The Washington Times - March 26, 2009, 09:27PM

Despite a .343 batting average this spring, 22-year-old catching prospect Matt Wieters was informed by the Orioles on Thursday that he’ll begin the season with the team’s triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides. According to the Baltimore Sun, manager Dave Trembley informed Wieters of the club’s decision after Thursday’s exhibition loss to the Marlins. He’ll remain with the big league team through the weekend and his reassignment will become official on Monday. Orioles officials say they want Wieters to experience success at the triple-A level before joining the O’s for good, but their true motivation is to keep him under club control for a seventh year, as the Rays did by having Evan Longoria start the season in the minors last season.

Wieters, a Georgia Tech product, fell to the Orioles at No. 5 in the 2007 draft after the Rays took Vanderbilt lefty David Price at No. 1 and agent Scott Boras scared off the Royals, Cubs and Pirates with record bonus demands that were reportedly in the neighborhood of $11 million. He agreed to a deal that included a $6 million bonus just before the signing deadline and justified the club’s investment by hitting .355 with 27 home runs while splitting time between the advanced Class A Frederick Keys and the double-A Bowie Baysox last season to earn Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year honors. Large for a catcher at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Wieters - who occasionally pitched at Georgia Tech before deciding to focus on catching full-time - threw out about 40 percent of attempted base stealers last season and is expected to be able to remain at the position.

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It’s likely Wieters will be called up for good by early June. In the meantime, veteran Gregg Zaun, who hit .237 with six home runs for the Blue Jays last season and signed with Baltimore as a free agent in January, will serve as the Orioles’ backstop. Wieters took the demotion in stride and said he enjoyed spending the spring with the big league club. “It’s fun up here,” he said. “It’s fun wherever you are, but it’s even more fun up here. I’m excited to be playing in Norfolk. It’s a different level of competition for me. I just want to go there and work hard and get back as soon as possible.”

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

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