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Matt Wieters: Joe Mauer With Power?

Matt Wieters had quite the start to his professional career.

The 5th overall pick of the 2007 draft began the season at high-A ball, where he destroyed poor souls on the mound to the tune of .345/.448/.576 with 15 homers in 69 games. He also walked nearly as many times (44) as he struck out (47).

Wieters then took his one-man show to double-A, where the demolition continued. Wieters actually hit better with Bowie, smacking opposing pitchers around at a .365/.460/.625 clip, and blasting 12 homers in 61 games. He continued his impressive plate discipline as well, actually managing more walks (38) than strikeouts (29).

Wieters’s season is eerily reminiscent of another young catching prodigy: Joe Mauer, in 2003. That year, Mauer began the season at high-A ball, where he hit .335/.395/.412. Mauer too was promoted to double-A at mid-season, where he hit .341/.400/.453. Mauer also walked as often as he struck out, an impressive feat for any minor league hitter. The two biggest differences are the facts that Wieters was 22 years old this year, while Mauer was only 20 back in 2003; and that Wieters displayed more power this year than Mauer did in 03.

Fantasy players know what happened with Mauer: he developed into a consistent threat to win a batting title – although his power remains questionable to this day. However, Mauer is a solid comparison for what to expect from Wieters. Wieters began his professional career at a later age than Mauer, but also put up even more impressive numbers than Mauer did. So far, Wieters appears to be Joe Mauer with power.

The question is: how much power? Expect Wieters to hit for a solid average right away, as he not only posted very high averages in the minors this year, but he also showed extremely impressive plate discipline and the ability to put the ball in play. However, I wouldn’t expect Wieters’s power to translate entirely to the majors in 2009. Although he did hit 27 homers (in only 130 games) this year, he hit the ball on the ground a little too often: only 35% of his balls in play were fly balls.

Wieters is still a candidate to hit 10-15 homers and perhaps even approach a .300 batting average (although .280 or so is more likely), making him a fine catcher in 2009. His long-term potential is immense, and he’s tremendously valuable in keeper leagues. He will likely get the call to the majors relatively early in the season (perhaps as soon as April), and he should make an impact from day one. While he’s a good bet to have more power than Joe Mauer, it’s unlikely that he’ll hit 20-25 homers in his first season.