Wieters Catching Up For Lost Time

WAIPAHU, Hawaii--Twenty-one years old and $6 million in the bank.

Can life get any better for Matt Wieters?

Apparently, yes.

The Orioles' first-round pick and fifth overall selection in June made his professional debut Saturday in Hawaii. It was the season opener for Hawaii Winter Baseball. He was the starting catcher for the Honolulu Sharks.

Most of the players arrived here Sept. 25 for the four-team league that plays a 40-game schedule through Nov. 19.

"The three, four days we've been here have been amazing so far," said Wieters, a first-timer to the 50th state. "The people have been great to us. It's been a great experience so far."

There will be a lot of sun, sand and sightseeing for Wieters and the other 111 players assigned here by their organizations. But the main reason he will spend the next seven weeks in paradise is to play catchup. Because he signed as late as you can get, literally just minutes before the Aug. 15 deadline, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound switch-hitting catcher out of Georgia Tech fell behind those who signed early enough to draw assignments to the various minor league levels. The O's did send Wieters to short-season Aberdeen to work out prior to reporting to instructional league, but he did not appear in a game for the IronBirds.

"It was sort of like a spring training situation, where I'd take BP everyday and I'd take infield everyday," he said. "Then I'd watch the game, catch some pen."

But no game action.

That all changed in Hawaii, where Wieters was the Sharks' starting catcher in the season opener against the Waikiki BeachBoys.

He batted eighth in the order, struck out swinging in his first at-bat, drew a walk in his second plate appearance and was charged with two passed balls in a 7-0 loss.

Wieters was later replaced by Braves' farmhand Phil Britton. He was the designated hitter the next night, got a single in two at-bats and walked twice in an 8-3 win.

Wieters said his biggest adjustment will be getting used to playing daily, instead of three or maybe four times a week like in college.

"They wanted to make sure I'd go out and play everyday," Wieters said. "This league is set up well for what I want to accomplish."

Of course, there is always the issue of adjusting from aluminum to wood bats.

"I feel pretty comfortable with it," he said. "I played in the Cape last summer with wood so I like wood. It's definitely going to be an adjustment. I have to work hard at it.

"You're not going to get the little flares that you're used to. You're going to have to hit the ball solid, but I think the wood will show the better hitter, the guy who can put the ball on the barrel the most often."

It isn't just the hitting he needs to get down. He also must adjust to catching in live games, instead of just bullpen sessions.

"Now I have to get behind the plate with a batter," he said. "It will be a little different. Hopefully, I'll be able to adjust to that and get back in there."

Wieters isn't the first to make his pro debut in HWB. Yankees righthanders Ian Kennedy and Joba Chamberlain, the club's first two picks in 2006, also signed late and were assigned here last year.

Kennedy and Chamberlain are two of eight players who played in HWB last year to make their big league debuts this season.

Wieters' signing bonus was the highest of the 2007 draft and the third-highest all-time to Cubs righthander Jeff Samardzija ($7.25 million) and Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton ($6.1 million). He doesn't think that will force him to do produce quickly.

"I don't put pressure on myself that way," he said. "All I have to do is go out there and play and do my best, and that way I can go to sleep at night when I go home."