What's not to like about Wieters?
Tech catcher is heads and shoulders the best at his position
ATLANTA -- The walls of the players' lounge at Georgia Tech's Russ Chandler Stadium are lined with photos of former Yellow Jackets standouts who've reached the Major Leagues.
Nine of the those pictured were opening-round choices in the First-Year Player Draft. In June, the tall blonde with the crew cut relaxing underneath the photos will be No. 10.
It's no longer a question of whether switch-hitting catcher Matt Wieters will be a first-round choice. Maybe there never was.
Now it's just a matter of how high the South Carolina native will go.
"I know that the Chicago Cubs like him a lot," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said.
Despite producing 49 Major Leaguers, the Yellow Jackets have never had a player taken with the first three picks -- not Mark Teixeira (the fifth choice in 2001) nor Kevin Brown (taken seventh in '86), nor Nomar Garciaparra (12th in '94) nor Jason Varitek (the 14th choice in '94), whom Wieters is often compared with.
Asked where Wieters ranks with Georgia Tech's all-time greats, Hall said: "He's right there with anyone. There are guys and there are special guys. He's a special guy."
So special, the he might not even be around when the Cubs select third in the first round.
Wieters, who has Scott Boras as his advisor, says that he's not preoccupied with the draft and which team will select him. But that doesn't mean he's ignoring the possibilities that lie ahead.
"I know that Tampa Bay has the first pick, then Kansas City and the Cubs," Wieters said. "I'm not sure about the order after that."
He may not last that long, anyway.
Said one scout: "He's the best catching prospect since Joe Mauer. No one questions that."
Neither does anyone question that the 6-foot-5 junior is the best college position player eligible on June 7.
That Wieters, who will turn 21 on May 21, happens to be a catcher is what makes him so coveted.
|1. TB||LHP||David Price||Vanderbilt U|
|2. KC||SS||Michael Moustakas||Chatsworth HS (Calif.)|
|3. CHC||3B||Josh Vitters||Cypress HS (Calif.)|
|4. PIT||LHP||Daniel Moskos||Clemson U|
|5. BAL||C||Matthew Wieters||Georgia Tech|
|6. WSH||LHP||Ross Detwiler||Missouri St U|
|7. MIL||LF||Matthew LaPorta||U Florida|
|8. COL||RHP||Casey Weathers||Vanderbilt U|
|9. ARI||RHP||Jarrod Parker||Norwell HS|
|10. SF||LHP||Madison Bumgarner||South Caldwell HS|
Mauer was taken by the Twins with the first overall pick in '01 out of high school. No college catcher has ever been rated any higher than Wieters. Not even Varitek, who was taken in the first round twice.
"I know of him, but I don't know him," said Varitek, the Red Sox captain.
But it was Varitek who first helped sell Wieters on Georgia Tech.
"I started following Tech when I was young and he was part of the reason," said Wieters, who grew up outside Charleston, S.C.
"That Matt had locked in on Jason as a kid, because he was also a switch-hitting catcher really helped us in recruiting," Hall said.
Once Wieters arrived to Georgia Tech, he immediately flourished, just like Varitek.
In fact, Hall gives Wieters the edge as a college player, although praising both equally for their competitiveness and leadership ability.
"I think they are about the same as hitters," Hall said. "But Matt is a better receiver than Jason was in college and has a stronger arm. Really, they are very similar, although with different personalities. Matt is more of a quiet leader."
Varitek was the Player of the Year as Georgia Tech reached the College World Series in '94. Wieters got the Yellow Jackets, 31-20 this season, to Omaha last year and would like nothing more than a repeat this season.
Wieters is certainly doing all he can, although Hall has cut back a little on using his All-American as a pitcher because of the risk factor.
"You certainly wouldn't want to have anything happen to his arm now," Hall said.
"I've always considered myself a catcher first, then a pitcher," said Wieters, who had 13 saves his first two seasons at Tech. "It won't be hard to give up going to the mound."
Wieters is just too good at the plate, as well as behind it, to be anything but a catcher.
How good of a hitter is he? Wieters batted .366 as a freshman, .355 as a sophomore and is currently hitting .376. In 179 college games, he has hit 35 homers and driven in 195 runs. He also has drawn 147 walks while striking out 102 times.
Wieters has show that his eye-popping batting statistics weren't just the property of using an aluminum bat, either. He hit eight homers in 35 games while finishing second with a .307 average in the Cape Cod League last summer.
Wieters eye at the plate is the product of working with his father on his hitting since he was four or five years old. From the beginning, he was a switch-hitter.
Richard Wieters was a standout two-way player for The Citadel who was drafted in the fifth round by the Atlanta Braves in '77. But he was eventually traded to the Chicago White Sox and his career as a pitcher stalled in Double-A.
In the Minors, the elder Wieters played with Braves third-base coach Brian Snitker.
"Rich had a good arm and could throw hard," Snitker said. "We broke into pro ball together. In fact, he married the sister of one of our teammates, Mike Shields. So Matt comes from a real baseball background."
Richard Wieters has said that he regretted not trying to make it as a position player. His son won't have that problem to worry about.
He was Georgia Tech's ace relief pitcher for two seasons, but it will be as a catcher that he will go high in the June draft.
Although Boras is noted for being a tough negotiator, Wieters hopes to get his pro career started as soon as possible.
"It's been great here at Tech," he said. "But I'm ready to move on to the next stage."
Weiters doesn't want to stay in the Minors any longer than necessary, either.
"I've heard the stories from my day" Weiters said. "Everyone wants to get to the Majors as soon as they can."
The fast track is waiting.
Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.