FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) -The Baltimore Orioles' quest to rebuild with young players did not begin with the trade of Miguel Tejada in December. The first step on that path was taken last June, several weeks before Andy MacPhail assumed the role of club president.
By drafting Georgia Tech catcher Matt Wieters with the fifth overall pick in the amateur draft, the Orioles made clear their direction for the future.
``I think he was the key player,'' Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan said Friday. ``We were excited when we drafted him. With the nature of the draft and the picks that we had, we felt that we really wanted to take someone that would come quickly, probably an everyday player. He fit the bill.''
The 21-year-old Wieters won't be a part of the roster on the opening day, but that's OK - as long as he continues to improve. If all goes as planned, Wieters will be ready for the majors around the same time Baltimore makes its move in the AL East.
training camp.
``We'll give him a taste,'' Flanagan said. ``You're always bringing in extra catchers to camp anyway, but it's a chance for him to get a feel for the major league clubhouse.''
Clubhouse manager Jimmy Tyler placed Wieters' locker next to that of veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez, who has shared his knowledge with the youngster on such topics as handling pitchers, equipment and local restaurants.
``It will be good to have him next to me since he's been around a while and knows the ropes,'' Wieters said of Hernandez.
Wieters doesn't need much help on the field. He made a strong first impression on hitting coach Terry Crowley during the first day of camp Thursday by sending a batting practice pitch deep into the right-field seats.
``He's got good size, switch hits, drove the ball nice from both sides,'' Crowley said. ``He also handled the fundamental drills well. He's got bat speed and good size; there's a lot to like.''
There was a time when it appeared Wieters would never make it to the Orioles. Negotiations dragged to 10 minutes before baseball's mandated deadline, when MacPhail and agent Scott Boras finally agreed on a minor league deal with a franchise-record $6 million signing bonus.
``We haven't taken that many Boras clients over the years, but we're proud that we were able to take him and get him signed,'' Flanagan said.
Wieters is delighted, too. But the easygoing kid wouldn't have been terribly disappointed if he ended up using his final year of college eligibility.
``I love school and I love Georgia Tech, so if I went back I would have been happy there,'' Wieters said. ``But I'm really happy that I ended up here this year.''
Wieters batted .359 with 35 home runs and 198 RBIs over three seasons with the Yellow Jackets. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder was named to the first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference squad as a junior after reaching base safely in 55 consecutive games and batting .358.
He will probably start the season with Class A Frederick, but that depends on how he fares this spring.
``My goal for this year is to just go play wherever they send me, play as good as I can and hopefully move up,'' Wieters said. ``At the same time, you can't control that. You can only control how you play, so that's what I'm going to try to do.''
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