The Washington Times - February 13, 2009, 12:19PM

It appears Orioles fans are going to have to wait at least a little longer for top prospect Matt Wieters‘ eagerly anticipated big league debut. In an interview published Friday by the Baltimore Sun, Orioles President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail said Wieters - Baseball America’s 2008 Minor League Player of the Year - would “in all likelihood” begin the season with Baltimore’s triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides.

“I think it’s best to remember that Matt has had only one full professional year of playing experience,” MacPhail said, when asked by the Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec where Wieters would start the 2009 season. “He has only 200 or something at bats in double-A. In all likelihood, he will start the year at [triple-A] Norfolk. That’s a pretty good jump for him.”

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Speculation has been that the Orioles will have Wieters - who hit .355 with 27 homers and 91 RBI while splitting time between advanced Class A and double-A last year - begin the 2009 season in the minors in order to delay his eligibility for arbitration, then call him up sometime during the season. MacPhail indicated that was likely the plan (without citing the arbitration clock, of course), but didn’t rule out keeping Wieters in the minors all season.

“I think how he does, and how our catching is doing here, would be a determination when and if he comes up over the course of the 2009 season,” MacPhail said, adding, “Based on his performance, I would suspect that he would get here sometime [in 2009], but the exact date, I don’t know.”

The Orioles chose Wieters, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound switch-hitting catcher from Georgia Tech, with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft after the Rays, Royals, Cubs and Pirates passed because the Scott Boras client was reportedly seeking a signing bonus of $11 million. Baltimore ended up signing Wieters to a minor league deal that included a $6 million bonus just minutes before the signing deadline. Expectations were high from the beginning, but Wieters has exceeded them thus far.

MacPhail indicated that Wieters would likely inherit the job when starting catcher Ramon Hernandez was dealt to the Reds during the winter meetings, but it now looks like veteran Gregg Zaun will be behind the plate when the Orioles open against the Yankees April 6 at Camden Yards. But like Rays’ super prospect Evan Longoria last season, Wieters will slug his way into the majors soon enough. Orioles fans can only hope he has a similar impact as a rookie.

Wieters did a Prospect Q&A with National Pastime last season. To read it, click here.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo courtesy of the Frederick Keys