The impending arrival of Adley Rutschman will remind fans of the hype surrounding Matt Wieters. The comparison isn’t an irrelevant one.
Before the Orioles made Rutschman the first overall draft pick in 2019, some scouts said that he was the best college catcher they’d seen since Wieters.
Wieters had a solid major league career but, to some, he was a disappointment, even though he was a key player in the Orioles’ last revival. There’s hope that Rutschman will be a key player in their next one.
Wieters wasn’t the first overall pick in the 2007 draft. The Orioles had the fifth pick, and Wieters was chosen after Tampa Bay (starter David Price), Kansas City (infielder Mike Moustakas), the Chicago Cubs (infielder Josh Vitters) and Pittsburgh (pitcher Daniel Moskos) passed on him.
The Georgia Tech catcher was compared with the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada and Minnesota’s Joe Mauer.
Wieters’ 18.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was the seventh highest of any player taken in the first round.
Josh Donaldson, who was selected as a catcher from Auburn by the Cubs with the 48th pick, has a 44.4. Price’s is 40.3. Outfielder Jason Heyward (39.4) taken 14th by Atlanta, pitcher Madison Bumgarner (38.2), the 10th pick by San Francisco, infielder Todd Frazier (25.2), the 34th selection by Cincinnati, and starter Rick Porcello (20.2), chosen 27th by Detroit, were higher.
Wieters’ $6 million bonus was the highest in the draft and was one of the earliest significant moves made by Andy MacPhail, who became the head of Orioles’ baseball operations shortly after Wieters was selected.
The signing, which occurred moments before the August 15th deadline, came too late for Wieters to play minor league baseball that season. Instead, Wieters played winter baseball in Hawaii and began his pro career in 2008.
Unlike Rutschman, who began with a short stint in the Gulf Coast League, Wieters went to High-A Frederick. He had a terrific first season — a .355 average, 1.053 OPS, 27 home runs and 91 RBIs with the Keys and Double-A Bowie.
Rutschman, who played just 37 games in the Gulf Coast League, Short Season A Aberdeen and Low-A Delmarva in 2019, couldn’t play minor league baseball in 2020 because of the canceled season.
In 2021, Rutschman had a solid season at Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, with a .285 average and .899 OPS with 23 home runs and 75 RBIs.
After the 2008 season, Wieters was sent to the Arizona Fall League, but the Orioles decided that Rutschman shouldn’t play in the AFL.
In 2009, Wieters began the season at Norfolk, where he hit .305 with an .890 OPS and was recalled after 39 games.
MacPhail announced that Wieters would be recalled on May 29th during a telecast of the Orioles’ May 26th game. Wieters’ debut drew 42,704 to Oriole Park, about four times as many as the 10,130 for the May 26th game.
Mike Elias, who currently heads the Orioles’ baseball operations and drafted Rutschman first, would like to see a crowd that large for his top draft pick’s first game.
Wieters, who hit .288 with nine homers, 43 RBIs and a .753 OPS in 96 games, joined a team that would lose 98 games.
The team had talented players — outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, second baseman, Brian Roberts — and some younger pitchers, including Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman.
The only player still active from that 2009 team is left-handed starter Rich Hill, who will turn 42 in March. Hill signed a $5 million contract with Boston for 2022.
Rutschman’s Orioles will be considerably younger. Only pitchers Cole Sulser and Jordan Lyles, both born in 1990, are over 30.
The hype for Wieters intensified in 2010 when Sports Illustrated, then a widely read weekly magazine, put him on the cover. “The Perfect Catch,” the cover read.
Wieters was one of the best catchers in team history, earning Gold Gloves in 2011 and 2012 and four All-Star selections.
He was most valuable in 2012 when he led a staff that included Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez and late-season acquisition Joe Saunders to a win in the American League wild-card game. The Orioles followed with a narrow five-game loss to the New York Yankees in the 2012 American League Division Series.
Wieters was missed in 2014 when he had Tommy John surgery as the Orioles’ won the AL East. His offense and defense would have been invaluable in the ALCS when they had no answer for the Kansas City Royals, who swept them in four games.
Because MacPhail had delayed Wieters’ arrival in 2009, the Orioles were able to retain him in 2015, and he accepted their qualifying offer in 2016 when the Orioles again qualified for the postseason.
Because of the expectations, whatever Wieters did for the Orioles wasn’t enough for many fans, which was disappointing. His guidance of the pitching staff was unmatched.
Wieters never set the oversized expectations for himself, just as Rutschman isn’t part of his hype.
Rutschman will be an excellent player, just as Wieters was. And maybe he won’t have to listen to the Wieters comparisons.