BALTIMORE - APRIL 29: Matt Wieters #32 of the Baltimore Orioles walks to the dugout after striking out against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards on April 29, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
In this brave new world of "service clock management", "Super-2 status", and the rest of us simply living in Stephen Strasburg's world, the beginning of June has evolved into a time of great anticipation among many fans of MLB. With the current arbitration system in place, many teams hold their top prospects back through the first two months of what would be their rookie season with an eye towards more player control (at a lower price tag) three to six years down the road.
Regardless, now that the floating date that concerned teams so much (that Super-2 date) has passed, many of the top prospects will find their way to MLB and, I'm not sure if you've heard this or not, it will include a certain RHP, who will make his debut in our nation's capital on June 8th.
While Cy Strasburg's debut figures to consume most of the ink in the next two weeks, two other players who fall under that same "Super-2" consideration figure to join teams very much in need of a boost. With the calendar now into June, Buster Posey has already joined the Giants' lineup and Carlos Santana should be joining the Indians' lineup in short order as both have the potential to inject some pop into two to of the worst offenses in MLB.
Posey has burst onto the scene, going 6 for 12 with 2 doubles in his first 3 games and while excitement over him may be reaching a fevered pitch (while all of Cleveland wonders why Carlos Santana remains down I-71 in Columbus), perhaps now would be a good time to review the cautionary tale of Matt Wieters and temper some of this enthusiasm while gaining some perspective on placing the label of "Savior" onto the shoulders of these young players.
Lest anyone forget, the 2009 season dawned with Wieters as the consensus top prospect in all of baseball, a 23-year-old catcher nicknamed "God" and referred to by scouts as "Mauer with Power". Prior to the season, Baseball Prospectus came out with their PECOTA projection for him with a triple slash of .311/.395/.544 with 31 HR and 102 RBI for the young signal-caller as O's fans...well, they went a little crazy.
Wieters arrived on May 29th of last year, after posting a respectable (if un-Wietersian) .890 OPS in the 39 games he spent in Norfolk to start the year, with numbers that Minor League Splits would tell us translate to a .806 Major League Equivalent OPS. Upon arrival to the parent club, Wieters struggled at the plate, with his OPS never cresting over .800 after his third game with the team. His impact on the team's offense turned out to be minimal as the team averaged exactly 5 runs per game before he joined the team and 4.4 runs per game with Wieters on the 25-man. Despite all of the hype and the excitement, Wieters ultimately looked like nothing more than a promising 23-year-old catcher who would take time some time to adjust to the Big Leagues.
This year, Weiters has continued to struggle to find his way in MLB, posting an 84 OPS+ through the first quarter of the season and finding himself in the in the lower half among MLB catchers with at least 100 plate appearances with a WAR of 0.7. That's not to say that Matt Wieters has been an unadulterated bust to date as he just turned 24-years-old and has nothing but time (and plate appearances) to realize the potential that shone so brightly prior to the 2009 season.
This, of course, brings us all back to the idea that Buster Posey is breaking in with the moribund Giants' offense as Carlos Santana sits in Columbus (likely with his bags already packed), just waiting for the call to join the lifeless Indians' offense. If Matt Wieters, the catcher known as "God", didn't make an immediate impact in Baltimore, how reasonable is it to expect Posey or Santana to excel?
Given that Posey has already made his way to the Bay Area, realize that the 23-year-old posted a triple slash of .349/.442/.552 in AAA Fresno prior to his call-up with the ML Equivalent of a .803 OPS actually coming in a little lower than where Wieters' was when he was called up in 2009. Meanwhile, the 24-year-old Santana remains in Columbus, where he sits on a line of .313/.449/.571, which (according to MinorLeagueSplits.com) translates to an .870 OPS ML Equivalent.
Both of those translations to MLB certainly make the offensive contributions of the players they're likely to replace, Bengie Molina and his 73 OPS+ (although Posey has played 1B in each of his first three games) and Tofu Lou Marson and his 53 OPS+ (and his OPS has more than doubled in the past month) pale in comparison to what is likely at hand in San Francisco and Cleveland. Although, Wieters replaced Gregg Zaun as the O's backstop in 2009 and barely outpaced the production of the 38-year-old Zaun.
That being said, the trials of Matt Wieters has taught MLB that while every team would like a debut from their "Super-2 Savior" to fall in line with what Ryan Braun did in 2007 (154 OPS+ in 113 games en route to the ROY) or what Evan Longoria did the following year (127 OPS+ in 122 games en route to the ROY), the transition from top prospect to immediate stud in the lineup is no given.
In fact, 2 of the 3 of hitting prospects that appeared in Kevin Goldstein's top 20 prior to the season have struggled to date as Justin Smoak's transition has been uneven (63 OPS+ in 35 games), just as Alcides Escobar's 83 OPS+ has not helped the Brewers' offense. Of course, Jason Heyward apparently belongs in a different stratosphere with his start, but that's the whole point of this...last year, Matt Wieters received the same type of hype that Jason Heyward did and while Heyward makes his case to become the first Rookie of the Year/MVP in the AL, Matt Wieters struggles to get his sea legs under him on the edges of the Chesapeake.
What does that mean for players like Posey and Santana and even Florida's Mike Stanton, as well as for the teams and fans that have been awaiting their arrival since Opening Day?
It means that rookies are still rookies and while Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria set the bar high for "Super-2 Saviors" with Jason Heyward launching expectations for the immediate impact of rookies into the stratosphere, the guarantee that every hyped prospect will hit the ground running in MLB or the idea that these young players will be ready to strap their new offenses onto their backs to carry them to the next level is unfair to the players through the burden of unreasonable expectations.
Just ask Matt Wieters...