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Georgia Tech catcher Wieters ready for MLB draft

ATLANTA -- North Carolina State baseball coach Elliott Avent believes players like Georgia Tech junior Matt Wieters come around once every 25 years.

"How many catchers do you see with his size and ability that can switch hit?" Avent asked. "Maybe Jason Varitek. There just aren't many like him out there."

Wieters' versatility is why the junior from Goose Creek, S.C., will be among the first players selected in Thursday's major league draft. He is projected to go as high as No. 2 overall -- behind Vanderbilt left-handed pitcher David Price -- and should be selected among the first 20 picks overall.

"I feel good," Wieters said. "I'm a little anxious, a little excited. I'm just looking forward to it."

Wieters couldn't have done much more during his college career to impress major league scouts. During his junior season, he led the Yellow Jackets with 10 home runs, 59 RBIs, 129 total bases and a .592 slugging percentage. Overall, Wieters hit . 359 with 35 homers and 198 RBIs in three seasons at Georgia Tech.

Wieters was one of only three Georgia Tech players to twice be named a first-team All-American (Varitek, the Boston Red Sox catcher, and Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Nomar Garciaparra were the others) and was named a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as college baseball's top catcher.

"I tell everybody he's got a very high baseball I.Q.," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said. "He's a smooth hitter and a switch hitter. He hits for power from both sides of the plate."

There are only a handful of switch-hitting catchers in the major leagues, which is what makes Wieters so valuable. Varitek, Jorge Posada of the New York Yankees and Victor Martinez of the Cleveland Indians are among the few. Ted Simmons is considered the best switch-hitting catcher of all time.

Wieters, 21, started switch hitting when he was 5. His father, Richard, was a pitcher in the minor-league systems of the Atlanta Braves and Cleveland Indians, from 1977 to 1982. As long as his son was comfortable hitting from both sides of the plate, Richard Wieters allowed him to do it.

Richard Wieters, now an accountant, also put his son behind the plate at an early age. Even after Wieters grew five inches to 6-foot-2 during the summer following his freshman season of high school, he remained a catcher.

At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Wieters was easily one of the biggest catchers in college baseball during the last three seasons. Because of his large frame, Wieters has been compared to Minnesota Twins star Joe Mauer, who last season became the first catcher to lead Major League Baseball in hitting with a .347 average.

Hall said Wieters might be further along than Varitek was in his development behind the plate. Varitek was twice drafted in the first round -- 21st overall by the Twins in 1993 and 14th overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1994.

"I think Matt is a very good defensive catcher," Hall said. "That separates him from a lot of other guys."

"How many catchers do you see with his size and ability that can switch hit? Maybe Jason Varitek. There just aren't many like him out there."
-- North Carolina State baseball coach Elliott Avent

Wieters said nearly all major league teams are projecting him as a catcher. A few teams scouted him as a pitcher, after Wieters worked as Georgia Tech's closer during his freshman and sophomore seasons. He didn't pitch as much this past season and had 16 saves with a 3.83 ERA in three seasons.

"We were catching him a lot on the weekend," Hall said. "I think it would have been asking too much from him to squat behind the plate for that long, then go in and pitch."

‌ Wieters' fate in the draft will be determined in large part by whether teams believe he will sign a contract after being selected. Wieters is being advised by agent Scott Boras, the man some teams refuse to deal with because of his history of prolonging negotiations and having clients hold out. Because Wieters is represented by Boras, some draft projections have the catcher falling out of the top 10 selections.

"You hear a lot of things," Wieters said. "I'll talk to my advisers. Hopefully, everything will go as planned. I have all the faith in my advisers. We'll know what's going on."

Wieters is eligible to return to Georgia Tech for one more season. He said he needs two more years to complete a bachelor's degree in business administration. His mother, Pamela, is a teacher at Stratford High School in Goose Creek, S.C., his alma mater. So chances are Wieters will return to Georgia Tech at some point to finish his degree.

And if things don't go as planned Thursday, there's always the slim chance he'll be playing college baseball again in 2008.

"There's always a chance I'll go back," Wieters said. "You never rule it out. But I'm ready to play pro ball."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.