The Great Debate

Choosing between Price and Wieters isn't easy




Each Top 100 Prospects list takes on characteristics all its own, and one of the most notable features about this year's list is that Rays lefthander David Price and Orioles catcher Matt Wieters were a cut above everyone else. They were the top two prospects in the 2007 draft, and after their spectacular pro debuts in 2008, they're now the top two prospects in baseball. But who is guilty of being the game's No. 1 prospect? To answer that question, we assembled a jury of 12 eminent talent evaluators and asked them which player they'd choose if they were starting a team from scratch. Executive editor Jim Callis selected and interviewed the jurors, and we present their responses here.

OPENING STATEMENTS

THE CASE FOR DAVID PRICE

David Price (Photo by Rick Battle)
Price capped his three seasons at Vanderbilt by winning Baseball America's College Player of the Year award in 2007, when he went 11-1, 2.63 and led NCAA Division I with 194 strikeouts in 133 innings. The No. 1 pick in the 2007 draft, he signed for an $8.5 million major league contract that included a backloaded $5.6 million bonus. Though elbow tenderness sidelined him for the first six weeks of the 2008 season, Price nevertheless put together a sparkling pro debut, going 12-1, 2.30 in 19 minor league starts. Spectacular at times during a September callup, he was even better during the postseason, winning Game Two and saving Game Seven in the American League Championship Series and closing out Tampa Bay's lone World Series victory.

There hasn't been a lefthanded pitching prospect who can match Price's total package of power, polish and poise in years, maybe not since Floyd Bannister went No. 1 overall in the 1976 draft. In the ALCS, Price made veteran Red Sox hitters look silly with his lively mid-90s fastball and his hard slider, both of which grade out as plus-plus pitches. His changeup is a plus pitch at times with promising deception and fade. He has an impressive feel for the strike zone, and for adding and subtracting from his pitches. He also has a big, sturdy frame (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) and a clean delivery, boding well for his future health.

THE CASE FOR MATT WIETERS

Matt Wieters (Photo by Mike Janes)
Wieters is the latest switch-hitting sensation to come out of Georgia Tech, following in the footsteps of Jason Varitek and Mark Teixeira. He started all three years as a catcher and also worked as a closer. After he batted .359 with 35 homers and 16 saves in three seasons, the Orioles drafted him fifth overall in 2007 and signed him for a then-record $6 million up-front bonus. Wieters ranked as the top prospect in the high Class A Carolina League and Double-A Eastern League in 2008, and hit a combined .355/.454/.600 with 27 homers and 82 walks to win Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year award.

Scouts struggle to find a good comparison for Wieters, because he comes from a unique mold. He's a 6-foot-5, 230-pound, switch-hitting, middle-of-the-order catcher. His combination of strength, bat speed and plate discipline gives him tremendous power to all fields. He repeatedly showed a mid-90s fastball as a college closer, and that arm strength also serves him well behind the plate, as he threw out 38 percent of basestealers in his pro debut. Though he's large for his position, Wieters has good receiving skills and agility, and his game-calling and leadership also draw praise. About the only thing he doesn't do well is run, but that's to be expected with a catcher.

DELIBERATIONS

SPECIAL ASSISTANT, AL CLUB

"I would take WIETERS. You can't go wrong. It's surf and turf or filet mignon. It's a pretty good choice to make. The position player having less of an injury risk is a factor. The position Wieters plays is a factor. He should stay there. He's a little tall for a catcher, right there at the periphery of what you think a catcher's dimensions should be, but he's so quiet in everything he does as a catcher. He does everything easy.

"Wieters has a chance to be a generational talent. Price's ability is pretty commensurate, but the risk is higher for a pitcher. He's not a high-risk pitcher, but he's a pitcher. He should be a pretty damn good one from the get-go, though."

VICE PRESIDENT, AL CLUB:

"I wasn't the biggest Wieters guy at the time of the draft. I wasn't sure he was going to reach the offensive potential people wanted to give him. We weren't sold on him about the makeup. We thought he was a little bit of a prima donna and not quite as tough and focused. He's done better offensively at the higher levels of the minors quicker than I expected. He's legit. I don't think he's Joe Mauer, but he's certainly an offensive catcher. Maybe not a three-hole hitter, but at least a five-hole hitter and he will be an RBI guy. His defense will be fine.

"That position is so hard to find a guy who's good on both sides, offensively and defensively, that I'd take WIETERS. It's close. If Price was a righthander, I'm not sure we'd be having this discussion. I'm not sure he's a No. 1 starter, a Beckett or a Sabathia. He might fit as the next guy in line on a good staff, but I think he's going to be good."

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR OF PRO SCOUTING, AL TEAM:

"For me, it comes down to having a legitimate frontline starter, and a lefthander at that, who's got overpowering, dominating stuff. The opportunity to acquire a pitcher like that doesn't come along very often, so I'd take PRICE. I understand the risk that comes with a pitcher, but if you want to play it safe, you could take all kinds of guys over a pitcher.

"To me, he's a slam dunk to be a dominating guy. He's young and it's power stuff. As much as it's splitting hairs between Price and Wieters, it's an easy choice for me. That's not to say anything against Wieters, because he's going to be one of the dominant young catchers in the game."

ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER, NL CLUB:

"Oh, boy. A No. 1 starting pitcher or an everyday, behind-the-plate, three-hole hitter who can switch-hit. The everyday value and the position makes it MATT WIETERS for me. That position is getting harder and harder to find, and he's going to be a three-hole hitter.

"He reminds me a lot of Jason Varitek when Jason Varitek came out of Georgia Tech. Varitek in college was an offensive machine. He could punish the ball and he was the hardest worker I've ever seen. Jason was a half-grade better receiver and had the same arm, though Matt had more raw power."

DIRECTOR OF PLAYER PERSONNEL, AL TEAM:

"I would take MATT WIETERS. It's hard putting so much hype on one guy, but Matt Wieters has a chance to be a generational type of player. If you put his minor league numbers into context from last year, even if he was at first base or left field, he'd still be everybody's Minor League Player of the Year. Then there's his physical stature, the beautiful body, the switch-hitting, the guy can even touch 96-97 on the mound. That's a once-in-a-lifetime guy basically when you put everything together. If I'm building a franchise and you tell me I can have a catcher who has a chance to be an elite defensive player who will hit .280 to .300, hit 30 homers, walk 100 times, that's hard to duplicate.

"As good as David Price is, and he has a chance to be great, there's maybe only 10 true No. 1 starting pitchers at the major league level, and it's hard identifying who those guys are going to be. The elite pitchers come from all facets of the draft. The No. 1 overall picks like Andy Benes, Ben McDonald, Kris Benson, they come in with all that hyperbole and their stuff is top shelf, but they didn't live up to expectations. There's no guarantee with pitchers."

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, AL CLUB:

"WIETERS. He's a position player at a premium position and a plus offensive performer. The spread between him and the average guy behind the plate is significant. David Price, everyone likes and everyone should, and David Price will be good, especially if his changeup comes along. But there will be another David Price before there's another Matt Wieters. It's about position scarcity for us.

"I think there were some defensive questions about Wieters, just because of his size. But after seeing him do what he's done, those questions aren't persisting. His size isn't necessarily a bad thing. He's a unique talent. There aren't players like that out there that I can recall. A Carlton Fisk who switch-hits, that's the closest I can think of."

SPECIAL ASSISTANT, NL TEAM:

"I'd take WIETERS over Price, but I had it the other way around in the 2007 draft. I've flip-flopped on those two because of what Wieters has done as a pro. I saw Wieters for two games in his junior year and he didn't play that well. I   went in with such high expectations, the bar was set so high, and he didn't play that great or with a whole lot of energy. If I didn't know the history on the guy, I would have been surprised that he was going to go in the top 10 picks. Whereas when I saw Price as an amateur, he was electric. He was an obvious No. 1 pick.

"Now, no slight on Price and what he did in the playoffs, but it comes down to their position. You can eliminate a big part of the injury risk by taking the position player, and it's a premium position. Catchers and shortstops are the hardest positions to find. David Price is going to be a good pitcher, but there are a lot of good young pitchers. Matt Wieters has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the game in short order, and what he did last year was crazy. They're both outstanding prospects, but I'd take Wieters because of the injury risk and the position scarcity."

ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER, AL CLUB:

"I'm torn a little bit. If you're starting a team from scratch, the hardest thing to develop is your own young, front-of-the-rotation pitcher. But then I look at a premium position player who's that good, and then I look at the risk, and there's more risk in a pitcher than in a position player. I know the conventional wisdom is you've got to build your team with pitching, pitching and more pitching, and David Price is going to be very good. But then there's a premium position player and a switch-hitter and lesser risk with Wieters. He has a better chance to be a superstar than Price and it would be a little safer to go with WIETERS.

"At the time of the 2007 draft, I liked Price more. With Wieters, there was some risk with his body type. What if he had to change positions and only be a first baseman? I would have gone with Price then. Now there's a lot less question on Wieters staying behind the plate. I'm a lot more comfortable with him staying there with his athleticism and the way he moves. He's not worn down from pitching, and he's more efficient with his body and mechanics now. He looks a lot more comfortable and does it a lot easier than I saw in college."

ASSISTANT GENERAL MANAGER, AL TEAM:

"First and foremost, they're both franchise-type guys, which makes it so tough. But if you're going to start a team, the thing that separates them is the risk with pitchers. You've got a middle-of-the order, complete catcher and a frontline starting pitcher who's a lefthander, so that's a tossup. The catcher is in the lineup every day, and there's a greater health risk with any pitcher, so that makes me lean toward WIETERS.

"We had Price over Wieters at the time of the draft. In the draft, there's always a performance risk on hitters—will they translate with wood bats—and a health risk on pitchers. At that point, I'd take Price because he was durable and strong. At the time, we wondered how long a big, tall catcher like Wieters was going to catch, but he has answered the bell. We'll see over time how his body holds up as a catcher, but Mauer has held up and he's big and tall. And that year Wieters just had was historical."

DIRECTOR OF PLAYER PERSONNEL, NL CLUB:

"That's a tough one because both guys grade out near the top of the scale for their position. Given my druthers, I'll take the catcher and go with WIETERS. That's a very difficult position to fill. He has a middle-of-the-order bat and a big durable body. You're inclined at his size to think that he might be too big to stay behind the plate, but he does it easy back there. If I'm choosing between the big lefthander power guy with the kind of stuff Price has or the catcher who sits at the top of the scale, I'll take Wieters.

"It's pretty extraordinary that two guys like that came out of the same draft. That's a pretty tough package to walk away from with either one. You have a better chance of building a competitive rotation than going out and finding that separator catcher. There are more young catchers now than there have been recently, but there aren't too many guys who can play the game like that."

SENIOR ADVISER, NL TEAM:

"My vote would go to PRICE for two reasons. One is Price's ceiling. I see him as a John Candelaria-type big league guy, so I think he would be very intriguing. Secondly, I think Wieters is going to be a quality bat but I'm not sold that he's going to really be a frontline defensive catcher. So if he has to change positions, obviously the bat still is going to be good, but that doesn't make him quite the same animal he would be if he can't stay behind the plate."

VICE PRESIDENT, AL CLUB

"Clearly, both of them have a very high chance to be impact players. I'd go with WIETERS for a couple of reasons. First of all, the probability of a position player performing at a high level over a number of years is higher than it is with a pitcher, for health-related reasons. I would project Price as a top-of-the-rotation starter, and I would project Wieters as an all-star-caliber catcher. As hard as it is to find a top-of-the-rotation starter, I think true impact players at the catching position are even more scarce. They provide more of a competitive advantage to your team." "Because the talent pool at catcher is a bit shallow, at least in terms of offensive production, if you have one of those guys, the effect on your team kind of multiplies. Wieters could be one of those guys."

THE VERDICT

At the time of the 2007 draft, Price clearly was the consensus choice as the better player. "I think 28 or 29 teams probably had him No. 1 on their draft board," the special assistant with the NL team said. Since then, he hasn't just lived up to the lofty expectations, but he has exceeded them. No one projected that he'd be an impact playoff performer 13 months after signing.

Yet even with Price's postseason performance fresh in our jurors' minds, their decision was clear cut. They all agreed that Price and Wieters were the game's two best prospects, and they preferred Wieters by a surprisingly wide 10-2 margin. Matt Wieters is hereby found guilty of being the top prospect in baseball.