A View From Studio 3: Don't overlook Wieters
On team of stars, including AL MVP candidate Davis, catcher anchors O's
He's arguably one of the least talked about but most important players in Major League Baseball: Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters.
You'd think that any professional athlete that stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds would be tough to miss, but on a team full of superstars, he goes unnoticed by the national media much of the time. This is one case, however, in which you can't blame the media. Wieters admits he's a man of few words. Most of his talking is out of necessity. It involves going over scouting reports with his pitchers.
Lots of them.
It's only mid-July and the Orioles have already used 13 starting pitchers this season. That's more than they used all of last season. We haven't even reached the Trade Deadline and September callups are still a month and a half away. That number figures to balloon.
The Goose Creek, S.C., native didn't bite when asked how difficult is was to prepare for such a large number of pitchers.
"You'd ultimately love to have five guys be able to roll through the whole year, but that's just not feasible in this day and age," Wieters said. "The good thing is Dan [Duquette] and Buck [Showalter] have put together a lot of depth and been able to shore up Triple-A and bring up guys who can help us win up here."
This formula is nothing new for the Orioles. During their breathtaking run to an American League Wild Card berth in 2012, The O's used 12 starting pitchers and 14 relief pitchers. It's how they do business. And it works. Wieters is a big reason why.
Drafted in the first round in 2007 out of Georgia Tech, he debuted in the Majors two years later. The fan base was so hungry for a star to call its own and the expectations were so high that Wieters received a standing ovation before stepping into the batter's box for the first time in the Majors.
Now he's 27 years old -- a veteran, a leader who spends his work days about 90 feet away from one of baseball's brightest young stars, Manny Machado. A 21-year-old who is thriving under the white-hot national media spotlight.
"The hard thing is, you've got to be able to shut it off and you've got to be able to get back into your comfort zone," Wieters said. "And especially now, it's hard, because it's all over the place. But at some point you have to be able to shut it down and focus on what you do well and sort of step away from it more than anything."
So, Wieters looks to his left and sees one of the American League's MVP candidates. If he turns slightly to his right, he sees another: first baseman Chris Davis. The first baseman has 36 home runs. That's the third most homers before All-Star break behind Barry Bonds (39 in 2001), Reggie Jackson (37, 1969) and Mark McGwire (37, 1998).
Wieters described what it's like to watch Davis.
"Its real fun and then I have to re-focus and figure out how I'm gonna do anything close to what he just did," Wieters said. "It's fun to watch him, but at the same time you can get caught up in it, but you have to focus on just trying to be yourself because he's a special talent."
A special talent indeed. But he's not my first-half pick for AL MVP. I give that honor to the reigning MVP, Miguel Cabrera. It's almost silly to have to pick one guy over the other, but I lean toward Cabrera because his team is in first place and he leads the AL in average, RBI, runs, hits, OPS, OBP, total bases and walks. He's the best hitter in baseball.
Yadier Molina gets my vote in the National League. The best catcher in the game is enjoying his best offensive season ever. Molina's .335 average entering play Saturday led the NL and he leads a perennial playoff team on the field and in the clubhouse.
I'll take Clayton Kershaw as the NL Cy Young winner for the first half of the season. The numbers don't lie. The lefty leads the NL in ERA, WHIP, innings pitched and batting average against. In a season that's seen many starters dominate, Kerhsaw is the best.
Max Scherzer is my man in the AL. While Scherzer admits his 13-0 record is a bit flukey, his other stats are not: a WHIP of 0.95 and a strikeouts-to-walks ratio of 5-to-1. He also ranks among the best in innings pitched, which conserves the bullpen.
Rookie of the Year in the NL goes to Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. Have you seen this young man pitch? It's a treat. And will be for years to come. Shelby Miller of the Cardlinas could be the guy. Many of their numbers are similar, but I'll go with Fernandez because he's excelling on a losing team that lacks big-time veteran leadership. Yasiel Puig may eventually win the award, but his sample size is a bit too small for me right now.
Finally, Rookie of the Year in the AL: I'm going with Jose Iglesias. His sample size is not overwhelming, but he has played in more than half the Red Sox's games. Iglesias is hitting .384. That's 66 points better than the next AL rookie. He's also a premier defensive shortstop playing every day under the Boston microscope.