gets overlooked?
“It’s just the love for the game. It’s willing to be here and work hard and trying to learn as much as possible for the pitching staff. And just coming here . . . it’s hard work, but it’s something I enjoy doing.”
Do you know David Price well?
“Yeah, I played with David for the whole summer back in our freshman year of college. He’s a great guy and we had a lot of fun on that team. We definitely have some stories from that. And from facing him in college, he’s a great pitcher with a great arm, and it will be a challenge to face him.”
How do you expect him to come after you in today’s game?
“He’s got outstanding stuff and he’s going to attack the zone. He’s a power pitcher, so you’ve got to expect him to come after you hard, and all you can do is try to get a good pitch to hit. And when you get one try to make him pay for it.”
Favorite team and player growing up?
“Well, it was the Braves. I grew up in South Carolina, so the Braves were the closest team to me. Ken Griffey Jr. was probably my first guy, but Chipper Jones was a close second, as far as I guy I could watch and try to emulate a little bit at the plate—and just sort of his demeanor.
Was Chipper you inspiration for becoming a switch-hitter?
“My dad actually started me switch-hitting when I was 5, so it was something that he envisioned coming through the minor league ball. (Matt’s father Richard was a righthander in the Braves and White Sox systems from 1977-81). He realized how rare a switch-hitting catcher could be. It’s something he started me out with and I love doing it. Watching Chipper hit on TV, it was something I could do in the living room—he’s hit lefthanded and I’d take swings lefthanded. He’d hit righthanded, I’d take swings righthanded.”
Do you ever get the itch to take the mound again?
“No, it was fun to do in college. But I like hitting and I like catching every day. So pitching is not something that’s a high priority on my list.”
Have you seen the Matt Wieters facts online? [Example: Even Bob Gibson acknowledges that Matt Wieters owns the inner half of the plate.]