Grant Paulsen catches up with a
prospect every week on “Minors and Majors,” a weekly baseball talk show
on Sirius XM Radio. The show also frequently features Baseball America
writers and editors. Now you can read excerpts from these interviews
here at BaseballAmerica.com,
in case you can’t tune in each Saturday at 8 a.m. Eastern on Sirius
channel 210 and XM channel 175.
This installment features catcher Matt Wieters, the top prospect in the Orioles organization and the top prospect in the game. Wieters was the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, and he batted a combined .355/.454/.600 between high Class A and Double-A in his professional debut last season, winning Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year award. The Orioles have cleared a path to the big leagues for him but may not call him up until midseason. He discusses what he has accomplished so far and what lies ahead after spring training.
Grant Paulsen: How is the first week of your second spring training going?
Matt Wieters: It’s been going well so far. I’m getting to see a lot of guys who I haven’t seen since the end of last year and getting to meet some new faces. It’s always an exciting time to come to spring training, and I’m looking forward to working hard and getting going into the season.
Paulsen: The O’s were busy this offseason. Is everybody wearing name tags in Florida right now?
Wieters: The first couple days were funny. You have to walk around and check the lockers to see who you are talking to and who you are meeting. But once you get going us baseball guys can gel pretty quickly.
Paulsen: I hear that you aren’t wearing the No. 58 this spring. Is that the case?
Wieters: Yeah. They changed me to a lower number this year. This spring I got No. 15. I guess it’s a good thing to be getting lower.
Paulsen: Has No. 15 started growing on you?
Wieters: I’m pretty comfortable with the No. 15. I mean, my number in the minor leagues last year was 32, but Jamie Walker is saying that he is going to drive up the price if I want to buy that off of him. We’ll have to see what happens. Really, though, I think any number you get to wear in the big leagues is a good one.
Paulsen: Tons of Orioles fans want to order Wieters jerseys. Should they feel okay buying a No. 15/Wieters? Could it stick?
Wieters: It could stick. It’s the number I wore when I was growing up and playing Little League. It changed when I got to high school and then when I got to college, so I’ve gone back to a past number. It could definitely stick. I like it.
Paulsen: What have you been doing at camp so far?
Wieters: Early on it’s definitely a lot of conditioning and getting your legs back under you to the point where you can catch a full game. I’ve just been getting ready to catch a lot of bullpens and working on getting ready for games. It’s definitely all about getting the legs under you first, and then I think the next thing is just to work on the swing a little bit to try to get the timing back.
Paulsen: What are you hoping to work on the most this spring?
Wieters: I’d say just working with and gaining more knowledge about the pitching staff. I’m just trying to learn what each of the guys wants to do. I’ll be catching some new guys this year and some guys from before, but I am just trying to learn what pitches are going to make each pitcher the most successful.
Paulsen: How would you grade yourself as a game-caller right now?
Wieters: Well, that’s something that you’re always going to be learning more about and constantly changing throughout your career. I feel like I had a pretty good year last year calling pitches, but I also had a good number of great young arms to work with so it wasn’t that hard because of the quality of pitchers I had. You just always have to keep learning because there is always going to be new hitters at each level, so it’s a constant struggle to try to figure out what you want to do against each guy.
Paulsen: How can you tell how well you’re doing at calling pitches without something like a batting average to help grade yourself? A pitcher’s line?
Wieters: It’s not that simple, but at the same time you can look at what balls were hit hard and what numbers the pitcher was effective with. The fewer number of balls that get hit hard, the better your grade will probably be.
Paulsen: Baltimore signed Gregg Zaun to help mentor you. Tell me about your relationship with him.
Wieters: Every single day I just sit next to him in the locker room and listen to him. He’s got stories from just about every different team and every different era of baseball (laughs). He’s a guy who has been around and I enjoy learning from his stories about his past experiences.
Paulsen: Do you realize that he played in Frederick, where you were last year, when you were watching “Power Rangers”?
Wieters: (Laughs). Yeah he’s been around for a long time. That is a credit to the condition he keeps himself in and how well he can call and catch a game. Most guys can’t do that and can’t stay around in the big leagues that long.
Paulsen: You’re the talk of the Oriole fan base this offseason. Are any of the veterans teasing you because of all the hype and attention you’re getting?
Wieters: It’s actually been pretty good so far. We’ve got a bunch of guys that like to kid around here. You’re always going to get some ribbing from the veterans and even from guys you’ve played with. That’s just baseball. But it’s fun. You’ve just got to learn to take it with a smile and move on.
Paulsen: What player likes to cut up and tease people the most?
Wieters: Aubrey Huff is that guy in the locker room this year. He’s the guy who will get on you if he sees something that he thinks is funny. He does a good job of keeping it light in the clubhouse and he’ll always say something if he sees something he wants to comment on.
Paulsen: When you look back at your numbers last year, do you marvel like the rest of us?
Wieters: It was definitely a good year offensively for me last year. I got off to a great start and was able to carry it through the whole season. But now all of those stats are out the window. I’ve got to re-start this year and work hard this spring. Hopefully I can get off to another great start this season.
Paulsen: Did hitting .355 and smacking 27 homers feel as easy as you made it look?
Wieters: The thing about baseball is . . . it’s never going to feel easy. Even though I did hit over .300 last year, you’re still getting out six or seven times out of ten. You’re never going to be able to think it’s too easy playing this game. There’s always something that’s going to humble you.
Paulsen: What do you attribute to being as ready as you were for pro baseball?
Wieters: I definitely think college helped me to get ready more than anything else as far as my maturity on and off the field. I went through a growth spurt at school, and I was able to get a bit stronger. That was something that helped me a good bit last year. Hopefully that will carry me going forward.
Paulsen: Did you surprise yourself at all? Playing as well as you did, as fast as you did?
Wieters: Not really. I think you always plan and prepare for success each offseason. I always feel like I’m going to be ready to go out and do well. Last year it just happened to work out. I went back this offseason and worked hard again the same way as before. Hopefully it works out that well again.
Paulsen: Your swing didn’t seem to be bothered by the transition from A-ball to Double-A. Did you even notice a difference?
Wieters: Definitely. I’d say that the main thing is that you’re going to see more polished pitching and get fewer pitches to hit in Double-A ball. Last year I was able to get a few of those good pitches to hit and when you get them, you’ve just got to put a good swing on them.
Paulsen: How are you feeling about yourself as a receiver behind the plate?
Wieters: I feel pretty comfortable back there right now. We’ve got arms that know where the ball is going and that has helped me to get more comfortable. Being a big catcher, I’m constantly going to have to keep working on my footwork and those types of things to stay quick. That’s going to be a constant, but I feel real good back there right now.
Paulsen: What will fans see as a major difference about you this spring?
Wieters: I was able to gain a few pounds by working out and working well with my strength coach this offseason. I feel like I came into spring training in better shape this year. I’d say that’s the biggest change for me over the offseason. Just that I’m starting off in better shape than I did last year.
Paulsen: What did you do to add the weight and get stronger? Anything different?
Wieters: I threw in an extra day of workouts. Instead of three days of good workouts, I threw in an extra day and went to four days this offseason. I trained with some other minor league guys who went to school with me and we just decided to get into the weight room and work hard.
Paulsen: Have you had a conversation with anybody in the Orioles front office about how soon you are going to call Camden Yards home?
Wieters: Not really any formal conversations. They just wanted me to come here and work hard and that’s all I’m planning on doing. If you work hard out here to win a spot, you’re going to be ready to start the season. That’s what I’m focusing on this spring.
Paulsen: If you were in control of the organization, would you start yourself in the majors on Opening Day?
Wieters: I don’t know if I could handle that (laughs). Zaun said something the other day, though. He said you’re always going to feel like the team is going to be better when you’re on the field. If you don’t feel like that then your confidence level might not be where it should be.
Paulsen: Would you be confident calling the pitches for the big league staff during week one of the season?
Wieters: I’d definitely feel good about what I was doing back there. You are going to have your good games and your bad games. The key is to just learn something from every game you play in.
Paulsen: What are your goals for this coming season?
Wieters: I haven’t really sat down and set those yet. My goals for spring training are, first of all, to stay healthy coming out of camp and second of all to really get my body into shape and to get my swing feeling good going into day one.
Paulsen: You said you haven’t sat down and set them. Does that mean you usually plot out numbers you want to reach?
Wieters: I’ll put numbers down just to have something to work toward. The .300 mark is always my benchmark for average. I think 20, 25 home runs is a benchmark for a good year home run-wise. Then, I think if you go out and get 90 or 100 RBIs, you know you are going to be helping your ballclub.
Paulsen: You were three-for-three last year. You’ve got to boost those numbers up now, right?
Wieters: You’ve definitely got to set them higher now. You have to set your goals so that they are tough to reach. That is one thing I try to do. I try to aim for goals that are really tough to get to so that it takes a lot to get there.
Paulsen: Your Orioles have built up their system nicely, but there isn’t much wiggle room in the American League East. Are you expecting a tough season?
Wieters: It’s definitely the toughest division in baseball, but at the same time just look at a team like Tampa Bay who came from nowhere last year. If you can get those good young arms who can give you quality outings, it’s something that can help you to be right there come the end of September.